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How to understand the Spurs motion offense

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Basketball junkies have been studying the Spurs offense as far back as 2012.

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This series seeks to round up some of the best information available on how the Spurs do business. It starts from an organizational perspective and will work its way down to the nitty-gritty tactical details. There’s a lot of incredible Spurs-related media available, so if we miss something, or as new stuff becomes available, let us know and we’ll continue to add and update as we go.


A finely tuned machine

The quest to understand the Spurs’ offense became immeasurably easier in April of 2012, when Joon Kim began publishing his extensive work documenting the team’s approach to scoring. The Spurs Motion Offense blog is an invaluable resource for learning about its eponymous system.

He starts with the basics, then proceeds to cover each of the Spurs’ most common sets, using multiple examples drawn from the 2011-12 season to illustrate all of the numerous options available on each play. As a stand alone reference, Joon’s detailed explanations are some of the most complete breakdowns available of what the Spurs run. But they’re even better when paired with another great resource: How U’s video series on the Spurs’ offense.

Motion Strong

Motion Weak

Loop

The overlap between the two provides the most complete coverage, as the numerous examples available in How U’s videos reinforce the concepts Joon explains in his blog while also showing how those concepts are applied by different players against different types of defense. But the two sources aren’t completely, or even mostly redundant. Both include a ton of information that can’t be found in the other.

The Spurs Motion Offense blogspot delves deeper into how the team uses the pick and roll, both on its own and within the flow of the offense. It also explores several of the counters the Spurs use when their opponents begin to disrupt the normal course of the team’s favorite plays.

In addition to showing clips of some of those same counters, How U’s series includes examples of Hammer, Hawk, Wedge Roll, and Floppy actions, among others, which give a much more complete view of the Spurs’ offense, despite lacking Joon’s commentary on what the team is doing and, most importantly, why.

If all of that isn’t enough to sate your curiosity about the team’s offensive playbook, there’s one more great resource to consider: FastModel Sports’ library of plays. Numerous contributors have drawn up 100s of Spurs plays over the years, creating an extensive catalog of the plays, counters and sets the team uses. While there’s some duplication and the team continues to modify and update its playbook every year, the diagrams and explanations are a straightforward way to visualize what happens on any particular play.

In 2015, one of those contributors, Gibson Pyper, wrote an extensive breakdown of how the Spurs’ offense has influenced the rest of the NBA for the site. It covers much of the same territory as Joon Kim’s blog and the How U video series, but the addition of the play diagrams as well as the inclusion of how versions of the Spurs’ offense is run elsewhere in the league provide a much better understanding of both the simplicity and pervasiveness of the team’s offensive concepts.

While none of these resources lays out the entire offense, when combined they cover enough of it to provide a thorough understanding of how the Spurs’ look to score in the halfcourt. It’s clear throughout each that there’s little emphasis on individual scoring talent, instead focusing on involving every player on the floor in as much of each play as possible. There’s so much happening on any given set; the motion is constant and the reads stacked neatly on top of each other like cord wood. There’s almost no time for any offensive player to lose focus, as the slightest hiccup can throw the entire machine out of balance.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6