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The Spurs are falling in love with the alley oop

Ground-bound no more, the Spurs are connecting on more above-the-rim plays than they have —- maybe ever?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A curious thing is happening during Spurs offensive possessions. Players are receiving the ball from teammates while in mid-air and guiding it into the hoop — sometimes with discernible umph!

It’s a play takes some getting used to, after its relative disappearance in San Antonio during the Tim Duncan era, but indubitably fun to watch — especially while this offense searches for its identity. Teammates are still learning how to play off each other and their offensive efficiency remains on the low side (ranked 7th in the league), but Coach Pop appears to be making the most of the new wealth of athleticism in San Antonio.

Alley-oop figures aren’t easy to come by, but this chart from a few years back shows that the Spurs had a total of FIVE over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. Jordan Howenstine’s been great at tracking them this year compared to last, which was already above average thanks to Tim Duncan seemingly developing a twilight-year penchant for throwing lobs. Still they’ve already passed that number.

Most of these are by design, some even scripted. The Spurs began the second quarter against the Nets with this lob from Patty Mills to Jonathon Simmons, which caught pretty much everyone off guard.

Simmons sometimes feels like a weird fit as a Spur. He may never become the prototypical ball-mover and shot-creator, but that’s alright — the team has plenty of those already. What Pop’s always aspired to do is put his players in the best position to be successful, making the most of their unique skill sets. For Simmons, that means finding ways to get him the ball in space and around the basket.

He’s not the only high-flyer on the team, of course. Kawhi Leonard was doing this years before Juice arrived. He’ll miss Duncan’s lobs, but receiving passes from Pau Gasol is a fine consolation.

Then there’s Dewayne Dedmon, who’s already the biggest beneficiary of the Spurs’ verticality. Between his mobility and screen-setting, DD makes for a nice big target to throw lobs to. He’s often sharing the floor with the sweet-passing second unit, whose players are getting more and more comfortable with simply tossing it up for him to throw down.

Dedmon’s potential as a rim-protecting rim-runner has been on full display over the last few games, and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays into opponents scheming for the Spurs down the line. Until now, he’s gotten to the rim with relative ease, but the gravity he creates when teams start playing the lob could open things up even more for ball-handlers as they get into the lane.

Alley oops have never really been a ‘Spurs thing’, but they do require the same off-ball movement and pin-point passing that are a quintessential part of the Beautiful Game. A younger, springier group of guys on the roster opens things up for that fun, unselfish style to be taken to greater heights. Literally.