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.
It just takes one advantage
James Borrego, current coach of the Charlotte Hornets but then an assistant coach with the Spurs, discussed the basic concepts of the Spurs’ offense at a coaches clinic in conjunction with the Basketball Without Borders camp in the Bahamas in July 2017. Coach Borrego had spent 9 seasons as an assistant coach with the franchise at that point, having been with the team from 2003-2010 before rejoining Coach Gregg Popovich in 2015. Like Ettore Messina’s talk covered in part 2, Coach Borrego introduces some of the fundamental ideas behind the Spurs’ offense and illustrates those ideas by teaching drills the team uses to practice them.
He starts by demonstrating a drill he calls “three pass”, which is very similar to the first thing Coach Messina showed. In both cases, three players drive, kick and replace each other on the perimeter in order to practice breaking down a defense to find the best shot possible. Here, the players have a preset number of passes they need to make before getting to a particular shot or action, whether that’s driving all the way to the rim, cutting in for a layup or dunk, or taking a three.
The Spurs like to use three players to practice offensive actions, which Coach Borrego refers to as a 3-man-concept breakdown. To illustrate how they do that, he walks the players through a version of Motion Strong, one of the Spurs’ most well known plays.
He cuts the play into two pieces, the strong side and weak side, which can be practiced independently. Each has multiple scoring options, and Coach Borrego uses coaches to augment the players so that they can exercise each of the options on every run through.
Breaking the play down in this way simplifies the action and maximizes the amount of reps each player gets, ensuring the development of muscle memory as efficiently as possible. Once players work both sides of the floor, they raise the level of difficulty by adding some defense, which both further ingrains the action and exposes any issues with execution.
The Spurs also tie simple actions into their ball movement drills. Coach Borrego uses a pick and roll at the top of the key as an example of how the team adds a layer to the three pass drill he showed at the beginning. In this instance, he asks the players to make five passes after the pick and roll before taking a shot. It’s easy to see Spurs’ basketball in what follows, too, with both the players and the ball whirring around the floor.
That prompts him to discuss how the Spurs and other good NBA offenses use an advantage to generate ball movement. A simple action gets two defenders on the ball, so a kick out creates rotation which leads to ball movement. In his own words, “the better players you have, the more advantages you’re gonna create.” The Spurs’ offense isn’t a panacea, they still need players who can compromise a defense. But once they do, it’s a joy to watch.
Previous entries in this series:
For more on this topic (not necessarily Spurs-focused, but Spurs-adjacent):
Ettore Messina on attacking the switch.