Before we get to a proper preview of the Western Conference finals, let us address a curiosity about the Spurs and Thunder courtesy of the fancy STATS LLC camera system installed in 10 arenas around the league, including in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. I’ve written about the tracking system here, and Zach McCann of ESPN.com had a nice feature on the technology last week. Basically, it tracks every movement of player, ball and referees in three dimensions. It tracks how fast players run, how often they dribble before particular types of shot attempts, how high in the air a rebounded ball is when a player grabs it, how far players run in total distance during a game, etc.
Here’s the curiosity: The folks at STATS were kind enough to send me their season leaders in several categories, including the most times a player dribbled the ball during a game. Turns out, two of the five highest dribble numbers, including the top spot, come from Spurs point guard Tony Parker in games against the Thunder. Parker dribbled 839 times in the Spurs’ Feb. 4 victory in San Antonio (where he scored 42 points) and 724 times in a thrilling March 16 win in Oklahoma City (where he scored 25).
It wasn’t just the number of dribbles that stood out. Parker shot the ball much more against the Thunder, averaging 19.7 field-goal attempts in three games compared to his season average of 14.8. He got to the foul line more often against the Thunder, so the jump in shot attempts is not the result of Parker’s failing to draw his usual number of shooting fouls. He dished 7.7 assists against Oklahoma City, identical to his season average.
Parker also dribbled more than usual each time he touched the ball. That might seem obvious given the overall increase in dribbles, but it nonetheless indicates that the broader jump isn’t merely the result of Parker’s actually getting the ball more often. Rather, it might indicate that he held the ball longer against the Thunder when he did get it. Parker dribbled the ball 7.5 times on average when he touched it during those two high-dribble games, compared to his season average of 5.5 dribble per touch, according to the SportsVU numbers.