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Spurs Playbook: Do the Spurs run a Motion Offense or the Read and React?

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You often hear buzzwords to describe NBA offenses like "Motion," "Read and React," "Pick and Roll," or "Pace and Space." Any of those terms could be applied to actions you see the Spurs employ. So which offense do they run?

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

When new head coaches are hired they often use buzzwords to foreshadow the style of offense they will install. When Fred Hoiberg took over the Bulls last summer he talked about running the Pace and Space. When Brad Stevens took over the Celtics he spoke about wanting his team to look like the Spurs and be a Read and React team.

The Spurs use pick and roll, have great spacing and pace to their play, and are known for motion in their offense. But in many of the plays we've looked at so far in this Spurs Playbook series, it is clear that offensive players are making reads which are causing automatic reactions.

I'm the coach of a high school varsity basketball team, and I've spoken to many colleagues who have argued that San Antonio's is a Read and React offense. But is it?

The first step of answering that question is to define our terms.

Motion Offense

According to Coach's Clipboard, a Motion Offense is:

a flexible offense that utilizes player movement, correct floor spacing, passing and cutting, and setting screens. The origin of "motion offense" is usually credited to coach Henry Iba at Oklahoma State. It was further developed and popularized by coach Bob Knight at Indiana, who utilized screening as a key part of the offense.

The Motion Offense gives players the freedom to utilize a set of principles (pass and cut, screen awayweave, etc) to maintain great ball movement until a defensive mismatch or coverage can be taken advantage of.

Essentially: offensive players examine the defense and choose their actions accordingly.

Read and React

The Read and React is an offense developed by Rick Torbett. If you have never examined this type of offense and have some time on your hands, check out this linked video. Essentially, the Read and React is a system similar to the Motion Offense in that there are no set plays called from the sideline (except of course at end of shot clock situations and out of bounds situations, etc.) However, unlike the Motion Offense, it has more direct accountability. When the person with the ball makes a read (passing to the wing, passing to the post, etc.), all four other players take automatic reactions. So for example, when a player passes to the wing, his or her automatic reaction is to make a basket cut and the other players must fill the open spots on the floor. There is no choice for the player making a basket cut, this is a reaction that is a rule of the offense. Here's an example:

What stands out is that while no play is being run, players have automatic reactions based on the read of the ball-handler. Thus, offensive players are reacting to the reads of their teammates. This is unlike a traditional Motion Offense, where the offensive player has several choices to make based on the defense.

So what do the Spurs run? Are their reactions programmed or are they reacting to the defense? Lets take a look:

Correct Floor Spacing

In this early-offense play we don't see the screening or player movement expected from a Motion Offense. However, this is an example of correct floor spacing. You have four players on the perimeter and one post player. The perimeter players are spaced so far out that defenders cannot help inside and you have a one-on-one situation. Boban Marjanovic sees this, signals to Andre Miller to pass to David West for a better passing angle, and they take advantage. This is clearly part of a Motion Offense where the decision is based on the defense. In the Read and React, the pass from Miller to West would require a basket cut, and the pass from West to Boban would require a backdoor cut. Here, the players recognize that the priority is correct floor spacing, so West and Miller stay put. Again, the key distinction is that players have the ability to choose their reaction, even if that means standing still.

Passing, Cutting, and Screening

This is a great example of passing, cutting, and screening. In layer 1 of the Read and React, the rule states that a pass from the top of key to the wing should yield a basket cut. You do see that here:

But the Spurs take this to the next level by adding a back screen to create the open lob play. This is observing the defense and acting accordingly, a tenet of the Motion Offense. In a strict Read and React, this would be an automatic ball-side basket cut, rather than a weak-side backdoor lob play.

Conclusion

The Spurs use a myriad of actions to keep defenses scrambling, and then attack based on what's available. In a Read and React offense, a series of reactions are predetermined and players must follow based on the offensive reads of their teammates. The most basic layers of a Read and React include: pass and cut (layer 1), pass to the post and cut (layer 2), dribble-at a teammate and force them to cut (layer 3), and so forth.

The Spurs use so many of these concepts that it's no surprise that it often looks like a Read and React. But the distinction is the choice the players have to look at the defense and change course. Just from the two plays above, it's apparent that the Spurs run a Motion Offense because of the things they regularly do that break the rules of a Read and React.