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Spurs Playbook: Exposing a defense with the Weave and off ball movement

This Spurs play is representative of why the Spurs rack up win after win, season after season.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Stein recently wrote an article about the Chicago Bulls’ head coach, Fred Hoiberg, being on the hot seat. While this came as a surprise for some around the league, Spurs fans may understand why.

The Bulls aren’t a horrible team — the Spurs split with them this year and beat them on Christmas — but at 16-17, and after missing the playoffs last year, they are well below the 50-win standard Tom Thibodeau established in his five year campaign in Chicago (the Bulls averaged 51 wins under his tenure playing without Derrick Rose for much of that time).

But it’s not the record alone. The Bulls offense has little player and ball movement, and relies on Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade going one on one and drawing fouls. Spurs fans have seen this play out twice. The first time, their shots fell and the Bulls won. The second time they didn’t, and the Spurs were up 20 in the first quarter. It makes sense that the Bulls are about a .500 team.

The Bulls offense resembles more a game of 21 than an offensive scheme, making it good for 17th in the league in offensive efficiency, held up by the star power. The Bulls were top 15 in the league in offense all three years Derrick Rose was relatively healthy. They didn’t have much shooting then either, but used triangle concepts to at least have a semblance of a plan.

Meanwhile, the Spurs scored 110 and 119 in two games without Kawhi Leonard. True, those contests were against Portland and Phoenix, but imagine a Bulls game without Jimmy Butler. From a coaching perspective, it’s pretty simple: the Spurs move.

This play from Friday’s game against the Trail Blazers probably wouldn’t make a top-20 list of Spurs Beautiful Basketball, but it represents one of the reasons that the Spurs rack up wins year after year, and teams like Chicago are rumored to be considering a coaching change 33 games into the season despite having Butler and Wade.

With Kyle Anderson directing traffic and Danny Green in the strong side corner, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker set a double down screen for Jonathan Simmons. Maurice Harkless does well to stay over the screens and prevent Simmons from getting open off the cut. Still, Harkless expends a ton of effort, and when Simmons fills out to the weak side corner after his cut — you can see Anderson directing him — Harkless is taken out of the play.

After Anderson swings the ball to Aldridge, note that the Spurs immediately reverse the ball after the Simmons cut to keep the defense on their toes, the Spurs then go to their second option, a dribble hand-off. Aldridge takes one dribble with his outside hand to protect the ball, and hands to Parker, using his body to momentarily shield Tony’s defender and give him room to start his drive.

But the highlight of this play is what happens on the other side of the court during the exchange between Parker and Aldridge. It’s what separates the Spurs from the majority of the league, and exposes offenses like Chicago’s as lackluster.

The play begins with a variation of the weave (for a refresher, you can check out my examination of the weave from last season). While LaMarcus initiates the weave action, Kyle Anderson and Danny Green switch spots. It’s not a full screen, but has a similar impact of forcing their defenders to communicate to make sure both players are accounted for. Allen Crabbe and Mason Plumlee are unable to do that.

Plumlee is at the elbow, in position to help on the Parker drive and recover to Kyle Anderson. When Anderson switches with Green, Plumlee stays in that position, losing Anderson behind him. Crabbe sticks with Green instead of switching onto Anderson and communicating the change to Plumlee. If they’re not switching, then Plumlee needs to sink lower and use his left arm and peripheral vision to keep him in view and within an arm’s length.

Pause at the six second mark. When Parker gets to the nail both Crabbe and Plumlee are helping on the drive at the second layer. But no one has picked up Anderson, who cuts right to the rim into where the third layer of defense should be, and Tony slips a one-handed bounce pass between Plumlee and C.J. McCollum. Anderson catches and makes a heads up play to finish the dunk on his side of the rim instead of going for the reverse, since Al-Farouq Aminu is lurking on the other side of the rim.

The Blazers are the worst defensive team in the league, so perhaps this play is nothing more than kicking someone who’s down. But the switch between Green and Anderson in combination with the action with the ball, forces a defensive decision that most teams would have trouble making as Parker busts into the lane putting pressure on the rim. Most teams would settle for a drive and hope there’s help to open up a kick-out for three. The Spurs continuously move to open up secondary and tertiary options and force extra rotations that most NBA defenses are not used to making on a nightly basis. On this play you have a double down screen to open up a basket cut, a swing, a dribble hand-off with off-ball movement, and a pocket pass leading to a dunk.

This play makes any offense that regularly features one guy dribbling for 20 seconds before pulling up for a contested jumper look like a fireable offense.