Anyone following the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 knows exactly what perfect team basketball looks like. That team finished with a league-best 25.2 assists per game, leading to a 62-20 regular-season record and the franchise’s fifth NBA title.
The “Beautiful Game” Spurs were a sight to behold, and I’m not sure we’ll ever see anything like it again, even if this year’s team sometimes makes very similar plays. The 2021 Spurs have plenty of guys capable of sharing the ball well, namely DeMar DeRorozan, Dejounte Murray, and Derrick White. Unfortunately, the team as a whole has dropped to 17th in the league in assists per game at 24.6.
Much of the team’s recent dip has to do with San Antonio’s inability to hit shots. The Spurs have had far too many nights recently where they start off ice cold from long range. In Monday’s inexplicable loss to Charlotte, only Patty Mills and Derrick White had made at least one three in the first half.
Another trend that has killed the Spurs’ offense is the tendency for the ball to stall on one side of the floor. While DeRozan isolates often, there’s a reason for that — he’s one of the best in the game at it. What the team doesn’t need is a second guy trying to do the same.
Isolating Rudy Gay is killing the San Antonio Spurs’ offense
Down 10 at halftime, the Spurs came out with more intensity in the second half of Monday’s game against the Hornets. On the back of DeRozan and some threes by Keldon Johnson, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay, the Spurs trimmed the lead to five with 1:18 left in the third quarter. Then, Gay took matters into his own hands.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/03/22/0022000655/466/8e018a6c-f4a4-3ca2-a4a3-d2f3fedaa524_1280x720.mp4
The play in itself is very makeable for Gay, who’s made a living in this league out of creating his own shot. Still, I want you to watch this play again and look at every other Spur on the court during his isolation. If you pause it at six seconds, you can see how all four of Rudy’s teammates are on one side of the floor, completely boxed out by the Hornets.
This play essentially guarantees a one-and-done possession for the Spurs if Gay fails to convert, which he did here with one of his seven misses in 11 shots. Again, Rudy is capable of making this shot, but is an isolation play for him really the best play when you have three outside shooters and a slasher on the court as well?
Gay ended the night with 10 points and four costly turnovers, many of which came from forcing the action too much instead of looking for the simple pass. Still, he received 25 minutes due to Lonnie Walker appearing to still be feeling the effects of his recent wrist injury. A healthy Devin Vassell, meanwhile, played just 10 minutes.
Rudy Gay is perfectly serviceable as a slasher and hustle guy that can make plays happen in transition and off of spot-up shots. Going to him in the isolation in a halfcourt set was a great option earlier in his career, but it just isn’t the answer anymore.
As constructed, this team plays best when they’re all looking to create shots for each other, and that’s just something Rudy doesn’t do as often as he should.
The Spurs have one of the best isolation guys in the game for when they badly need a bucket. In today’s high-octane offense game, one is enough.