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Why the Spurs’ midrange-heavy offense was so successful

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The modern view of NBA offense doesn’t get the whole story.

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NBA: Sacramento Kings at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Taylor, author of Thinking Basketball, dropped a video yesterday that goes a long way towards explaining how and why the Spurs scored so effectively last year. It wasn’t luck, and it wasn’t in spite of the offense or the team’s two stars, as some have suggested. The Spurs were one of just four teams in the league to score at least a point per possession in the halfcourt last season, per Cleaning the Glass, specifically because of their capacity to score efficiently from an inefficient part of the floor.

At just under 9 minutes, it’s a must watch.

If some of those ideas feel familiar, it’s probably because our very own Bruno Passos explored the connection between the Spurs’ midrange excellence and the team’s ability to score at a high level back in January. He wasn’t the only one to pull on that thread, either, with both Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer and Bed Ladner at Fansided taking shots at explaining the success of San Antonio’s anachronistic offense, among others.

Ben’s focuses the conversation on halfcourt offense, which frames the problem in a way that makes it easier to understand. It’s not about comparing two points to three points - 3 is greater than 2, duh! - an oversimplification that elides every bit of nuance required to understand the complex ballet between offense and defense. It’s about recognizing that shots don’t exist in isolation, they’re a part of an ecosystem, and the impact they have on the rest of the shots in that ecosystem can be much greater than just a couple of points.

He provides a lot of context for the argument, including an explanation of the sound reasoning behind Moreyball, but the most important highlight is the simple fact that halfcourt offense is hard. Teams score less than a point per possession, on average, in the halfcourt, which sets a much lower bar for an above average shot.

Teams that are capable of taking the majority of their shots from the most efficient areas will obviously excel, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to construct a good offense. By taking the shots defenses are willing to concede and making them at a rate defenses can’t withstand, the Spurs force opposing teams to make hard choices, which they then leverage to generate high quality looks from the most valuable spots on the floor.

That’s not to say that Ben supports all of the Spurs’ offense. The takeaways from his video clearly point out the long two as a problematic shot, something I expect most Spurs fans agree with. But his main points (that the context of a shot matters and that it’s a good thing to force a defense to defend the entire floor) support the idea that the Spurs’ offense is sustainable and that we shouldn’t expect dramatic changes this season, either in terms of shot selection or efficiency.

You can check out more from Ben (@elgee35) at www.backpicks.com and his patreon, or catch his podcast, also called Thinking Basketball.