Play Breakdown: Spurs Resemble “The Beautiful Game” Spurs With This Play

Photo via: Adam Glanzman/Getty

While most of the San Antonio Spurs’ first game of the season did not go well for the Silver and Black, there were a few flashes throughout the game from the players and coaching staff that could lead to exciting moments this season. One play, in particular, involved all five players and resulted in an easy shot at the rim for Jakob Poeltl. Watch our play breakdown below.

Play Breakdown

The strength of this play is the misdirection the Spurs use at several points. The play starts with a pick-and-roll on the right side of the court between Josh Primo and Jeremy Sochan.

The defense initially keys in on defending that action. After the Charlotte Hornets set up their defensive alignment to guard a sideline pick-and-roll, Primo passes the ball out to Poeltl at the top of the key, instantly forcing the defense to shift back.

Devin Vassell then cuts to the basket from the perimeter. If his defender was caught watching the action on the other side, Vassell could have slipped behind him for an easy layup.

Part of what makes this play successful is Poeltl’s ability to hit cutters from the top of the key, a skill we are sure to see more throughout the season. Because there is the threat of easy points, Vassell remains covered by his defender.

This opens up the left elbow, where Poeltl and Keldon Johnson meet for a dribble hand-off. After the hand-off, Poeltl instantly flips into an on-ball screen for Johnson.

Both Sochan and Vassell, who cut to the basket before the dribble hand-off, continue their cuts into the opposite corner. This keeps their defenders occupied and also opens up the middle just as Johnson and Poeltl are starting their pick-and-roll.

With the middle open all Johnson and Poeltl needed to do was run a simple ball screen action for an open look.

This play is reminiscent of the “Beautiful Game” Spurs’ motion offense for two connected reasons. First, it involves stringing together several actions to get as many defenders involved as possible. If just one of those defenders makes a mistake, the Spurs can capitalize on it with a high-quality shot.

Second, it involves ball reversal. A ball reversal occurs when the offense has the ball on the left side of the court and moves it to the right side, or vice versa.

While this concept sounds incredibly simple, help-defense responsibilities are different whether you are on the side with the ball (the strong side) or the side that doesn’t have the ball (the weak side). Changing defenders’ responsibilities mid-possession can result in confusion and miscommunications by the defense.

The combination of stringing actions together and ball reversal, both of which are trademarks of the mid-2010 Spurs’ motion offense, force the defenders to think. Acting on instinct is fast and thinking is slow, especially in a fast-paced NBA game. If a team can cause a defender to take one extra half second to make a decision, they will probably generate an open look.

While the game as a whole was rough for the Spurs, there is something aesthetically pleasing about seeing concepts that made the “Beautiful Game” Spurs so beautiful still show up in their current playbook. Hopefully, we will see even more flashes of that offensive style throughout the season.

Be sure to watch more awesome Spurs content on Project Spurs Network TV




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