“Those guys are too old”. “Such a boring basketball team”. “The roster has had a great season but they can’t beat Lebron, Wade, Bosh and the high speed Miami Heat.” These were the things that fans were uttering before the start of the NBA Finals in 2014. Meeting the heat in the finals for a second straight season, following a horrific loss, the Spurs were incredibly motivated to make up for the year before. Little did we know that not only would they get their revenge, but they did so in a fashion that made fans everywhere appreciate the great basketball that was being played. The manner in which they accomplished this was so impressive and exciting that the once dubbed “Boring Spurs” had adopted a new title known as “The Beautiful Game”.
I was blessed enough to have the opportunity to attend the finals that year and will be showing you the Xs and Os behind one of the best Finals performances in NBA history. My goal is that coaches will be able to take this insight and use it for their programs regardless of what type of roster they possess by adding more cutting, screening and ball movement. These Spurs operated between a perfect balance of freedom and structure that allowed everyone to shine.
Before we get started, basketballreference.com has some interesting stats for us regarding this teams accomplishments:
- 1st in Assists (25)
- 1st in 3pt% (39)
- 4th in 2pt% (51)
- 6th in Points per game (105)
- 4th in FT% (78.5), made 15.7 out of 20 attempts per game.
To take it a step further, consider the following numbers of the 13 players that were involved in the Finals:
- Nine of them averaged at least one assist.
- Eight scored at least six points per game (5 in double figures)
- Six shot a video game-like 41% from deep or better
- On the season this team almost completed a 40-50-80 season!
(40% from three, 50% Fg, and 80% from the line.
Now let’s dive into the secrets of the beautiful game which puts a large emphasis on moving without the ball and sensing what read is to be next before you have the ball. Regardless if they ran a set play or freelanced, the team would pass and cut across a defenders face expecting the ball. Even if they didn’t receive it, the cuts opened up opportunities for everyone.
Positionally, the Spurs have the wings sprint to the corners, the post (big who doesn’t get rebound) runs straight to the rim and then ball-side, the trail (rebounder who outlets) stays behind the play, and the Lead is the player who pushes the ball ahead after receiving the outlet pass. These positions are all interchangeable and cause mismatches often in transition. The key to their attack had almost nothing to do with speed and more to do with the willingness to run as hard as they could CONSISTENTLY down the floor. They did a great job of cutting for the ball regardless if they felt they would receive it or not which put pressure on the defense since they had to guard everything. Once the guard kicks ahead they are looking for a layup or cut by the rim runner and lastly the corner 3. This helps against teams that play zone as well since the best way to beat a zone is to score before they can set themselves up.
The first action of the secondary is called weak since the lead will hit ahead to the wing and cut to the Weakside of the floor away from the ball. From here a series of quick screens usually gets a good look to score before playing 4 out 1 in. For teams that play 3 or 5 out, simply have the screens stay on the posts/elbows or step out to the perimeter for your desired spacing. If the post waiting for the cross screen is a solid shooter, they may also use the downscreen for an open shot. If the player using the downscreen isn’t a good shooter, simply have the screener turn and set another ballscreen with the defender sealed lower in the paint which is popular at the professional level. This is now a set that every NBA team runs that gets plays moving has plenty of counters built in.
Against a 23 zone, just screen the middle and top of the zone for the same looks.
The next action we will look at is to reverse the ball to the trail and then opposite wing. A simple stagger screen gets our player open to score. This is usually where a coach can show off a particular play by flowing into horns, box, or a 1-4 high alignment. The Spurs do a great job of changing what set to use after motion strong based on the team they play. Sometimes it’s as simple as a ball-screen after the stagger while other teams it’s a more intricate set. If you would prefer to keep the ball in your point guards hands, just have them fake the screen to the corner and use the trail screen themselves which is called “strong 1”. If the trail can’t get the ball to the wing, they can dribble handoff back to the slot to one of the guards to get into a set or play the pick and roll game which is known as “strong deny”. It’s important to point out that these variations are not things that should be called out individually but rather they should occur naturally. The Spurs have run these sets for years and with practice, don’t have the need to call them out constantly since coach popovich has given up a certain degree of control.
vs a 2-3 zone
After the stagger screen takes place, have the trail screener slip to the middle of the paint. If they get the ball, you can play the high low game with the post in the short corner.
—–Motion Loop A.k.a Floppy
The final action involves the point dribbling towards the wing. This sets up an action known as Loop or Floppy. That wing will use what’s called a zipper cut in which they sprint down under the post before going to the slot to get the ball. From here teams can not only flow into a 3, 4 or 5 out alignment, but also look for post ups, ball screens, or jump into a 1-4 high set. Players simply look to sprint off of screens and make the appropriate read. For a more in depth look at the Floppy Action, take a look at our Floppy Baseline out of Bounds article on our blog!
One last point is to say that watching those finals in person was an incredible experience. I firmly believe that such simple principles can be used at all levels to improve your team! Not only that, but after these finals most of the NBA has installed these sets in various forms for themselves as well as focus more on motion offense instead of heavy play calling. We shouldn’t have to worry about teaching separate plays for man and zone if we just simply teach offense that works for both. Not only will we create better basketball players but as coaches we will have more time for skill development, defense, and practicing late game scenarios! If the Spurs have taught us anything at all it’s the true meaning of the word TEAM which stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More”.
That does it for NBA Spotlight: The 2014 San Antonio Spurs and the Beautiful Game! Feel free to contact me via twitter @KJ_the_scout, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also comment below if you have any questions or would like to see other examples of how this can fit your roster!
HoopGrind Content Contributor | My Goal is to become an Advanced Scout in the NBA.