X’s And O’s: Breaking Down The Spurs Set Plays

By Ian Dougherty

Since I’ve started writing here at Air Alamo, I’ve made it a point to try and look at whatever the Spurs are doing on the court, bring it here,and try to explain it. I want to do this  because, well, I enjoy the X’s and O’s part of basketball very much. And, since I have the capacity to talk about that here, I would love for you, the reader, to be able to learn more about basketball with me.

So, what I’ve got for everyone today is a basic sort of floppy set, which is a single-double screen. Here, we’re going to see the Spurs run it and get an easy Matt Bonner 2 (that would have been a three if he got his feet behind the line) out of it.

The play begins with the point guard, in this case Gary Neal, bringing the ball up the right side of the floor. Then, he passes the ball to Danny Green at the top of the three point line and begins his motion. He runs on the right side down to about the block, then turns in to where Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard are waiting with staggered screens to go around, and to screen his man.

Next,Danny Green will have a decision to make. The first option is to hit Neal after he comes around the third screen waiting for him, which is being set by Matt Bonner. On the opposite side of the play, after Tiago Splitter sets the first screen for Neal, he will turn back around and set another pick for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, who previously had the second screen for Neal, will come off of Splitter’s screen, go to the right wing, and become the second option for Green. If Leonard gets the ball, Splitter can immediately post up, or they can run some pick and roll. Alas, Green chooses to go the first route, with Neal.

As soon as Gary Neal gets the ball from Green, he has a very quick decision to make. He can either continue the curl and take the ball himself, or he can quickly pass the ball to Matt Bonner off of the screen. In this scenario, Taj Gibson has come to help cut Neal off on the curl, so Neal passes the ball to Bonner. Bonner also has a decision on the play. He can either roll into the post where there is a wide open lane to the basket, or he can fade back and attempt a jumper. Bonner, who is shooting 41.7% from beyond the arc, elects the latter and spaces out for a wide open jumper, which he hits.

Now, let’s watch the play in real time:

This is a very popular play for San Antonio, who have guards capable of making that quick pass, and bigs who know how to use space. More often than not, I would expect to see the big men roll than shoot, since the Spurs don’t have any other bigs that stretch the floor quite like Bonner. It may not be all that flashy, but the Spurs quick ball movement makes this an easy two points most every time.