Spurs Slowing Down After Racehorse Start

by Jeff Fogle 13. December 2010 15:19

The San Antonio Spurs caught the NBA by surprise this year by hitting the ground running. I’m not talking about having a strong start. They were supposed to be a top competitor. I’m talking about actually running!

POSSESSIONS PER GAME

2008-09 season: 90.4 (27th in the league)
2009-10 season: 94.0 (20th in the league)
First 9 games of 2010-11: 99.8 (Beep-Beep…roadrunners!)

Here are the per-game possession numbers out of the gate:

103-97-96-101-110-93-93-101-104

League average is about 95. You can see the Spurs topped that in six of their first nine outings. The median performance was 101.

To say this was out of character for a Gregg Popovich coached team is an understatement. Many reasons were given for the increase:

*Manu Ginobili was healthy, and the team always pushes more with him on the floor than when he’s hurt.

*The team had some new younger guys whose strength was running the floor, but whose weakness was on defense.

*You’re not going to beat the Lakers or the Heat in the halfcourt game because of their scoring options. So, to win a championship, you have to get creative!

It was something to behold. But, it was also something that didn’t hold up for very long. Here are the Spurs possession totals the last nine games:

91-90-101-89-97-90-94-93-85

The 101 came against Golden State, one of the fastest teams in the league (and a rematch landed only on 94). Just one other game was higher than league average. The median was 91, which is well below league average.

This return to normalcy has reduced San Antonio’s pace factor to 95.7 for the season, which ranks 12th in the league. And, fittingly for a team with a coyote for a mascot, that’s 12th win an anvil. The Spurs are falling quickly down the pace rankings because they’re slowing back to past norms.

I heard a TV pundit attributing San Antonio’s great start (they’re 20-3 as we speak) to their increase in tempo. Well, they’ve slowed down and they’re still winning. They’ll play to their opponent’s tempo (fast vs. the runners and slow vs. the walkers), and they’ll outplay them either way. The racehorse stuff was a temporary phenomenon. Coach Popovich knows you have to pace yourself for a full season. And, he knows Ginobili tends to run himself into injuries.

It was fun to watch while it lasted. The racehorse stuff isn’t happening any more though, as anyone who’s watched the last two weeks can attest.

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