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Spurs Playbook: The Spurs use the "4 out 1 in" attack

On Wednesday night the Spurs backups beat a Mavericks team still playing for seeding. With no Duncan or Aldridge, the Spurs played a lot of 4 out 1 in and found success. What are the playoff implications?

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The Spurs 96-91 victory over the Mavericks Wednesday night was significant in that Dallas was still jockeying for seeding. Playing at home, all five Dallas starters logged 29 plus minutes including 40 for Wesley Matthews. While the Spurs were playing their bench, this game demonstrated the various looks the Spurs can go to in the 4 out 1 in formation. This requires either playing four guards and a big man, or playing three guards, a stretch four, and a center.

In the play below you have Boban Marjanovic as the center. On the perimeter you have Andre Miller, Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, and Matt Bonner. Bonner is the key here: because he can shoot the three, he allows the Spurs to play 4 out 1 in offensively. This is similar to the recent discussion on Boris Diaw, and how he gives much more flexibility to the offense than when you have Duncan and Aldridge clogging the lane. While Diaw doesn't have the shooting range of Bonner, he is mobile enough to create the same advantages of a 4 out 1 in.

(This is not an endorsement for a Boban/Bonner playoff frontcourt. But it is potentially an argument for a Diaw/Aldridge combo.)

In this play you have the classic Villanova Four Corners look with the perimeter players spaced on the two wings and in the corners with nobody at the top of the arc. The play is initiated with a pick and roll between Andre Miller and Matt Bonner. Bonner appears to blindside Deron Williams with the screen, but Dirk Nowitzki is savvy enough to switch off of Bonner to stop a potential Miller drive. With Dirk switching, Williams should rotate onto Bonner but instead tries to fight through the screen. This happens a lot on blindside screens. Because the defender does not see the pick developing, they will instinctively attempt to fight back towards their defender, not aware that a switch has occurred. It is much harder to communicate the defensive coverage in these cases. Notice how the screen essentially happens in transition.

At this point, the Spurs are in the driver's seat as they swing the ball around the three point line. With Matt Bonner wide open, the Miller pass to Bonner forces Green's defender to rotate. This frees up Green, and the Bonner pass to Green forces Anderson's defender to rotate. Again, this rotation leaves Anderson alone, so the Green pass to Anderson forces Zaza Pachulia off of Boban into the corner, as Dirk rotates down onto Boban. The ball doesn't hit the floor save for the bounce pass from Kyle Anderson into Boban in the paint. This is worth a second watch. Notice the Dallas defenders rotating on cue as each pass is made.

The screen and subsequent around-the-horn passing means that Boban will now have a one on one against a defender other than Zaza. While the Mavericks are better equipped to deal with this than most teams, since they start two seven footers, Dirk is 30 pounds lighter than Zaza and can't afford to pick up fouls this early in the game. Against most teams this play would end with Boban (or Aldridge for the starters) posting up on somebody way smaller than Dirk).

The next clip has two further examples of the 4 out 1 in. Again, these plays could be run through Aldridge, but it's hard to envision them working if there are two Spurs bigs on the court.

The first play is the same as the play in my post about the Spurs Motion Offense. Boban posts middle and the ball is swung from the wing to the top of the key to ensure a good entry angle. With four three point shooters on the floor, help doesn't come and Boban does work.

In the second play, Boban comes up to run the hand-off pick and roll. Once Boban shields Wes Matthews, Dallas defenders get caught choosing between hard help onto the Kyle Anderson drive and staying close enough to contest a potential Danny Green three. Notice how Andre Miller uses a pin and skip to free Green. There are no great options for Dallas here, they are picking between poisons. They opt to let Matthews chase down Boban, and it doesn't end well for them.

Come playoffs the Spurs will need all hands on deck and I expect Duncan and Aldridge to play together depending on the matchup. I highlighted in this post an example of how the two bigs can coexist without stalling the offense. But there's no doubt that when spacing is a priority there's no better approach than having four deep threats on the court to open the lane. Lucky for the Spurs, they can do it all. The dilemma of when to go 3 out 2 in versus 4 out 1 in is a good one to have. Many teams do not have the luxury of being effective at both. The Spurs will have to figure when to feature each look and for how many minutes. With a depleted Grizzlies team in sight, they'll have the opportunity to explore and fine tune.