A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The case for the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard

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The Warriors need to win 8 of their last 10 games to beat the Bulls 72-10 all time record. With no worry about playoff chops after winning last year’s title, in almost any other year the playoffs would be a formality. However their party may be spoiled by the Spurs.

Here are the top 10 margins of victory of all time

1971-1972 L.A. Lakers: 12.28

1970-1971 Milwaukee Bucks: 12.26

1995-1996 Chicago Bulls: 12.24

2015-2016 San Antonio Spurs: 12.11

1971-1972 Milwaukee Bucks: 11.16

2015-2016 Golden State Warriors: 11.13

1996-1997 Chicago Bulls: 10.80

1991-1992 Chicago Bulls: 10.44

2007-2008 Boston Celtics: 10.26

2014-2015 Golden State Warriors: 10.10

Out of the over 1,000 NBA seasons, San Antonio’s margin of victory is in the top five. It was briefly first for a stretch this season.

Furthermore, of the 8 teams on that list that aren’t this season’s Warriors and Spurs, all but the 1971-1972 Bucks were champion. The Bucks lost to another team on the list in the 1972 Lakers. Short of playing each other teams this good have been unbeatable.

The Warriors offensive rating is 4 points better than the Spurs, but the Spurs defensive rating is 5.8 points better than the Warriors, who in their title season had the top ranked defense. The Spurs have a top 2 defensive rebounding team to the Warriors 15th. The Spurs dominance derives more from their bench than the Warriors does. The Spurs are dominating in quieter ways than the Warriors.

Still, on paper it just doesn’t seem like this is a historically good roster, right? One blind spot may be Kawhi Leonard. In the modern game teams are getting better at recognizing seasons like DeMarre Carroll, Danny Green and Draymond Green’s 2014-2015’s for reasons beyond their boxscore output. Without taking a shot their defending while spacing the floor for teammates is highly valued. This is shown by their salaries last summer.

Kawhi is a mega version of this. He’s not just a good defender but the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, perhaps soon to repeat. In the past it would have been difficult for a perimeter player to compete with rim protecting big men like Ben Wallace, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett for defensive value. However with the game moving towards a smaller perimeter game, it makes perfect sense the new best defensive player is built like Kawhi. He’s hitting over 46% from 3, good for the 2nd best mark in the league. There’s highly valued spacing and defense wings and then there’s Kawhi.

What makes him a freak is he starts with this baseline of star level value without taking a shot, and then adds star level stats on top of it too. Due to his 21 points a game on .619 TS% with a low turnover rate, he rates 8th in offensive win shares, a stat that full on ignores his defense and spacing. He’s a star outside of the stats and a star in them. On the Warriors title team last year Draymond was a star for providing spacing and top 3 defense and Klay for all-star boxscore stats. Kawhi is like getting this package 2 for 1.

Whether it’s because Kawhi has reached Curry levels of value or not, or whether it’s because the rest of the Spurs cast in including Gregg Popovich, Lamarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, David West, Boris Diaw, Danny Green have reached a special level in their own right, the numbers suggest the Warriors could come all this way and not leave with the title, much like the defending champion 1971-1972 Bucks. Because the record of teams with the margin of victory the Spurs have is not messing around and they may be buoyed by a true star.

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Written by jr.

March 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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