AT&T CENTER – Prior to the San Antonio Spurs’ preseason game against the Orlando Magic Tuesday, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich was asked about how a team can transition from two different offensive philosophies. The question was initially about how the Magic are going from a traditional two-big man lineup and converting to the more modern run and gun versatile style of offense.
When Popovich was asked how he made the change from a two-big man lineup with Tim Duncan and David Robinson and transitioned that offense into a more motion based attack fueled by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Popovich had this response about today’s NBA and the importance of the 3-pointer.
“Well, we didn’t do what the league is doing now,” said Popovich. “Motion is different than what the league is doing now. Those are two different animals. We never were a smash-mouth team even with big guys. We were the boy scouts. At times, I wanted to be the nasty boy scouts who got kicked out of the troupe just to get that edge. Everything is about understanding it’s about the rules of the league and what you have to do to win. And these days what’s changed it is that everybody can shoot threes. And so, you have to be able to guard it, and a lot of big guys can’t do that, and so you’ve got the flexibility and versatility in the switching and that kind of thing, and people shooting more quickly and getting more threes up, not shooting twos. And statistically it’s correct. I hate it, but statistically it’s proven. It’s something you have to deal with.”
You can see just how much today’s offenses have shifted the game with a quicker pace. Back in 1999, the Spurs were using 88.6 possessions per 48 minutes according to Basketball-Reference.com. Last season, the 2017 Golden State Warriors used 102.24 possessions per 48 minutes. That’s basically adding 14 more possessions in today’s game. Both of those teams won the title in those respective years. With a faster pace, that means there’s more points scored across the league and the 3-point ball has a lot to do with that.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Spurs start using the 3-ball even more this coming season. While San Antonio was the most accurate 3-point shooting team last season (39.1%), they were ranked 25th in three point attempts with 23.5 shots per game. The Houston Rockets led the league in 3-point attempts with 40.3 shots per game. Meanwhile, the Spurs last season ranked 3rd in gathering points from the mid-range area, as 19.6% of San Antonio’s points came from the non-paint two.
With the Spurs adding more 3-point shooters like Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Brandon Paul, almost every player on the roster is respected by defenses minus low volume 3-point shooters such as Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker. Knowing the math, the regular season will show whether San Antonio makes that transition to the modern NBA with more 3-point attempts on offense.
On the defensive end, the Spurs have done their best to limit three point attempts by opponents. Last season, San Antonio ranked Top-10 defensively in limiting corner and above the break threes. The Spurs held teams to taking just 6.0 corner threes (8th) and 17.5 above the break threes per game (2nd). With the addition of Gay and with Murray playing more minutes to start the season, San Antonio’s perimeter defense should still stay top tier out on the perimeter.