My Assessment of the San Antonio Spurs

Lately, I have been considering become a Spurs front office intern when the time comes that I am ready to apply for such internships.  I would choose the Lakers, being the better of the local teams, except for the fact that I’m not sure if Jim Buss would be open to analytical ideas.  I’m afraid that he will be (when he officially owns the team) a very hands-on owner like Mark Cuban or George Steinbrenner.  However, the Spurs are a team that my dad has admired ever since the beginning of their dynasty for their class, and that I have admired for their ability to remain relevant.  The Spurs are a very interesting in that the majority of the team is either underrated to some degree, or have been a superstar for a long time (that is Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli).  In the case of Ginobli, it’s been both.  I have also noticed that it’s been a couple days since my last post, so the combination of these three factors leads to me wanting to evaluate the Spurs.  (Please note that over the course of this post I will be using Wins Produced that has not been adjusted for defense, as I do not have the resources to do the adjustments and Arturo Galletti does not consistently update this statistic.)

To make decisions on how overrated/underrated each player was, I converted PER to the same scale as Composite Score using the formula PERrate=(PER/15)*.099.  Admittedly, this still fails to completely show PER on the same scale as Composite Score since the best season of all time would only record a PERrate of .210, and that using an exponential function would be better, but I think that this is sufficient for my purposes.  I determined the exact proportions by subtracting PERrate from Composite Score.  Right off the bat, I noticed something peculiar: San Antonio has fourteen active players, seven of which are underrated, seven of which are overrated.  Okay, fair enough.  However, San Antonio’s seven best players according to Composite Score are overrated, while its seven weakest players are underrated.  The same (concerning ability) is true for both of the statistics used to calculate Composite Score-Win Shares and Wins Produced, both prorated over 48 minutes.  Admittedly, sometimes the difference is rather close (Tim Duncan is only overrated by .003 wins per 48), but it still exists.  I’m not going to try to explain this, but I think it’s very interesting.  San Antonio’s players, listed by Composite Score, can be found at spursassessment.  (I wish I knew how to stick a table in the middle of my post without learning HTML, but I don’t, so we’re stuck with the Excel links.  Sorry.)

At this point, it is no longer possible to trade players with expiring contracts, eliminating Duncan, Green, Mills, Anderson, and Diaw from any discussion.  However, those by no means make up the entire roster.  However, their only overrated players of value are Stephen Jackson and (maybe) James Anderson.  I am of the belief that, until the analytics movement gains more steam, all times who do use advanced while acquiring more than their net worth.  Unfortunately for the Spurs, the only possibilities of this are Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal.  Jackson has an expiring contract and a reputation, making him a great “deadweight” player.  Unfortunately, Neal is not greatly overrated, and he makes something the minimum salary.  However, Neal is peaking, and people forget how old he is because he hasn’t been in the league very long.  Cory Joseph, although seemingly highly overrated, has a bloated PERrate because you can get a PER of 3.5 for breathing according to some blogpost I read the other day (I think it was Bill Simmons or something).  Joseph’s PER is 7.6.

However, even though he technically isn’t overrated according to PERrate, I think Tony Parker is a prime trade candidate, provided that they acquire a younger and/or secretly better point in the immediate aftermath.  Here’s my reasoning:

For one, Tony Parker will turn thirty next year.  This is the time when players start to “fall off the cliff”.  Any year now, Parker may lose spontaneously lose half of his life.  Second of all, he already (sort of, kind of) fell off the cliff; two years ago, he posted a Composite Score of .075.  Although he has returned to his previous form over the past two years, it might be a warning sign for future decline.  (I haven’t studied falling off the cliff personally or read anything players who resurrect their careers, but I would I imagine it would lead to a future decline.)  Third of all, he probably is overrated, considering that PERrate is clustered too closely to the center.  Of course, barring any other transactions, the Spurs’ best option at point guard next year would be (drumroll, please) Gary Neal!  However, I’m sure the Spurs could swing something; they are the Spurs, after all.

Then there is the question of Tim Duncan.  Duncan has declined considerably, according to both conventional wisdom and anayltical measurements.  He is old, as far as basketball players are concerned.  However, it is still clear that he remains a serviceable center.  On the other hand, Tiago Splitter is a considerably younger center of slightly higher value.  Then, you also have the ever-so-slightly overrated DeJuan Blair.  And there’s the loyalty factor.  In the end, I think that the Spurs should resign Duncan, albeit at a greatly reduced rate.  He would then start the season as the starting center, while Blair acts as the team’s seventh or eighth man and Splitter start at the 4.  If Duncan’s skill continues to slip, Blair would go to the 4, Splitter to the 5, and Duncan to the bench.  Ultimately, I believe that he wants to finish his career in San Antonio, and that somehow the two sides would work something out.

Here’s my verdict:  The Spurs are a very solid, very deep, and somewhat underrated team.  They should shop Stephen Jackson, Cory Joseph, and Gary Neal for young value.  (It’s unlikely they’ll get much for Joseph.)  They should also try to trade Tony Parker, ensuring that they pick up a point guard, an albatross contract (or two), and lots of draft picks along the way.  They should prepare for the possibility that some of their older players will fall off the cliff, and they should resign Danny Green and Patty Mills to the cheapest contracts possible.  (I’ve always been a fan of Mills since he whitewashed Oregon in one of his first collegiate games.  Then again, I’ll become a fan of almost any player who has a good run.  Regardless, a back-up point guard does not necessarily have to be a world beater.)  Keep doing what you’re doing, San Antone!

P.S. This is my fortieth post.  I have deleted a couple along the way, but of them are still available.  Check out my archives!

P.P.S. If you have anything to saw about this post, please comment!  I want constructive criticism (although if you bash me, I will delete your bashings).

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