The Spurs finally broke their 16-game losing streak with a win over the Utah Jazz on February 28th. While San Antonio had probably their best defensive game of their 17-game stretch, it was some of the offensive action that they ran that really stood out.
The Spurs are not a three-point shooting roster. They are shooting 34% overall, and only two players, Doug McDermott and Devin Vassell, are shooting 40% on over 4 attempts per game for the season. Because of that lack of shooting, their guards do not have a lot of gravity off the ball on drives. When someone like Keldon Johnson is coming off of a pick and roll, defenders crowd the paint, covering up the roll, and force KJ to make a difficult driving shot. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for drive and kick possessions with a lack of shooters on the perimeter.
One way the Spurs have tried to alleviate this issue is running high pick and pops with Zach Collins. This is how the Spurs stretch 5 gets the majority of his looks, but he hasn’t been all that efficient, shooting 34% from 3 on a little under 2 attempts per game. Typically the Spurs center is wide open on these looks, but is such a streaky shooter, he doesn’t make the defense pay for doubling down on drives.
Against the Jazz, Doug McDemott had one of his best shooting games of the season, going 5-9 from beyond the arc. The Spurs got him going on handoffs, flares screens, and routinely found him in transition. But two of the looks McBuckets got, showed a solution to the Spurs pick-and-roll woes.
Here is an example of a double staggered ball screen that got McDermott a wide open look against Utah. This came at a crucial time for San Antonio, as their rookie forward Jeremy Sochan was leading the offense on its way to getting back into the game. The Spurs got into this action after a few successful downhill drives from Sochan. Watch as Charles Bassey and McDermott set a double stagger screen, two Jazz defenders take the roll man, and the other goes to cut off Sochan’s drive, leaving McDermott wide open for three. One key part to this play is having a solid first screen, which Bassey does a great job of, sealing the defender from contesting the shot.
The Spurs ran this action earlier in the second quarter, resulting in a wide open look as well, but McDermott clanked it long. It’s small sample size theater, but it’s easy to see why this could be a useful play in the Spurs arsenal going forward. Whether it be utilizing McDermott off of the bench, or Vassell who is set to come back from injury on the Spurs homestand, imagine putting them in this action to open up the pick and roll game for their ball handlers, or get shooters a good look.
San Antonio could even use Sochan as the roller on this play, and popping Collins for the three. They could get Branham involved in guard to guard screens and flaring him for rhythm threes that he’s shown increasing confidence on. It seems like this is an action that can play to the Spurs strengths, and help out their game in the half court.
I will be watching the Spurs pick and roll game to see if they run this action more going forward. I’m especially interested in seeing how they use Vassell in the pick and roll, given his progression as a scorer in the first half of the season. Will they use him as a ball handler, a screener on guard to guard pick and pops? It’s a fascinating x’s and o’s wrinkle to watch in the last 20 games.
The Spurs are not a great pick and pop team right now, but the action could be integrated more with the recent success seen in Utah.