A month into the season, a few numbers are striking the Roundup as strange. As follows:
-"Entering the [Thunder-Spurs] game, San Antonio was 4-0 at home, 0-3 on the road, with none of the games being close." That's from The Oklahoman's Mike Baldwin, who makes an excellent point that the Roundup can't quite explain.
Through eight games, the Spurs have played in only one game that was decided by less than seven points. Four of the team's games ended with a double digit margin. Three others -- at Chicago, vs. Toronto and vs. Dallas -- were decided by a collective margin of 23 points, but none of those games were as competitive as the final score line indicated.
Something strange is going on. Some nights, the Spurs are blowing opponents out. Other nights, Spurs are getting blown out. There's a weird Good Spurs/Bad Spurs dynamic happening this season, and the Roundup can't figure out why.
-Roger Mason, Jr.'s numbers are way down this year. He's only averaging 17.9 minutes per game -- that's down from a career high of 30.4 last season -- but his shooting totals are also shrinking. Last year, Mason shot 42.1 percent from 3. This year, he's only made 6 of 27 threes (22.2 percent). Last year, he shot 42.5 percent from the field. This year, he's shooting 28.3 percent.
Where have those minutes and points gone? Almost to the decimal place, the answer is George Hill. The second-year shooting guard has averaged 10.5 more minutes per game this season. His shooting percentage is at 48.0 percent, up from 40.3 percent. And as the Express-News notes, Hill's three-point shooting average is up almost 20 percentage points this year. The Roundup would like to point out, though, that it's still wildly early in the season. Hill's only attempted 15 three-pointers this year.
But to take it a step further: Basketball-Reference.com keeps track of something called Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which essentially tries to cram every positive and negative thing that a player does onto the court into one number. (The stat was first created by ESPN.com's John Hollinger.) League average is 15. Hill's number this season is 16.7. Mason's is 3.0.
But to take it the level of utmost importance: Hollinger's stat literally compounds every metric -- points, rebounds, assists, turnovers, etc -- into one. The players who do well under PER are the ones who fill up every column in the box score.
Even last year, in a career year for Mason, his PER was 11.9. His role on the Spurs was almost exclusively to shoot threes, and his below-NBA-average PER reflects that. Meanwhile, Mason's weakness is on defense. Based on the Defensive Rating stat, the Roundup can tell you that a team full of Roger Masons would give up 114 points per 100 possessions, which is about level with his career average. (Compare that to an elite defender like Tim Duncan. For his career, a team full of Duncans would allow 95 points per 100 possessions.)
But PER was built for a stat stuffer like Hill. In limited minutes last year, his PER was almost equal to Mason's. With increased minutes this year, Hill's showing his versatility at both the point and the shooting guard spots.
It's entirely too early to know for sure, but all numbers are pointing to Mason being used as a complementary player this year, mostly in situations in which a three-pointer is needed. Hill's taken Mason's spot as the Spurs' third best guard.
-Last week's Roundup noted that the Spurs were performing exceptionally poorly on the defensive end. The good news: a week later, the team's defensive rating is up to 22nd in the league. The Spurs' offensive rating dropped two spots, to fourth overall. Basically, what it means: the Spurs are scoring slightly more points per possession than their opponents, and while that hasn't correlated with an increase in wins, it will soon, especially if the Spurs tighten up on D.
-Lastly: Richard Jefferson is a career 77.9 percent free throw shooter (though that number's bogged down by his rookie season shooting percentage, when he hit 71.3 percent at the stripe). But Jefferson's made only 30 of his 48 free throws this season (62.5 percent). Based on his career numbers, there's no reason to expect those numbers to stay that low, especially since his overall field goal percentage hasn't seen a similar dip.
Around the Web
-First, a word of praise to the excellent "48 Minutes of Hell" blog, who've been doing great work writing about stats. Their recent post breaks down why the Spurs were so effective against the Mavericks -- and what they can do to be similarly efficient in tomorrow's game at Dallas. Give it a read.
