In the earlier version of Popovich's offense that was used a few years ago, the Spurs relied on a fairly simplistic offensive scheme that heavily depended on high pick-and-rolls and didn't have much ball or player movement. The ball handler walked the ball up court, called for a screen and that was it. From there he could try to attack the rim, hit the dive man or one of the shooters or he could reset.
Because Parker and Ginobili were so good at creating out of those sets, the Spurs didn't need any distraction or element of surprise. Something similar used to happen a few years ago when the Spurs could simply dump the ball in the post for Duncan to create.
The downside was that the offense could become predictable and the defense was able to set up knowing that a pick-and-roll or post-up was coming. That's why the Spurs have started initiating those sets in the flow of the offense more often over the past couple of years.
Previously, we've explored the options offered by Motion Weak, Motion Strong and Loop in terms of freeing up shooters with off ball screens. Now it's time to see how the Spurs use them to set up pick-and-rolls and post-ups.
Pick-and-roll off motion weak
This motion weak set starts when Mills passes ahead and makes his way to the weak side wing. The ball swings back to him. At the same time, the player in Mills' corner starts the route we described in the previous post in this series: baseline cut to the basket and zipper cut outside using a screen by the trailer.
As he does that, Duncan, instead of establishing position in the post, prepares to set a ball-screen. Mills uses it and the Bobcats' defense is not prepared for it. Making things even easier for Duncan, both teams were playing small and Gerald Henderson was asked to protect the rim. The Spurs take advantage and score an easy two.
The post up variation
This is another typical motion weak set up. Parker passes ahead and makes his way to the weak side. The ball gets back to Parker who finds Diaw in the post after Leonard sets a screen and then runs the familiar motion weak route to the top of the arc. The Spurs don't use this option much but when they do, they get deep post position out of it.
Pick-and-roll off of motion strong
The way the set starts is exactly the same as when we looked at the option of looking for a shooter coming off screens. The ball-handler passes to the trailer and stays on the strong side setting a screen for the shooter in the corner. The trailer swings the ball to the opposite wing and sets a second screen for the shooter to use.
This play looks for all the world like it's setting up Danny Green for a three, right up to the instant that Marco Belinelli and Tiago Splitter go into a pick-and-roll on the strong side while the weak-side defenders are occupied with all that player movement. That leaves only the two strong side defenders to try to stop the play and it results in two easy points for Splitter.
The post up variation
Once again, notice the off-ball movement on the weak side. Again, staggered screens for a shooter. But because Duncan was able to get great position in the post, our old friend Shannon Brown makes the entry pass instead of hitting the shooter coming off screens.
Pick-and-roll off loop
The set up seems to indicate the Spurs are going to run loop for Tony Parker. That means Tony passes the ball to the top of the arc and takes three screens along the baseline before receiving the ball on the other wing. Duncan even sets a back screen as a distraction. But Parker simply stays in the corner and Splitter sets a quick ball screen for Ginobili for a high pick-and-roll instead.
As Splitter dives, Duncan vacates the paint to make room for the roll. The atrocious Knicks' defense makes it easy and Splitter finishes with a reverse layup (obviously).
The post up variation
You've seen this one a million times. As the wing makes the zipper cut clearing the strong side, the ball handler can simply make an entry pass instead of passing to the top of the arc. Then he cuts to the weak side wing or corner.
The Spurs get perfect spacing out of this set. And with a player at the top of the arc to make a high-low pass, the post defender can't front Duncan. This set is often used to get the post player in a position to face up or work on a re-post with the player at the top of the arc.
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These are just the basic variations on Motion Weak, Motion Strong and Loop. The Spurs' playbook is so vast that these sets only cover a small part of it. The main takeaway is that the Spurs often run sets that offer read-and-react options and can be tailored to take advantage of an opponent's weakness, whatever that may be.