70 Wins for the Spurs? Credit Their Bench

The Spurs, in the Gregg Popovich era, are the masters of reinvention and reincarnation, which speaks to their front office organizational aptitude. Accepting how the league is organically growing away from its roots and then back to its roots is a talent, in and of itself.  First, it was the David Robinson era. Then the Tim Duncan era. Then the Spurs holy defense era. Then Tony Parker. And now it is Kawhi Leonard who is the face of the Spurs. He is pretty much the perfect player. He scores, he defends, he makes big shots, he’s already won a Finals MVP.

So, it’s pretty standard to narrow the Spurs into Kawhi Leonard and his achievements and accomplishments. Popovich asking Kobe Bryant to keep in touch with Kawhi, to continually give him support, advice, and perspective, was an indication of how highly the Spurs think of Kawhi and where they feel his talent can take them. Particularly with Duncan having knee issues, when conversations about the Spurs start, it begins and ends with Kawhi Leonard.

But everyone is missing something here.

Kawhi is great, the face a franchise needs, and he is doing his part to justify the max contract. He is the definition of a max player. But lost in all the Kawhi Leonard MVP discussion is what the Spurs bench is doing. If Kawhi is the head of the snake, the Spurs bench are that python that strangles you to death.

Patty Mills. Boris Diaw. David West. Jonathon Simmons. Kyle Anderson. Manu Ginobli, now injured. They are also the reason the Spurs have the second best record in the NBA.

The Spurs bench is first in assists, first in field goal percentage, first in efficiency, second in points scored, third in defensive rebounds, fourth in 3-point percentage,  fifth in blocks.

Top of the Class Points Fg% 3-Point% Assists Efficiency
Spurs Bench, 2015-16 41.7 (2nd) 49.2% (1st) 38.1% (4th) 11.7 (1st) 50.9 (1st)

The Spurs bench is responsible for 40% of the Spurs points, 38% of their defensive rebounds, 46% of their assists. The only bench that accrues more minutes than the Spurs 20. 4 bench minutes is the Timberwolves bench (21.0).

This is nothing new for the Spurs. They have a system and they stick to it. Last year, their bench poured in 41.1 points. In 2013-14, their bench contributed 44.3 points. This year, the Spurs bench is giving them 41.7 points a night. The next best in the West from a playoff contender is the Clippers at 36.5 points.

The impact of a high quality bench impacts the dependency on starters which translates into Tim Duncan not being such a work horse and the ability not to overload Kawhi Leonard. By the time the playoffs roll around, none of the Spurs are going to be tired.

Top 4 in the West Bench Production Points FG% 3-Point % Assists Efficiency
Warriors 35.6 (12th) 48.0% (2nd) 37.8% (5th) 10.0 (2nd) 46.1 (4th)
Spurs  41.7 (1st) 49.2% (1st) 38.1% (4th) 11.7 (1st) 50.9 (1st)
Thunder 34.8 (19th) 45.0% (6th) 38.3% (2nd) 5.8 (28th) 38.2 (19th)
Clippers 36.5 (10th) 42.3% (24th) 31.0% (28th) 7.0 (17th) 38.1 (20th)

The Spurs players (and Gregg Popovich) readily admit they learned a tough lesson last year in the playoffs. You have to have a top-4 seed. In this spacing the floor era of the NBA, it is too burdensome to start playoff series on the road. Home court is crucial.

The Spurs have yet to lose a game in the month of February. Against Orlando, the bench scored 56 points and pulled down 18 rebounds. The next game, against the Pelicans, they had an off night. 16 points, 14 assists. They recovered for 58 points and 23 rebounds in Dallas. 29 points and 14 rebounds in Kobe’s last San Antonio visit. 40 points and 18 rebounds in Miami. 27 points, 13 rebounds in Orlando.

Bouncing back from last year when he was recovering from surgery and he never got quite back in the groove, Patty Mills is the bench leader. This year, he is playing the most minutes in his NBA career (20.2), dishing out the most dimes (2.6), and is posting a career high in steals.

Patty Mills Minutes Points FG% 3-Point % PER
2014-15 15.7 6.9 38.1% 34.1% 13.0
2015-16 20.2 8.4 44.6% 39.3% 15.3

The Spurs are having a historic year, on pace for 70 wins, a fact that is hardly reported. But just because no one talks about it doesn’t mean it’s not true. The same goes for the Spurs bench. It is their hidden assest the NBA has overlooked. But, it may just lead San Antonio to championship number 6.