-"The Spurs could continue to struggle a bit and inspire watchdogs to list evidence of their demise. But they'll eventually start to roll and inspire the same watchdogs to remind us never to count out the Spurs. Like many developments in the NBA, it's still expected." That's from Fox Sports' Randy Hill, who puts himself on the 'not panicking' bandwagon in the early part of this season.
-The Roundup also wants to give a tip of the hat to Bleacher Report's Robert Kleeman, who described George Hill's defense as "mucilaginous." Surely you're familiar with mucilage, the polar glycoprotein that's often used as an adhesive.
Or, for those of you who only understood the word adhesive in the last sentence: it's a substance that's commonly used in glue.
A triple word score to you, Mr. Kleeman.
-If you're looking for some new wallpaper, The Roundup recommends 'Pounding the Rock's' new "CAUTION: DeJuan Blair Rebounding" image.
A YouTube Clip That You Should Probably Adjust the Volume For Before Watching at the Office
Ty Lawson is not very tall. He's definitely not 6', and he's probably a bit shorter than the 5'11'' that he's listed at. All of which makes this dunk against the Lakers even more impressive:
Consider the Following
Among the 14 players in the NBA who are wearing the number 21 jersey, Tim Duncan leads all in both points per game and rebounds per game. Of the group -- all of whom play either center or forward -- Duncan is the only one averaging more than 6 rebounds per game.
The Week Ahead
-Wed, Nov. 18, at Dallas. 8:30 p.m. ESPN and FSN
-Thurs., Nov. 19, vs. Utah, 7:30 p.m. FSN
-Sat., Nov. 21, vs. Washington, 7:30 p.m., My35
You might not have even noticed it -- after all, as Morgan Freeman once said, how often do you really look at a man's shoes? -- but Jason Kidd had some unusual sneakers on during last week's Spurs-Mavs game. If you missed it, just take a look at the image at right.
By now, you're familiar with the logos for Nike, Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, Under Armour, et al. Peak probably doesn't come to mind.
Peak is one of three Chinese shoes giants, along with Anta and Li-Ning. (If you watched the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics, then you're already familiar with Li Ning, the former gymnast who flew threw the Bird's Nest in Beijing and lit the Olympic torch,)
All three brands are starting to gain a foothold in the Asian market thanks to the NBA's massive push into China. But it's worth noting: neither of China's NBA stars are signed to these three brands. Yao Ming endorses Reebok. Yi Jianlian wears Nike.
So what the Chinese sneaker companies have done is sign players associated with Yao or Yi. Almost the entire Houston Rockets team has a Chinese shoe deal. (As proof: Rockets forward Chuck Hayes, with a career average of 3.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, is featured in several Li Ning TV ads.)
Li Ning is the biggest brand, and they've also got the biggest name signed: Shaquille O'Neal.
Anta's the smallest, with Steve Francis (!) and Luis Scola as the stars of their campaign.
Then there's Peak, who've made Shane Battier a household name in China. (I'll let you judge his TV ad for yourself, though in advance, you should know this: Battier both wrote and sungs the background music for the ad, and it also features the Rockets forward splashing through a Chinese rice paddy.)
But Peak made a splash when, just before Team USA headed home from their gold medal performance in Beijing, the company inked Jason Kidd. For Kidd, the move was especially strange. Consider this analogy: many American soccer players who've been playing for a European club will return to the States to finish out their careers in MLS, where they can sign one last contract before retiring. These players know that they're not capable of playing abroad anymore, but MLS offers them a competitive salary and the chance to extend their careers.
That's essentially what Kidd's done with his shoe deal. He's not going to get A-list money from Nike or Adidas, and a lesser brand would rather sign an up-and-coming player (see: Brandon Jennings and Under Armour). So Kidd's essentially looking for that final shoe deal before he retires.
Now, please excuse me as the Roundup ducks hundreds of angry emails from U.S. soccer supporters.
The Roundup is a weekly look at Spurs basketball and the NBA. Dan Oshinsky is a digital media producer at KENS 5. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.