What's wrong with the Spurs' transition offense?

USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs transition offense has deteriorated over the last few seasons, and that needs to change if they're going to maximize their chances this postseason..

The San Antonio Spurs yet again have one of the best records in the NBA. But it hasn't been what any Spurs fan would call an ideal season. Injuries have ravaged the roster, and even when everyone's been healthy, the Spurs have hardly played like a championship-caliber team. At this point in the season, there is a major hurdle that San Antonio needs to climb before the postseason begins: transition buckets.

In 2009-10 the Spurs finished with a 50-win season, but were granted the seventh seed in the playoffs. They first squared off against Dirk Nowitzki and the despised Mavericks, grinding their way to a 4-2 series victory, although not without their fair share of broken noses, tossed bodies, and slapped faces, which were once all too common in the I-35 rivalry. Then the Spurs went on to face the Phoenix Suns, who boasted an insane 115.3 offensive rating. Almost nothing went right for the Spurs in that series, as they went on to average a mere 101.3 points per game against one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and the Suns were able to make a clean sweep of the Silver and Black.

If they wanted to keep pace with the younger, more athletic teams in the NBA, they had to make a change in the team's philosophy. Pop handed the reins over to Tony and Manu to form a cutting-edge, run-and-gun, board-and-break type team, and it ... really worked. Tony captivated the ladies with his dazzling spin moves and premier-point-guard numbers, Manu had a renaissance year, George Hill looked more and more like the budding face of the franchise, and Richard Jefferson occasionally did stuff you weren't embarrassed of.

Unfortunately, the Spurs went on to lose to the eight-seeded Grizzlies in the first round, which was probably inevitable after Manu's injury in the last game of the regular season, and considering Memphis entered the playoffs red-hot. Equally unfortunate was that the Spurs moved away from the transition game which had bolstered their offensive numbers. Here are some fast-break statistics since the inception of the offensively-aggressive Spurs:

Season

FB/G

PPP (Points per Possession)

%TO

%Score

2010-11

15.1

1.17

11.4

56.8

2011-12

13.5

1.24

10.3

58.1

2012-13

13.5

1.13

13.1

53.5

2013-14

12.6

1.12

14.4

52.8

While the difference between these numbers may seem negligible, fast-break points accumulate over 82 games, which means that a difference of even 0.9 points per game is notable. Pop and his Spurs aren't having nearly the same amount of success on the fast break that they've had in the past few seasons. They are scoring fewer points in transition per game and per possession, and they are turning the ball over more. The Spurs have moved from one of the top fast-break teams to a slower half-court-based team. This simply does not work against the more athletic and savvy teams like OKC, who can recover quickly from their defensive mistakes in half-court sets.

The fast break is mainly run by Tony and Manu, so let's see how their numbers fare compared to past seasons.

Tony Parker

Parker has been the guy to spark the fast breaks for the Spurs. While his numbers are still impressive, and his OMFB hasn't disappeared, there has been a steady decline.

Season

PPP

%FG

%TO

%Score

2010-11

1.17

62.2

12.5

60.5

2011-12

1.2

61.5

10.8

60.2

2012-13

1.13

55.2

11.3

56.4

2013-14

1.08

55.8

13.7

55.4

What we see is a drop in both productivity and efficiency. Tony's fast break numbers have steadily declined over the past four seasons, which includes a 13.7% chance of a turnover when on the fast break. From the film, it appears as if Tony isn't quite as quick or athletic as he once was, which has led to transition attempts with less room than he was previously used to.

Don't get me wrong; Tony is still a premier scorer in transition, but the decline of his numbers in transition may be a concern.

Manu Ginobili

Manu has had a renaissance year of sorts. When healthy this season, he has looked flat-out dominant. And even though I recently wrote a piece on how Manu inspired my love for basketball, his numbers on the fast break have been disturbingly terrible.

Season

PPP

%FG

%TO

%Score

2010-11

1.11

51.1

12.2

49.7

2011-12

1.19

50.8

8.6

51.9

2012-13

1.02

41.9

14.3

45.2

2013-14

0.89

43.1

20

38.8

Okay. Those numbers from 2012-14 are bad. Really, really bad. I honestly can't tell you what's the most horrifying thing about these numbers, especially from this season. The fact that he's shooting 43.1% in transition when the league average is 45.1% might be a good place to start. Then there's the fact that he turns the ball over 20% of the time on the fast break. And the Spurs score only 38.8% of the time in transition with Manu?

If Manu's twelve seasons in the NBA have taught us anything, it would be that he's a selfless player who always puts the team first. This is quite apparent when he's on the fast break looking for teammates who are even the slightest bit open. He has shown us time and again that he just sees something on the court that most of us cannot. Unfortunately, his teammates occasionally miss his court vision too, which leads to a good number of botched transition plays.

Manu Ginobili is a great basketball player, but to be an effective contributor in the playoffs he needs to start converting on these transition baskets.

Scoring more fast break points isn't the end-all-be-all solution to winning and losing for the Spurs, but this season features several contenders with top-notch defenses that take pride in shutting down premier half-court set teams like the Spurs. With the return of Kawhi Leonard from his broken hand, the Spurs have had better numbers in transition over the last couple of games, which is a reason for optimism. If San Antonio can sprint down the court for easy transition layups, they stand a better chance in the pursuit of that elusive fifth title.

Stats courtesy of Team Rankings and mySynergySports.

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