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Spurs Playbook: Using both bigs without clogging the lane

The Spurs two-big system is a potential antidote to the small-ball obsession. This set allows them to play big and open the lane.

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Part of the Spurs fast start has been their ability to play with two big men and still create spacing and opportunities to score.Whereas last year's team started two bigs and then went to 4-Out 1-In on the bench, this year's team features less dissonance between the two units. The starters have Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge with Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee playing together off the bench.

Although the two units have completely different personnel, many of the same sets work given the 3-Out 2-In spacing. One look we've seen multiple times has been a Double High Horns play. The Spurs have used the Horns formation in the past, but with different actions. This version is hard on the eye, as you have a chaotic double screen set halfway between the three point line and half court, with the aim of getting the ball-handler a three on two advantage as his defender, as well as the the two defenders guarding the big men, are left in the dust.

Here's a look with the second unit going up against the Kings starters:

This play is in the Horns family with Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons in the corners, Manu Ginobili up top, and Dedmon and Lee coming up from the high post to set the double screen. Th

Ideally Kosta Koufus and DeMarcus Cousins would follow Lee and Dedmon, who they're guarding respectively, and the double screen on Arron Afflalo would free up Ginobili to attack the rim with Ty Lawson and Rudy Gay, guarding Mills and Simmons, having to choose between helping or leaving their man wide open for three in the corner. This is classic Horns, just moved up way higher.

As the play unfolds, Afflalo goes over the screen and Cousins hedges out to impede Ginobili, an ill-advised strategy given how much space Ginobili has to operate. This backfires and Cousins and Afflalo are essentially useless for the rest of the play as Ginobili easily drives past them.

Koufus plays it wisely, backing off Dedmon who is not a threat 40 feet from the basket and actually is able to get into the lane and give an honest attempt to stop the drive. The problem is that Dedmon's roll to the opposite side of Ginobili doesn't allow Koufus to fully commit. Lawson and Gay are stuck keeping Mills and Simmons honest, and so Ginobili is able to finish around Koufus with the left hand.

Even with Koufus playing this decently, the play works because the Kings can't cover every option. If Koufus slides over aggressively, it's an easy lob to the diving Dedmon for a dunk. Gay comes into the lane to help on Dedmon and Lee, leaving Simmons wide-open for three.

The key is forcing Cousins to come up high which takes him and Afflalo out of the play. The Kings don't have a chance after that. A more disciplined defensive player probably stays at home, but most teams don't have two great defensive bigs, and this play exposes that.

Now the starter's turn with Patty Mill's in for a resting Tony Parker:

This is the same play run by the first unit against the Pelicans. New Orleans is better-equipped to defend this with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. Pause the play after three seconds and see them both staying put at the high post and not taking the bait to come up high like Cousins does above. Like Afflalo, Tim Frazier gets caught going over the double screen set by Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, but Asik is well positioned to sandwich Patty Mills with Frazier as he zones up the play instead of hedging out. They've effectively shut down the drive.

The problem for New Orleans at this point, at the four and five second mark of the video, is that Anthony Davis must now choose between the rolling Gasol and Aldridge, who has popped out for the jumper. Davis protects the basket first by bumping Gasol, which allows Mills to find Aldridge in his sweet spot.

Aldridge normally has an easy jumper, but Davis and Asik are a smart enough defensive tandem to sniff this out. With Frazier caught up to Mills at this point, Asik is freed to drop into the lane on Gasol and Davis is able to run out at Aldridge.

Watch this defensive rotation again from the five to six second mark of the clip.

But Aldridge knows Davis has to sell out on the jumper with a lot of ground to cover. He gives the most subtle hesitation move and attacks the lane. He misses the layup, credit Davis for recovering, but the Spurs get another good look from this Double High Horns play.

Notice that while Aldridge drives, Asik can't help as he is shadowing Gasol, and E'Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill are stuck in the corners with Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Anderson. This is all by design.

As mentioned in the last Spurs Playbook, Popovich is finding ways to run offense through the passing and screening of Aldridge, Gasol, Lee, and even Dedmon, rather than relying exclusively on slowing down the offense for pure isolation. It's an encouraging sign amidst a strong start to the season.