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Spurs are taking newbies to school

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The San Antonio Spurs' offense took advantage of the Denver Nuggets' young point guard.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Time after time on Wednesday night, the San Antonio Spurs' offense took advantage of Denver Nuggets' rookie Emmanuel Mudiay's poor defense.

Mudiay has great size and athleticism that can eventually make him an effective defender, but 12 games into his NBA career, he simply just doesn't have enough mental understanding on that side of the ball to help his team.

The San Antonio Spurs, being the competent basketball team that they are, know all of these things. This is what the Spurs do. They find the weak links in the opposition, and exploit them again and again for points until they get stopped, and then they just find another option completely. Their offense is ruthless. If you give them an inch, they'll turn it into a barrage of points.

Early in the game Mudiay was defending Tony Parker. With the uptick in offensive production from Kawhi Leonard, and the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, Parker's offensive usage has toned down this year. Generally speaking, he's counted on to keep the ball moving, feed the posts and shooters on the wings. Scoring wise, for most of this season, he's only been asked to do so when he has a mismatch or feels he can exploit the defense.

Early in the game it was very clear that the Spurs were comfortable letting Parker run the show, and see how Mudiay responded on defense. As usual when Parker takes the offensive lead, there was a lot of pick-and-roll action.

The first clip is actually the first play of the game, right off of the tip, and the Spurs are already in pick-and-roll action. Mudiay gets screened hard by Duncan and can't fight over the top of it, leaving Kenneth Faried playing 1-on-2 with Parker and Duncan. If he wanted to, Parker could have had an easy midrange jumper, but instead Duncan gets an easy slip to the rim.

This second clip is also early in the first quarter, with Parker clearly trying to set Mudiay up for another pick. This time, instead of Duncan coming over, Aldridge sets the pick. Mudiay gets caught up again, leaving Parker to dissect the defense, which ends with a pass back to Aldridge for a wide open jumper.

The key to both of these plays is Mudiay getting screened. With Duncan and Aldridge setting such solid screens, it's hard for Mudiay to dip his shoulder and fight over the top to recover. Parker also does a good job of identifying that the roll man's defender (Kenneth Faried in the first video, and J.J. Hickson in the second) is laying back waiting on his drive, so instead of trying to score himself, he passes to his open teammate instead.

Because of this early success, the Spurs kept running more pick-and-roll with Parker, and he was able to score a few of his 25 points out of those sets.

Outside of their ball-movement, San Antonio's spacing might be the most impressive aspect of their offense. No matter what kind of play they run, whether it be a pick-and-roll with Parker and Duncan or a post up for Aldridge or Leonard, the Spurs always have at least two shooters beyond the arc and one big spotting up from either the short corner or the elbow. It is this strategic placement that leads to defenders, like young Mudiay does in these clips, to get confused or lost, and give up a valuable 3-pointer.

This first clip is a post up for Aldridge. Mudiay is guarding Patty Mills at the top of the key while Nikola Jokic defending the ball. As Aldridge dribbles, you can see Mudiay fade down to the post as if he's going to dig down. When Aldridge sees this, he gives a heady fake drive to the middle. Mudiay then commits to the double, and as he does this, Mills shapes up on the ball-side for a wide open catch-and-shoot 3.

When people describe the Spurs as a "pick your poison" type of team, this is what they mean. Mudiay has 2 options here. He can help his teamate out with Aldridge, who is a multiple-time All-Star who lives on the left block. Or, he can choose to stay with Patty Mills, a career 39.2% three-point shooter. Either way, San Antonio would have ended up with a great look.

None of this is in any way an indictment of Mudiay's career. When it's at it's best, San Antonio's offense makes even the best defenders look silly, so of course a rookie in his 12th career game is going to have his share of low-lights against them. As he gains more experience, Mudiay will be just fine.

The same can be said for San Antonio. As they log more time together on offense, and learn how to exploit defenses quicker, they'll grow even stronger.


Tony Parker - 25 points on 9-14 shooting, 9 assists, 2 rebounds

As we already discussed, Parker was really able to get it going in pick-and-roll. He found a groove and never let up. He did a great job getting to the line (7-8 on FTs), and set his teammates up beautifully. This kind of night isn't really expected from Parker, but he's still capable of carrying the offense on occasion.


50: Total rebounds for each team. The Nuggets lead on the offensive boards, with 17. Off of these offensive boards, Denver was able to score 17 second chance points as well.

13: Total blocks by the Spurs tonight. Tim Duncan had about half of them, with 6. Their sharp attention to the ball is a big part of why the Nuggets had a sub-40% field goal percentage.

0: Losses at home so far for San Antonio. The AT&T Center crowd must be doing it's thing.


  • The last time I rehashed a game, it focused on Kawhi Leonard, and I wrote that one of the only real negatives of his game at that point in the season was his 3-point shooting. Well, now that players have had a bit more time to shoot back up (or down) to their career averages, Leonard's percentage from deep has picked up. After going 3-4 from deep versus Denver, Leonard is sitting at 42.1% on the season now. In fact, Leonard is flirting with hitting the 50/40/90 mark with his shooting percentages. He's at 53% overall from the field, that strong 42.1% from deep, and is shooting 88% from the charity stripe, barely missing out on that 90% mark. Considering he's only played 10 games so far, sustaining this level of hot shooting will obviously be a difficult task, but even flirting with these marks on offense will still mean he has very good efficiency. Couple that efficient scoring ability with his already top-level defense, and you've got one of, if not the most devastating two-way player in the game.
  • Tim Duncan had a crazy line again. He had a solid 12 points, and to go along with them, amassed 11 boards, 6 assists, and 6 blocks (!!!). This guy just won't ever stop being productive. It's amazing. His offensive usage is down because other teammates can carry the load, but he affects the game so strongly in other areas. All at 39 years old. It's cliche to write about Duncan's high production at such an old basketball age now, I know. But the fact that he's been doing this for so long that it has even become cliche at all just adds to the wonder.
  • Nikola Jokic, Denver's rookie from Serbia, had himself a breakout night. The 20-year-old had 23 points on 8-13 from the floor, and racked up 12 boards, 3 blocks, and 2 steals as well. This all came in a season-high 32 minutes, versus a talented Spurs group of big men. He's an a bit of a crowded frontcourt with other young Nuggets bigs, Jusuf Nurkic and Joffrey Lauvergne. But, those two have been injured, which has given Jokic a larger chance for playing time. With this performance, he might have separated himself from the pack.