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Call the Spurs team offense Death by a Thousand Cuts

San Antonio May put the ball in DeMar DeRozan’s hands at the end of games, but during the game they lean on intelligence and timing to get guys open.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

While the Spurs defense has looked much better the last two games, the team’s offensive efficiency has been heading the opposite direction. From a high of 118.2 after the first Lakers game, the team’s offensive rating has fallen all the way to 111.1. That’s still good for 10th in the league, but also still 3.5 point per 100 possessions less than their defensive rating.

Much of that has to do with lineup adjustments designed to improve the defense. More minutes for Dante Cunningham, in particular, represent a defense for offense trade-off that has definitely worked in the Spurs favor so far. Those changes, along with the obvious impact of injuries, have left the team without much playmaking ability on the floor at times, and led to DeMar DeRozan leading the league in minutes per game, at 38.9.

He won’t be able to keep that up all year, which makes the Spurs ability to find other ways to score critical to the team’s long-term success. The team does an excellent job of moving the ball, especially when the right combination of personnel are on the floor, and has a few players who excel at off-ball movement, meaning the raw tools are there to generate good looks, even with DeMar on the court.

Against the Mavs, the team provided a perfect example.

The best part about this play is the personnel. Yes, Marco and Patty are on the floor, but just two members of the Beautiful Game Spurs aren’t enough to make an offense flow all by themselves. Patty never touches the ball and none of the passes on this play are anything special, though Rudy Gay’s bounce pass to Dante is nice. What’s more important is the timing of the passes. Marco hits LaMarcus just as Rudy’s moving up from the wing, and LaMarcus immediately swings the ball, hitting Rudy before the defense can react.

If LaMarcus hesitates for even a moment here, Luka Doncic is able to recover to Rudy, and there’s no advantage. But because he doesn’t hesitate even a beat, Rudy catches the ball at the three point line, where he’s shooting 66.7% so far this year, and Luka has to close out hard. That gives Rudy the ability to get into the paint, where he can drop this bounce pass to Dante for the dunk.

None of that happens, though, without Patty’s off-ball movement. He breaks the Mavericks defense just by running around.

Just as Patty reaches the right wing, he dives to the basket. All three Mavericks defenders on that side get sucked in by the gravity of his cut. Luka does a good job of staying in contact with Dante, but both Wes Matthews and Harrison Barnes are caught up in Patty’s movement. Harrison switches onto Patty to prevent a possible layup, but because Rudy moved up to the top of the floor, Wes is no longer in position to guard him, and calls for Luka to switch, too. That leaves Luka a step late closing out to Rudy.

It’s interesting that a slight twist on this play, Dante setting a screen on Luka as Rudy moves to the top of the floor, probably gives Rudy a wide open three. Dante appears to give that a thought, but doesn’t commit, dropping down into the dunker position on the right baseline, instead, which turns out to be a good decision none the less.

These are easy points, and for an offense that struggles to score when DeMar is off the court, they’re crucial. The team is only scoring 96.6 points per 100 possessions when he sits so far, but plays like this show the potential for an offense that can at least survive when he takes a break.