It’s not that long ago that the San Antonio Spurs were considered one of the best defensive teams in the league, using the likes of Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Bruce Bowen, and Robert Horry to shut down other teams. Things have changed for the Spurs. Rather than slow down the pace as the core of Duncan-Parker-Manu has grown older, they’ve done the opposite.
From 1998-2008, the Spurs were consistently dominant in defense never finishing outside the top three in defensive efficiency. This season they finished 11th. While a lot of this has to do with their star players growing older as well as the loss of their defensive minded role players, this transition has been purposefully designed by coach Popovich. The way he has helped this team adjust to a new style is amazing, and his Coach of the Year award is more than justified.
This season the Spurs were the second highest scoring offense in the NBA at 103.7 points per game. Come playoff time, teams often emphasize defense, but the Spurs have come to rely on their offense. They routed the Jazz by 31 points last night with seven players scoring in double figures, while hitting 10-22 from three.
What’s really helped this offense has been the play of Tony Parker, who should be on the shortlist of MVP candidates. His ability to penetrate as well as masterfully run the pick and roll has allowed his teammates to get clean looks at the basket. They rely heavily on the three pointer from the likes of Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Matt Bonner, who collectively are shooting around 40% from behind the arc.
The Spurs offense is predicated on the use of high ball screens to create pick and roll situations. When Parker is on the floor, 46% of their offensive sets are run out of the pick and roll, with him as the ball handler. Once the screen has been set, Parker has a bevy of options. The three-point shooters spread themselves out, the big men often position themselves for quick cuts to the basket, or Parker can take it himself.
They have perfected this system, and the unselfishness of the players often leads to the best possible shot in a possession.
Can the Spurs win their fourth title in ten years with so much emphasis on offense? It is entirely possible, although history favors teams with more of a balance. But, these are the Spurs, coached by arguably the best coach in the league, and dominated by three future Hall of Famers. They’ve been here before, and understand what needs to be done. Popovich did a masterful job limiting his stars minutes during the regular season, so they could be in a position to maximize their efforts come postseason play.
The Spurs have shown during the regular season that they are capable of beating anyone at full strength, and they very well may continue that in the playoffs. Their two toughest matchups are the Lakers, whose size has caused them problems (Bynum’s 30 board game comes to mind), and the Thunder, whose offense is capable of keeping pace with theirs. Whereas in the East, the Heat seem to be the likely favorite, the West is much more wide open, but you would be a fool to dimiss the Spurs.