The San Antonio Spurs are the best offensive team in basketball. But, really, their offense isn’t that simple. The Spurs offense doesn’t consist of unimaginative sets, aimless pick-and-rolls and an over reliance on athleticism to score points. There’s a reason isolations are inherently inefficient. When the entire defense is keyed onto your every move scoring the basketball becomes considerably harder and, over the course of an entire game, physically exhausting.
The Spurs offense, thankfully, doesn’t conform to the league accepted policy of bludgeoning the defense into submission, recklessly and artlessly. Their offense predicates on ball movement, misdirections, multiple options, floor spacing, perimeter shooting and cohesiveness. Most teams don’t have enough technically intelligent and willing basketball players to replicate the Spurs’ system. Another important thing in their favor is continuity. Continuity allows the Spurs to continue plodding, dominating opposing teams without sacrificing offensive variance.
Variance is key. Variance keeps the defense guessing. Variance invariably leads to defensive mishaps, the likes of which are very favorable to the Spurs’ offense. Variance makes other options more effective by default. Defenders can’t expect a certain event to occur; they can only make educated guesses based on probability. A lot of teams fall into a repetitive pattern, making defense a lot easier.
A typical Spurs possession can either have A) pick-and-roll action with Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and, less likely, Gary Neal, B) weakside action that frees up Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard for forays to the rim, C) Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, both effective roll man, taking advantage of soft interior defense, D) the aforementioned Green and Leonard spotting up, E) post-ups for Duncan, F) Boris Diaw utilizing his passing gits, etc etc. A lot of teams have the potential of offensive success but likely they succumb to isolations and poor execution. The Spurs aren’t one of those teams. Not only do they have a lot of options but these options are generally above-average options in terms of efficiency.
This is my favorite part, as a Spurs fan, to look for every night. We are treated to a surprise every night. There are the usual contributors but the Spurs are almost always receive unheralded contributions from a few rotation players. It could be Green knocking down open 3’s, Diaw grabbing rebounds and shooting 7-7 from the field, Leonard scoring in double-figures, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner stretching the defense and so on. The Spurs are unpredictable. (Hence my overemphasis on variance earlier).
Their only weakness is on post-ups. San Antonio scores 0.76 points per possession on post-ups, putting them 26th in the league. Duncan tends to dominate this possession type and even a player of his stature doesn’t produce at an average mark. 9.2% of San Antonio’s possessions come from post-ups which is a little high given their lack of success. But that’s nitpicking.
Pick-and-rolls are very important in the Motion “Weak” offense. Parker and Ginobili are adept at making the right play — Parker has made a lot of strides in this department — and the big man simply take advantage of the lack of attention. DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter aren’t players you can rely on to create for themselves but within the confines of the pick-and-roll they excel. Splitter averaged 1.31 PPP as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, a number that is only bested by four players in the entire league. Blair isn’t too far behind with a 1.17 PPP that puts him in the top 20. Not too shabby.
Spot-ups come as a direct result from pick-and-rolls and action off the ball. San Antonio is adroit at freeing up space for their shooters as their 1.02 PPP suggests. Spot-ups represent an abnormally high percentage of the Spurs’ offensive distribution (22.8%). This gives credence to the notion that building an offense around the perimeter isn’t so bad.
I could go on and on about this Spurs offense, including their transition offense, cutting ability and surprisingly reliable isolations, although isolations only represent 7.1% of their distribution. But that would be overkill.
The moral of the story? The Spurs are an elite offensive team and their offensive tendencies are unprecedented.
Can you name another NBA team that incorporates every player into the offense as effortlessly as San Antonio?