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How to understand the Spurs offense

A collection of resources to improve our collective knowledge of the best franchise in sports

2014 NBA Global Games - Berlin Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via 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.

Attention to detail, all the way down to the details

As covered in Part 1, the Spurs provided a coaching clinic in Berlin on October 6th, 2014 as part of the NBA’s Global Games that year. After Gregg Popovich spoke, Ettore Messina, who had just joined the team as an assistant coach three months prior, related what he had seen and learned of the Spurs up to that point. As one of the most successful and well respected basketball coaches in the world, Messina’s perspective on Spurs’ basketball was informed by nearly 40 years of experience at that point. It’s fascinating to hear how much he had already found to take away even in such a short period of time.

He focused on how the Spurs practice, but reinforced much of what Popovich had to say in the process, repeatedly alluding to how the team structures every aspect of practice to build leadership, improve communication and develop trust. Even water breaks are used as an opportunity for groups of players to work together on individual skills.

Importantly, Spurs’ practices aren’t coach-centric. Players, once familiar with the drills, take charge, both providing encouragement and holding each other accountable for meeting expectations. The most obvious benefit is that the players become accustomed to holding their teammates responsible for their performance, but it also allows the coaches to spend more time teaching, focusing on the details, and maximizing the utility of the time they spend together.

Another interesting aspect of how the team runs practice is the way they separate non-competitive learning and skill development from competitive versions of the same drill by interspersing them around other components of practice. The idea is to challenge the players by requiring them to execute something that isn’t fresh in their memory, while improving focus by reducing monotony.

Messina discussed in some depth the .5 second concept and demonstrated a few of the drills the team uses to turn the concept into practical application. The ability to quickly decide whether to shoot, pass or drive is at the heart of the Spurs’ motion offense, but the drills the team uses are as simple as the concept itself. You may remember Tony Parker talking about the first drill in every Spurs fan’s second favorite video.

Messina spent the majority of his time on the mechanics of the team’s practices, but there are straight and easy-to-see lines connecting Popvoich’s philosophy and approach with the structure, organizing principles and drills Messina describes. In one of the least surprising developments you can imagine, the Spurs are exactly who they say they are.