San Antonio Moves from Possible Contender to a Likely Early Vacation

Posted on April 7, 2009 by


The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA title in 2003, 2005, and 2007.  Such a pattern suggests the Spurs are destined to win the title in 2009.  Currently, though, the team has 3.81 efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency).  And a quick review of the top 15 teams in efficiency differential in 2008-09 (as of April 6) suggests the Spurs are not one of the best teams in the NBA this season.

  • Cleveland Cavaliers: 9.52
  • Boston Celtics: 8.70
  • Orlando Magic: 7.89
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 7.63
  • Portland Trail Blazers: 5.00
  • Houston Rockets: 3.98
  • Denver Nuggets: 3.85
  • San Antonio Spurs: 3.81
  • Utah Jazz: 3.41
  • New Orleans Hornets: 2.20
  • Phoenix Suns: 1.90
  • Dallas Mavericks: 1.67
  • Atlanta Hawks: 1.62
  • Philadelphia 76ers: 0.58
  • Miami Heat: 0.18

As we near the conclusion of the season, the top teams are the same quartet we have followed most of the year: Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, and the Lakers.  Given where these four teams stand, it appears – at least from these numbers — the Spurs title hopes in 2009 are unlikely to be realized.

The Spurs Today

And now “unlikely” has morphed into “virtually no chance” (not really sure these terms are that different, but let’s pretend they are). Manu Ginobili, who finished last season with the second highest Wins Produced of all shooting guards [and the highest Wins Produced per 48 minutes or WP48], has suffered an injury that has ended his 2008-09 season. Given Ginobili’s productivity, one might wonder what this injury does to the Spurs playoff hopes.

To address this issue, let’s first look at what Ginobili and the Spurs have done thus far in 2008-09.

Table One: The San Antonio Spurs after 76 games in 2008-09

As Table One indicates the Spurs this season are led in Wins Produced by Tim Duncan.  Duncan’s 15.1 Wins Produced is nearly equal to the next two names on the list, Tony Parker and Ginobili.  Ginobili, though, nearly has the same WP48 as Duncan.  So if Ginobili had not been hurt much of the year, his Wins Produced would have rivaled what we see from Duncan.

The Spurs With and Without Ginobili

And if Ginobili was as productive as Duncan, our quartet of contenders would almost be a quintet.  To see this point, let’s play with some more numbers.

Thus far this season Roger Mason has played 2,301 minute while Ginobili minutes have been limited to 1,181.  If Ginobili been healthy the entire season one might expect the minutes of these two players to be reversed.  Assuming each player would have maintained his WP48, switching each player’s minutes would result in the following:

  • Ginobili’s Wins Produced rises from 7.6 to 14.8
  • Mason’s Wins Produced falls from 2.6 to 1.4.
  • So the team gains about 6.0 additional Wins Produced, or sees it current total rises from 46.8 to 52.8.
  • 52.8 wins after 76 games works out to 56.9 Wins Produced when the season is complete.
  • Such a mark is consistent with a team with an efficiency differential in excess of 6.00. In other words, had Ginobili played the entire season the Spurs would have been close to the current title contenders.

Of course, Ginobili has not been there the entire season.  And now he is not going to play anymore.  To see how much this impacts the Spurs, let’s replay our game of “what-if” and see what this team looks like without Ginobili for the entire season.

  • Ginobili’s Wins Produced obviously falls from 7.6 to 0.0.
  • Mason probably can’t take all of Ginobili’s minutes, but the other options at guard are similar in productivity to Mason. So for simplicity let’s pretend Mason can take all these minutes. If that could happen, Mason would see his Wins Produced rise from 2.6 to 4.0.
  • The team, therefore, loses 6.2 Wins Produced after 76 games. This works out to a mark of 40.6 after 76 games, or 43.8 Wins Produced at the end of the season.
  • Such a mark is consistent with a team with an efficiency differential around 1.00. In other words, if Ginobili misses the entire season, the Spurs probably miss the entire playoffs.

This exercise tells us that Ginobili is tremendously important to the Spurs. With him the team can come close to contending with the NBA’s best.  Losing him in April means this team is likely to lose in the first round. 

Although this is bad news for the Spurs, it is good news for the other playoffs teams in the West (especially the Lakers).  As I noted last January, the Spurs have been led in Wins Produced for the past five years by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker (and as noted above, this is true this year).  To this trio, San Antonio has received above average performances this year from Matt Bonner (really) and Kurt Thomas.  And now the team has added Drew Gooden.  Such a collection of productive players should have concerned any opening round opponent.  But without Ginobili, I think this team’s first round match-up is going to sleep just a little bit easier.  And the likelihood we see the Lakers in the Finals again has increased (which will make people who dislike the Lakers as unhappy as fans of the Spurs).

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.