Building the Ideal Playoff Rotation for the San Antonio Spurs

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Building the Ideal Playoff Rotation for the San Antonio Spurs
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will be on the court often, but what is the best way San Antonio can surround its Big Three?

Another NBA season, another playoff appearance for the San Antonio Spurs.

The 2013-14 campaign has been yet another masterpiece by longtime head coach Gregg Popovich, perhaps even his best, given the continuous injuries the team has suffered.

San Antonio is close to locking up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and even more importantly—and impressively—the best record in the NBA for home-court advantage during the playoffs.

But when the Spurs enter the postseason, which lineups will give Popovich's team the best opportunity to win a league championship? Step into Bleacher Report's laboratory, where we build San Antonio's ideal playoff rotation.

 

Starters

Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Lineup: PG Tony Parker, SG Danny Green, SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Tim Duncan, C Tiago Splitter

No surprises here. Save for Tim Duncan, injuries plagued each starter at one time or another during the season. But when San Antonio has the entire roster at full strength, its starting lineup is a force.

Tony Parker is the catalyst and facilitator of the Spurs' lethal offense, and Kawhi Leonard defends the league's best scorers at an elite level. In the post, Duncan has, yet again, been a consistent contributor, tallying approximately 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks per night.

After an early slump, Danny Green has improved his three-point percentage from 38.2 percent to 41.4 percent since March 6.

Tiago Splitter is not a dominant center, but his solid interior defense and superb rebounding perfectly complement Duncan. Bleacher Report's Joe Flynn notes Splitter is the "surprising common denominator in numerous Spurs wins."

This is the same lineup that lifted San Antonio into the 2013 NBA Finals before Splitter's production noticeably faded. However, Splitter getting moved out of the starting rotation is a discussion only worth revisiting if the Spurs eventually meet the Miami Heat at the end of the postseason.

 

Second Unit

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport
Diaw, Belinelli and Ginobili

Lineup: PG Patty Mills, SG Manu Ginobili, SF Marco Belinelli, PF Boris Diaw, C Aron Baynes

As the starters are called to the bench, Popovich summons the all-international reserve unit, otherwise known as the Foreign Legion.

The backcourt combination of the LegionMills, Ginobili and Belinellihas been absolutely stellar this season.

After appearing in 74 games and logging 917 minutes over the last two years, Mills has played in every game and tallied 1,292 minutes. Mills does not post overwhelming stats, averaging 9.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.9 steals per game, but he only commits 0.8 turnovers.

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Ginobili is having the third-most efficient shooting season of his career, connecting on 46.8 percent of his attempts and scoring 12.5 points per night. Belinelli began the season with a hot streak behind the arc, but even after cooling off, he is a career-high 43.9 percent from distance.

By using the trio together, Pop has limited the damage Mills (0.8), Ginobili (2.0) and Belinelli (1.2) could individually cause in the turnover department. And the results are obviously positive.

Playing 25 minutes per game off the bench, Boris Diaw has elevated his game during the 2013-14 season. Diaw is netting 9.4 points per night, shooting 53.9 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from three-point land.

Lastly, Jeff Ayres or Aron BaynesAyres averaged 13.6 minutes per night through his first 53 appearances, snaring 3.5 rebounds per outing. Recently, though, Baynes has received the majority of those minutes, providing a more physical presence on the blocks.

Offensive and Defensive Points Per Possession
Lineup Minutes Off. PPP Def. PPP
Mills-Ginobili-Belinelli-Diaw-Ayres 89.6 1.17 1.03
Mills-Ginobili-Belinelli-Diaw-Baynes 45.8 1.35 1.01

82games.com

The biggest wild card in the rotation discussion is trade acquisition Austin Daye, especially following his 22-point explosion against the Philadelphia 76ers. However, it's important to remember that breakout performance was just one game, and it was the tanking 76ers, so Daye likely occupies a meager end-of-the-bench role.

 

Crunch Time

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Lineup: PG Tony Parker, SG Danny Green, SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Boris Diaw, C Tim Duncan

To begin, Parker, Leonard and Duncan will be on the floor during crunch time, period. Behind those three players, Popovich must choose between Green or Ginobili and Splitter or Diaw.

The preferred starting lineup includes Splitter, but the crunch time rotation should have Diaw replace the 7-footer. A five-man unit of Parker, Green, Leonard, Diaw and Duncan gives San Antonio the best balance between offensive and defensive production.

Offensive and Defensive Points Per Possession
Lineup Minutes Off. PPP Def. PPP
Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan-Splitter 215.9 1.01 0.91
Parker-Ginobili-Leonard-Diaw-Duncan 164.7 1.18 1.10
Parker-Green-Leonard-Diaw-Duncan 87.6 1.14 0.86
Parker-Ginobili-Leonard-Duncan-Splitter 62.1 0.94 1.12

82games.com

Per 82games, they combine to grab 53.0 percent of available rebounds, and their effective field-goal percentage (eFG) sits at 53.2 percent, both of which are the highest marks of the four lineups mentioned in the accompanying table.

Green assumes the role as the three-point shooter and No. 2 defender behind Leonard, while Diaw is an adequate defender and does not have a glaring offensive weakness. Ginobili is a better playmaker than Green, but Parker is on the floor for a reason. Splitter is a better rebounder than Diaw, but the former is far from an offensive threat.

When the final seconds are ticking off the clock, Pop can and will utilize a situation-specific lineup. But as the Spurs enter the last few minutes of a postseason game, Pop employing a unit that balances both ends of the floor will typically be the best option.

 

Note: Stats taken from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Accurate as of March 26, 2014, pre-Denver Nuggets vs. San Antonio.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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