With this lock-out I have had little motivation to talk basketball, but today I managed to dig deep and finish what I started and write for the people. I am excited because it now seems we’ll have a season afterall.
While we have taken a look at the Spurs defense and how it has declined over the years, we’ll now take a look at their offense which is very interesting. But before we take a look forward at some possible changes the Spurs may need to make, let’s take a look back, WAY BACK, to see how the offense has developed to where it is now.
To start this history lesson, we’ll look at the Spurs 1988-89 season – one of the worst seasons the Spurs have ever had (21-61 record). Whats interesting about that season is that two members of the Spurs current team were present and active for the Spurs then as well. Who, you might ask? That would be Gregg Popovich and RC Buford both serving as assistant coaches to Larry Brown back then.
The next season the Spurs made moves, plus got David Robinson, and were successful. However, there was one thing that always hindered the Spurs – their shooting. While Robinson and Sean Elliott both had range, Terry Cummings, Willie Anderson and Rod Strickland had iffy jumpshots. So although Robinson could torch anyone who was guarding him, the opposing team learned to cheat off players by double and triple teaming Robinson with Elliott being the only one that could make them pay on the perimeter.
Popovich saw this for three straight years, so when he finally got another gifted big man in Tim Duncan, he made sure that every season the Spurs had a plethora of shooters to space the floor for Duncan and to a lesser extent Robinson. Since the 2000-01 season, the Spurs have been one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the league.
There is a shocking similiarity to the Spurs 2000-01 season and that of last season. In both those seasons the Spurs led the league in 3-point FG%. Ironically enough, they did this using the same system. In 2000-01 Tim Duncan was unstoppable offensively, and David Robinson still had a solid game. What the Spurs would do is lineup high percentage 3-point shooters in the other three positions (SF – Danny Ferry, SG – Antonio Daniels, PG – Terry Porter).
In the 2001 playoffs the Spurs met up with a Los Angeles Lakers team that suprisingly beat them in four straight games. The Lakers exposed holes the Spurs had on both ends of the floor, especially offensively. With Robinson not having a great series and Duncan now being doubled aggressively, the Spurs offense came to a screeching halt with Antonio Daniels being the only perimeter player to make plays and using a lot of energy to guard a young Kobe Bryant on the other end.
In the 2011 playoffs the Spurs had a similiar system, except slighty backwards. Instead of throwing it in the post, the Spurs relied on perimeter players to supply their offense. Tony Parker, and to a lesser extent Manu Ginobili, would drive the lanes and either score or kick out to high percentage 3-point shooters. With Tony Parker’s jumpshot being non-existent and Manu Ginobili playing with a bad arm, the Grizzlies halted what seemed to be an offensive juggernaut, and beat the Spurs in six games during the playoffs. Just like Antonio Daniels, Tim Duncan in a reverse situation was the only frontcourt player that was significantly productive on the offensive end and had to guard a prime Zach Randolph and a young Marc Gasol on the other end. Lack of movement on the perimeter was a big reason why the Spurs lost to the Lakers in ’01 and lack of post play was an additional reason the Spurs lost to the Grizzlies last season.
When he was in Utah, Jerry Sloan used a system called the Flex-Offense. Its a motion offense mixed with variables. Players would make certain cuts during the first run of a play, and if that didn’t produce a score they would repeat, but with the same players making different cuts. They had a nice mixture of low post up opportunities, elbow jumpshots, and 3-point shots. Sloan, with the way he ran his offense, was able to get the maximum offensive production out of players who really didnt seem all that capable (Matt Harpring, Ronnie Brewer). Everyone looked at the pick-n-roll between Stockton and Malone or Williams and Boozer. But the cutting, back picking, and pin downs that the Jazz regularly used is what gave the role players quality shots.
For everyone to thrive in the Spurs offense, a balanced offensive structure is needed. The flex-offense is exactly that, an offense which allows you to employ players with different/unique skill sets. In the Spurs system, 3-point shooting is vital to their success. Every high scoring role player outside the Big Three are high percentage three point shooters (Jefferson 44% / Neal 42% / Bonner 46%) except for Dejuan Blair, who may I add lost major minutes when the playoffs came around.
The 2009-10 Utah Jazz (I used the 09-10 Jazz simply because trades and loss of coaches kinda changed their entire scheme in the 10-11 season) were a well oiled machined offensively and only had one player that shot over 40% from behind the arc (Kyle Korver 53.6%).
If Coach Pop can employ the use of a motion offense then the Spurs can be a high scoring team that is difficult to defend all around, as opposed to other teams keying in on their main weapon and iniatator of the offense – Tony Parker. Using this offense will allow them to use a big man that has post skills or is a solid defensive player next to Duncan.
The Season is just around the corner and many questions are still waiting to be answered. Will this be Tim’s last year? Are the Spurs going to make a major trade? Will it involve Tony Parker? Will their defense improve? Stay tuned as this season gives way to a Spurs team that is full of question marks. Whether they win or lose, however, let’s always keep in the mind the four championships that have been brought to the city and go down with the ship if this is it. But no matter what happens – GO SPURS GO – and I’ll talk to y’all again in late December… Maybe sooner if the Spurs make a major move.
Date: December 5, 2011