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The Spurs can create threes, but they aren’t shooting many

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Spurs playbook: San Antonio can create threes but isn’t shooting many

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Through two games of preseason play, the Spurs have taken fewer threes than every other team in the NBA. In fact, 24 teams are averaging more threes per game than the Spurs have totaled. Last night, Ben Simmons made as many threes as Bryn Forbes, and more than Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli combined. It’s not quite time to ring the alarm bells just yet, but it definitely appears the team is headed for another year of bucking the NBA’s league-wide long ball endorsement.

Still, they’ve opened both of their games so far with a LaMarcus Aldridge pick and pop three, and he seems very comfortable with that shot at the top of the key. Against the Heat, it came in the form of a wide open look off a DeMar DeRozan assist.

This is a variation of Motion Strong, with both bigs coming up for Horns action once DeMar catches at the top of the key.

DeMar uses LaMarcus’ screen going to his left, dragging both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo down to the free throw line while LaMarcus takes up residence on the arc and Jakob Poeltl rolls to the basket. With two on the ball and Jakob rolling, Duncan Robinson is the only weakside player available to help, but he’s on Bryn, so that’s not a good idea.

Butler tries to contest the shot, but LaMarcus is too far away and too tall for his swipe to matter. The Spurs went back to the exact same play midway through the quarter with slightly different results.

Jakob’s timing on getting into the Horns action is much better, but otherwise, it’s the exact same setup. The Heat are more aggressive in trapping DeMar this time, though, which forces Robinson to help off Bryn, who simultaneously drops into the corner.

Robinson does an excellent job of closing out into the passing lane and forcing LaMarcus to think twice about swinging the ball into the corner. He draws a foul when he puts the ball on the floor, but the big Texan has to be able to make this pass. A quick shot fake or pass fake would likely have thrown Robinson out of position, and if not, LaMarcus is almost 7’ tall. He needs to put it over his head and fire that ball to Bryn.

The Spurs didn’t run many plays designed specifically to produce threes, but they did dial one up for Bryn late in the 2nd quarter. First, they ran a similar looking set that resulted in LaMarcus drawing a shooting foul.

DeMar cuts down the middle over LaMarcus at the free throw line, who then runs into a step up screen on the wing for Dejounte Murray. Dejounte uses the screen back towards the middle of the floor, then leads LaMarcus towards the basket with a nice pocket pass while DeMarre Carroll lifts out of the strong side corner.

A couple minutes later, they switched it up.

DeMar is at the free throw line this time, and Bryn’s the cutter. There’s nobody in the strong side corner, either, with both Rudy and LaMarcus hanging out on the opposite wing (which is probably a tell, by the way).

DeMar runs into a step up screen with Derrick White while Bryn circles around two large screens and out to the three point line on the right wing. Derrick takes one dribble towards the middle of the floor to get an angle for the pass then sends a one-hander right into Bryn’s pocket.

The Spurs also missed a couple of opportunities to create threes, specifically for LaMarcus. If they’re going to continue to play two bigs alongside Dejounte and DeMar, they’ve got to find a way to resist the siren song of the 18-footer.

Imagine what this play would look like if, instead of stopping at 18 feet, LaMarcus drifts two more small steps backwards. There’s no way Meyers Leonard would be able to close out effectively. There are concessions involved with that decision, obviously. LaMarcus isn’t great on drives that take more than one dribble, so when he spaces that far out he struggles to attack close outs. But on a play like this, with one defender having to guard both Jakob in the paint and LaMarcus in the corner, there’s no close out to worry about.

The Spurs run this set frequently for DeMar. The dribble hand off into a staggered screen all but forces the 2nd big defender to switch onto the ball handler, which either creates a mismatch on the back side or, as in this case, leaves two defenders to deal with three offensive players. For a moment, it appears LaMarcus might hold up at the three point line, but he rolls down the middle of the lane, instead.

With DeMar double-teamed and Jakob already rolling, though, there just isn’t much room in there to work. Just as LaMarcus gets going, DeMar pulls up and kicks the ball out, leading to a contested 15-footer that comes up short instead of what should’ve been a wide open three from the top of the key.

Missed opportunities aside, it’s not quite time to worry, yet. The Spurs are just running their offense and very clearly still working on getting synced up. The players on the team most likely to take threes, Patty, Bryn, Marco and DeMarre, all of whom take threes on more than 50% of their overall field goal attempts, have played a combined 84 minutes.

As those players see more of the court, and as the Spurs get more comfortable in their offense, they’ll generate more attempts from deep. Still, it’s already clear the team isn’t heading for a big change from last year’s midrange heavy scoring attack — a revelation that shouldn’t be all that surprising.