In all their decorated history, the San Antonio Spurs have been renowned for being pioneers of the game by bucking league-wide trends. With Gregg Popovich at the helm, the Silver and Black have consistently zigged as the others zagged, with this outlier image helping them fight their way to five NBA titles.
San Antonio has done more than simply win rings; they have innovated. Perhaps the most notable change in the game is small-ball and the breakneck pace which is completely different from what the league has seen for much of its history.
The early 2010s Spurs can be pointed out as the forefathers of the modern game and it was a precursor to the evolution of basketball. Veering away from a post-heavy, plodding attack, the team emphasized pace, ball movement, and perimeter shooting.
Today’s San Antonio Spurs team remains an anomaly, but not in the way that we’d hoped. This season – a bridge towards an inevitable full throttle rebuild in the coming campaigns – has seen mixed results with its rather antiquated offense. As a two-point team in a three-point league, the Silver and Black is at a middling record. After an encouraging start, the team has played considerably worse than the previous weeks, and this time, an outdated play style may be one of the culprits.
It’s time for the San Antonio Spurs to modernize their team
A horrendous defensive stretch, questionable rotations, fatigue, lack of practice and injuries are all factors in the team’s disgruntling freefall, but the elephant in the room is how outdated the Spurs are by design.
Unlike before, being outliers has made them obsolete. This is even clearer as the NBA favors offense more than defense to the tune of teams shooting a barrage of three-point shots, shooters exploding for 30+ points in a quarter, players drawing fouls in a maniacal rate, and the list goes on. The problem? The San Antonio Spurs do NONE of those.
Statistics do not tell the whole story, but they show a troubling pattern. According to NBA.com, San Antonio ranks second in midrange field goal attempts and 7th in efficiency at 44 percent. While this template has worked in 2018-19, this is a considerably worse offensive squad with limited shot creation and shooting to compensate for the mathematical deficit by shooting middies instead of threes.
On multiple occasions, we have seen Spurs players pass up on open triples to drive the lane, but instead of taking it to the rack, the end is a midrange shot. The emphasis on middies has permeated across the entire team. Look at this sequence as Dejounte Murray settles on a jumper instead of taking it to the rim after beating a slower defender.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/04/03/0022000751/230/3ebf9596-2b7e-96b9-120b-cf3742283981_1280x720.mp4
The numbers become even bleaker with the most efficient shots on the floor. In the restricted area, the team ranks 19th in attempts on a lackadaisical 62.1 percent clip; the latter good for 20th in the campaign. The Spurs also rank a measly 28th in three-point tries on a similarly paltry 35.5 percent efficiency, good for 22nd. They do not shoot a lot at the charity stripe either, at 16th in attempts and 12th in accuracy.
It also does not help when the team’s gunners opt for long two’s instead of stretching it out beyond rainbow country. This shot would have been acceptable 20 years ago. Today, it is basketball crime.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/04/07/0022000782/114/88bbcba8-07c8-0763-a7e9-57e08aff7176_1280x720.mp4
Another recent bit is how teams are daring the Spurs’ slashers to shoot it from downtown, most notably Keldon Johnson and Murray. It is not their forte, but defenses have been content on letting them hoist up threes, where they shoot 32.8 and 31.4 percent, respectively. Look at how how much defenders sag off them to tag an attacker.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/04/01/0022000735/378/bdb565d0-1715-953e-382f-1548cfde81ee_1280x720.mp4
Here, the Hawks are also content giving Murray a lot of space to stop a DeRozan drive.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/04/01/0022000735/575/c17d4402-2dc5-43cb-a33f-c05d58ac5baa_1280x720.mp4
It is hard to win in the modern NBA by completely going wayward from its general course. This cannot be truer when teams such as Atlanta goes a ballistic 11-11 on threes in a single quarter and Utah makes 25+ triples in multiple games. These are not proven championship formulas, but you do not even get into that discussion when your system is fundamentally flawed and you do not have the players who can rectify issues by simply being math darlings.
There is no doubt that the portion of the Spurs’ problem on offense stems from their personnel and way of habit. But for a franchise spoiled on winning that is too prideful to pile up L’s for better lottery position, bucking the trends is not working anymore. Thankfully, the young guns of San Antonio have lots of opportunities to smoothen the edges of their game and acclimate better to the modern game without compromising their strengths.
Offense is just one of the components to make the engine work. However, in this league’s reality that is a lot more hospitable to scoring than anything, breaking away from its common trajectory tends to hurt more, as the Spurs have brutally experienced recently.