The Spurs offense enjoyed a bit of a resurgence Monday night after scoring below their season average in points per possession for 6 straight games. The 126 points the team scored in their 101 possessions is the second most efficient offensive game they’ve played this season, just behind their first meeting with the Lakers.
There are lots of reasons for that, and much of it has to do with just hitting shots. Counting on Dante Cunningham to go 5 for 5 from three, for instance, is probably not a sustainable approach. Within the noise, the team made some good adjustments that should lead to better, and more consistent scoring.
One of those, more emphasis on rolling hard to the rim after picks, was a key part of what was arguably Jakob Poeltl’s best game as a Spur. He had his 2nd highest +/-, at +7, in his 2nd most minutes, at just over 15. He put up 15 points, 4 rebounds, and a steal against a talented front line of Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, and Julius Randle. Early in the 2nd quarter, Jakob’s rolls netted 2 free throws and a dunk, and helped extend the team’s lead back out to their game high of 12 points.
On the first possession of the quarter, the Spurs started off looking for Motion Strong. Patty passes to the trailer, Dante Cunningham, up top and then cuts through Derrick White’s space on the strong side wing. Since Jrue Holiday has Marco Belinelli locked down on the weak side wing, the Spurs transition into their Elbow series instead.
Dante throws the ball to Derrick who moves to the top of the key while Dante and Jakob take up residence at the elbows. After Derrick passes to Jakob, he cuts off Dante while Marco clears out to the right wing and Patty runs up out of the left corner for a hand off. As Patty catches the ball, Dante is screening for Marco, so Mirotic has to stay attached. That leaves Darius Miller, guarding Derrick as he crosses under the basket on his way out to the left corner, as the only player in position to help on Poeltl’s roll.
Patty makes an excellent pass past Anthony Davis’ outstretched hands and Jakob catches at the edge of the restricted area. He’s got Miller in good position between him and the basket, but given his size advantage, Jakob goes up for the 4 footer anyway. He misses but draws the foul.
With 11 on the shot clock, and Mirotic very clearly having left Dante alone in the corner, Jakob should probably pass the ball here. Dante was shooting 40.0% on catch and shoot threes coming into this game, and was already 2 for 2 at this point. An open corner three for him is probably a better value for the offense, on average, than an off balance 4-footer for Jakob. But he drew the foul, and that changes the equation, ignoring the fact that he missed both free throws, of course.
Two plays later, the Spurs got Jakob involved in another hand off, this time with Marco.
Marco decides not to get into a two man game with Dante on the left wing and kicks the ball back up to Jakob then runs towards him for a hand off. Holiday has to go over the screen because of Marco’s shooting ability and Davis comes up to contest and stop penetration. Marco gets Davis off his feet with a timely ball fake and hits Jakob with a beautiful bounce pass that leads him straight into the most awkward dunk of the season so far.
* I’m not sure why so many Spurs wrong foot their layups and dunks, but it’s definitely a thing.
LaMarcus rarely rolls in situations like these. For much of his career, his deadly outside shooting put defenses in an untenable position when faced with covering a driving guard coming of a screen while preventing LaMarcus from getting an open look. For now, it’s a thing of the past. LaMarcus is shooting an eye-gouging 29.9% on catch and shoot attempts this season. Nobody in the league has scored fewer points on as many attempts as he has.
The effect that has on the rest of the offense is noticeable, especially with a player like Davis on the floor. When he’s comfortable enough to take an extra step away from LaMarcus, he can disrupt almost everything that happens on his side of the court. Look at how wide open LaMarcus is on this play.
Davis has no qualms about staying with DeMar even though Holiday has recovered, and he only attempts to get back once the pass is thrown. Just to LaMarcus’ left, E’Twaun Moore barely steps in his direction. The Spurs would likely be better served to space Rudy out to the three point line and have LaMarcus dive down the center of the lane on plays like this.
Of course, there’s a decent chance he’ll be able to shoot his way through this slump, and at the end of the season he’ll be back close to his typical 42-43% range. But there’s also the possibility that he needs to find other ways to score consistently. Putting him in position to roll to the rim without a nearby big to help, as Jakob was able to do on those two possessions in the 2nd quarter, may be just what the doctor ordered.