Saturday in their 10-point win over the Chicago Bulls, six of the San Antonio Spurs’ 52 points in the paint came off high-low action. For those that don’t recall what a high-low set is, it’s when one big catches the ball at the top of the arc, he sees that his teammate has position over his defender in the paint and he passes from the high big up top, to the low big for an efficient basket in the paint.
The basic play design can be seen below.
In their win against the Bulls, twice Pau Gasol found LaMarcus Aldridge with position over the rookie Lauri Markkanen for the high-low set. Then, when the Spurs initiated their Motion Weak set on offense, Rudy Gay had position against his defender in the post and Gasol passed the ball his way using the high-low set for the and-1 basket.
With Gasol’s passing ability and his 7’0” height, he can scan the floor with the ball in his hands and put the pass on the money to whichever player is the recipient of the high-low pass. Through just two games, Gasol is tied with Dejounte Murray in leading the team with 4.0 assists each. However, it’s not just Gasol who can make that high-low pass, as both Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne have shown on their former teams that they can deliver the pass as well.
So far through two games, Aldridge is leading the Spurs in scoring with 26.5 points per game. 41.5% of Aldridge’s points are coming from the paint. For Gay, being on the Spurs means he’s getting way more efficient shots in his new role as he’s averaging 13.0 points per game and 69.2% of his points are already coming from the paint.
Prior to the season starting, I asked Denver Nuggets Head Coach Michael Malone if the high-low set is something a team scripts, or if it’s just two high-level IQ players on the same page. Malone said it was a little bit of both.
“I think it depends,” said Malone. “I think there are teams that use specific play calls where they’re trying to get the high-low action. Then I think there are teams that play with a little bit more freedom where the bigs play off of each other and if one big is low at the rim and you have a trail big, I’m sure those guys will look for each other, before just reversing the ball. So, I think it’s a combination of play calls as well as just guys reading and reacting and playing off of one another.”
For the Spurs, while sometimes the high-low action might be something out of a specific play like the diagram above, other times they have multiple passers and scorers with high basketball IQ’s to automatically read the defense and execute that efficient offensive possession.