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Spurs Playbook: San Antonio's transition game reveals motion offense principles

The Spurs run a textbook fast break as all five players touch the ball.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The last Spurs Playbook post examined the differences between the Motion Offense and the Read and React. The Spurs motion offense features multiple layers of Read and React, but ultimately the players have the ability to read defenses and attack accordingly. Two tenets of the Motion Offense are correct floor spacing and ball movement, and both apply to the transition game. During Tuesday night's 88-86 victory over the Utah Jazz, the Spurs had a textbook transition play where all five players touched the ball. As you watch, notice the player spacing, ball movement, and absence of dribbling.

Correct Floor Spacing/Lanes

The first key to great transition basketball is the idea of lanes. In a great transition break, each player fills a specified lane to create great spacing.

Big Men

The big man who does not take the ball out or get the rebound is part of the primary break. In this case, it is David West. West runs down the center of the court (his lane) towards the low post. If his defender falls asleep he will be open for the long pass for a layup. If his defender stays with him he will become a dump off option on the drive.

The big man who takes the ball out or gets the rebound becomes a part of the secondary break. His job is also to use the center lane, but to trail the play as a backup option. LaMarcus Aldridge takes on this role here.

Watch the video again and you will see that the Spurs big men correctly run their lanes. These are concepts taught in middle school and high school basketball. And yet, you don't see other teams consistently adhere to these principles.


All guards need to get wide and run down the sidelines. Patty Mills is the first guard so he sprints all the way down to the corner. Kyle Anderson and Manu Ginobili correctly run to their lanes, but notice how they pause at half-court. This is because one of them needs to be the first outlet pass. Aldridge chooses Ginobili as the first outlet, and so Anderson then works himself to the wing as Mills already has the corner occupied. Watch again focusing just on the spacing of Anderson, Ginobili, and Mills. This sets up the ensuing action.

Ball Movement

The second key in great transition is to advance the ball via the pass rather than the dribble. When Ginobili gets the outlet pass from Aldridge, he sees that West has a step on his defender and completes the two-handed rifle pass. A lot of players would not make this play and would instead dribble up the court. But since West is in the proper lane, Ginobili knows exactly where the ball needs to be. This makes the pass less risky than it seems live. It also allows the Spurs to beat the Jazz down the court and put them in scramble mode. Had he dribbled here, Utah's defense would have time to get in position.

The long pass forces Mills' defender, Gordon Hayward, to step up onto West to prevent the easy layup. This is where the correct floor spacing comes in. If you watch again from 20 seconds to 18 seconds left on the shot clock, you'll notice that West has to accelerate to get the pass, and he doesn't catch it cleanly. This leads him too far under the basket to have a clean look which allows Hayward and Trey Lyles to sandwich him. But because Mills is where he should be, West avoids getting caught in the air and finds him in the corner. The Jazz begin to make the proper rotations but it's a lost cause. The double team of West means someone will be wide open.

Joe Ingles rotates off Anderson to contest Mills in the corner. Mills makes the easy pass to a wide open Kyle Anderson on the wing. Notice Mills keeps the ball high and makes an overhead pass anticipating Ingles will have his arms up to contest the jumper.

At this point, the Jazz are really compromised as Rudy Gobert and Raul Neto are nowhere near Anderson. This causes Trey Lyles to step up to prevent a Kyle Anderson drive. Lyles' man, David West, is lurking out of bounds, but he must address the immediate concern of stopping the ball.

Kudos to Raul Neto, who abandons his assignment and flies across the court to stop the Kyle Anderson drive. He does so somewhat effectively as Anderson leaves his feet and appears to be stuck in the air momentarily.

And yet, West has remained true to his transition assignment the entire time -- positioned near the low block. With Lyles on the strong side in help position, Anderson finds West on the weak side with yet another underrated one-handed pass, and West takes a power dribble and finishes with the reverse.


The execution is a function of excellent spacing. Players fill all transition lanes allowing for seemingly tough passes to be made with confidence. The Spurs push the ball up the court through the pass and do not give the Jazz an opportunity to get back on defense. Once the ball leaves Ginobili's hands, it is really too late for Utah. In transition, the Spurs use the fundamentals to break down the defense and get a high percentage shot.