X’s And O’s: A Screen For Tim Duncan


At the beginning of the season for the Spurs, I had begun to notice a set they’d been running occasionally, but never really had the capability to write about because I never had the right video software to record it and break it down, or even the video to record from. Thanks to Synergy, I’ve been able to go back and check out all the different plays the Spurs run semi-regularly, and this one caught my eye again. It’s a fairly simple action, but it’s result always seemed interesting to me.

It starts off with the point guard, in this case Gary Neal, passing the ball to a wing player, Manu Ginobili, at the the top of the three point line. As soon as the point guard does that, he goes to the corner of whichever side of the floor he is on to space; his job is effectively over on this play. As the Neal goes to space, the post player on his side of the floor, Tiago Splitter, comes to above the elbow to receive a pass from Ginobili.

On the other side of the floor, Tim Duncan will set an off ball screen for the other wing player. In this instance, that is Kawhi Leonard, and as he is screened for he goes to the opposite side of the floor to clear out room for Duncan. As Ginobili passes the ball to Splitter, he then goes down into the paint to set a pick for Duncan in a “screen the screener” type action.

From that point, Duncan comes off of Ginobili’s screen turning the corner sharply. He the recieves the pass from Splitter and will shoot a jumpshot from the elbow. Splitter and Ginobili will stay behind to crash the boards, and Neal and Leonard will take off to prevent any transition buckets. Now, let’s watch this play in real time.

As you can see, Duncan tends to take a shot where he’s sort of on the move and fading away from the basket, which is really what caught my eye in the first place. I’m so used to seeing Duncan take fundamentally sound shots that anything as unorthodox as the shot he tends to take here seems brand new to me.

I originally thought this was something the Spurs implemented this season. But, I went back into Synergy and did some more digging and found out they’d been running this set since at least the 2009-10 season. What was different though, was the frequency in which it was used. As the Spurs have come to play at a faster pace, they have of course needed plays they can run quickly. As you can see from the video clip, this is something they can run in under 10 seconds to get one of their best players in a spot where he feels comfortable. As a result, this play has been used more this year than any other year in the past. Formerly run about 10-15 times in a whole year, San Antonio has recently put it into play once or twice a game.

The action of giving Duncan a screen to work off of is great, because it pretty much guarantees him a decent shot no matter how the defense plays him. If the defense tries to chase Duncan around the screen, he will end up with a fading jumper from midrange. It’s not the most efficient shot, but it works well enough that it’s guardable, and Duncan has proven to be an adept midrange shooter in his career. In the clip below, however, the Warriors try and jump the ball screen, and Duncan rips the ball back over to his right for an easier floater in the paint. And, although he misses the shot in the clip, it provides an example of how well this action can free him up for a shot he’s more than capable of making.

I love this action so much. I think it looks cool (or at least as cool as an NBA set play can possibly look), and after some digging, it’s a decently effective shot for Duncan that fits in with the Spurs system and makes sure he doesn’t have to take any hits while running it. It still only comes up every couple of games, but if you look closely it’s pretty neat to watch live.