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Why the Spurs get more Spot-Up opportunities than any other team

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How do the Spurs get so open?

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly halfway through the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Spurs rank fourth in offensive efficiency (Hollinger Team Stats). While the Spurs don’t shoot the most threes or play at the fastest pace, they get quality looks from all over the floor and take advantage of them.

Coach Nick of Bballbreakdown posted a video yesterday on the league’s top four offenses. For the Spurs there were four main takeaways:

  1. The Spurs lead the league in spot up opportunities and spot up efficiency
  2. The Spurs are third in the league in post ups but only 16th in post up efficiency
  3. The Spurs are 28th in isolations and 29th in isolation efficiency
  4. The Spurs are middle of the pack when it comes to shots off the pick and roll, off-screens and cuts.

Here is the video for further explanation:

It’s no surprise the Spurs are first in spot ups. Their constant ball movement and player movement gets defenses off balance, usually forcing multiple help defenders. This means that as defenses have to help, someone is spotting up wide open to either shoot, drive or pass on the closeout.

But how exactly do the Spurs get so many more open spot ups than other teams? Multiple actions. While the Spurs may be league average in terms of shots off of the pick and roll, cuts and off-ball screens, it doesn’t mean they aren’t effective at them. In fact, the Spurs use post ups, pick and rolls, cuts and off-ball screens in order to get the spot up looks.

Here’s an example from Tuesday night’s game against Milwaukee that gets three spot ups; one for a pass, one for a drive and kick, and one for a shot:

As Patty Mills dribbles down the court, Davis Bertans sets an off-ball pin-down screen for Manu Ginobili to free him. As Manu pops up towards the three point line, Dewayne Dedmon is already sliding his feet and positioning himself to set a screen for Manu. While the pin-down doesn’t trap Jason Terry, it gives Manu a step on him. With the pick from Dedmon, Terry is now two steps behind Manu, forcing Greg Monroe, who’s guarding Dedmon, to slide with Manu all the way into the paint.

This means the Spurs are now playing four on three off the ball, as both Terry and Monroe are with Ginobili. The Spurs have already used an off-ball screen and the pick and roll, even though the final shot is not directly off one of these actions.

With Jonathon Simmons being defended on the strong side corner by Jabari Parker, and Monroe and Terry clogging the drive, Michael Beasley is forced to leave Bertans to pick up the rolling Dedmon. These are the correct rotations from Milwaukee, but due to the Spurs prior two actions, the Bucks are still leaving one man open.

Matthew Dellavedova is now responsible for both Patty Mills in the corner and Davis Bertans on the wing. As Ginobili fires an overhead pass to Mills, Delly has to sprint to closeout as he was playing halfway between Mills and Bertans. This is a spot up opportunity for Patty Mills. What makes the Spurs special is not just their unselfishness, but also their decision making. Mills could hoist the shot, but knows Bertans is wide open as Delly was guarding both of them.

Watch from the five to six second mark and you’ll see Mills catch the pass and make an automatic read by passing it to Bertans. This is the second spot up opportunity for the Spurs. With Monroe now recovered to Dedmon, Beasley has to fly out to contest Bertans. Davis could easily take this three and no one would complain. Instead he gives a subtle ball fake, Beasley flies past, and he has an open lane.

Stop at the eight second mark now. You’ll see Davis just past the elbow in the lane. With Delly and Terry glued to Mills and Ginobili as shooters and Monroe glued to Dedmon (if he leaves it’s an easy alley oop dunk for Dewayne), Parker is the only one who can help, and that means giving up a corner three. It’s tough to leave that shot in the NBA, but at 32% from deep, Jabari decides to gamble and leave Simmons to prevent a Bertans layup. The only other help option would be for Terry to help off Ginobili, a risker option. Davis makes the fundamental chest pass to Simmons, earning the Spurs their third spot up of the possession. This time they take the shot, and Simmons drains the triple.

The Spurs created three spot ups on this one possession through one off-screen and a pick and roll. While they may not get the same immediate shots from off-screens as the Warriors or off of pick and rolls as the Raptors, they use these actions to draw help and then move the ball to the open man spotting up.

While the inefficiency from post ups and isolations is worth following in the second half of the season, the offense as a whole is in a great position, with their defense breaking into the top three. It’s unclear if an inability to score one-on-one could hurt the Spurs in a close playoff game, but with their scoring balance, they don’t have to rely on isolations.