Thursday, June 13, 2013

The San Antonio Spurs' secret weapon

The Miami Heat were heavy betting favorites over the San Antonio Spurs before the N.B.A. finals began, despite computer rankings that showed the teams to be relatively even.

There were several reasons for this. First, the Heat were scheduled to have home-court advantage in four of the seven games. Second, the Heat won more games during the regular season, 66 to San Antonio’s 58. (The reason the teams’ computer rankings were about equal is because San Antonio played a considerably tougher schedule.) ...

However, under their coach, Gregg Popovich, the Spurs take the notion of timing their players’ performances to the extreme, resting their veteran stars whenever they can during the regular season to preserve their fitness for the playoffs...

Tim Duncan, for example, averaged only 25 minutes per game during the regular season (accounting for the fact that he sat out 13 games entirely) – but has played 34 minutes per game in the playoffs. Tony Parker’s minutes have increased to 36 per game from 27, while Manu Ginobili is playing 25 minutes per game instead of just 17. Although Miami’s “Big Three” – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – are also playing more minutes per game, the increased playing time for the Spurs’ stars is far more dramatic. ...

The Spurs, however, are practically a whole different team during the postseason. On the basis of John Hollinger’s Wins Added statistic, I estimate that the playing time allocations the Spurs are using in the playoffs make them the equivalent of 14 wins stronger than their record suggested during the regular season — tantamount to adding a star player like Blake Griffin to their lineup.