The Spurs Are Doing Something They Haven't Done Since 1988

Dejounte Murray, Alperen Sengun
Dejounte Murray, Alperen Sengun / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages

I think it's become pretty clear that the San Antonio Spurs have fallen behind the rest of the league in some departments in recent years.

Although they somewhat addressed their glaring need for accurate 3-point shooters last offseason, they still have a lot of work to do in terms of shot quantity from beyond the arc. They've been at or near the bottom of the NBA in attempts from the outside all season long.

Still, while they will definitely need to improve in that area, they are showing signs of catching up to the modern game in other ways. Through 62 games of the 82-game season, San Antonio is currently 5th in the NBA in pace of play with 100 possessions per 48 minutes. Here's where the Spurs have ranked in pace since their last championship.

  • 2020-21: 15th
  • 2019-20: 14th
  • 2018-19: 12th
  • 2017-18: 28th
  • 2016-17: 27th
  • 2015-16: 24th
  • 2014-15: 17th

You have to go back to the 2014 championship team to see the Spurs in the top 10 in pace and way back to 1987-88 for a top-5 paced team (2nd).

While having a fast pace of play doesn't directly relate to success for every team, there's no doubt it's beneficial for a young Spurs team reliant on getting out in the open to take advantage of their youth and speed. Last year, the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks finished second in the league in pace during the season with 102.2.

This year, Milwaukee, Phoenix and surprise contender Memphis are all in the top 10 in pace just behind the Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs Doug McDermott / Jason Miller/GettyImages

Playing fast is a necessity with this squad

Without a true superstar (although one man is quickly heading down that path), the Spurs have to use ball movement, hard cuts, and transition offense to generate their points. No one man is going to draw double teams on a regular basis to free up open shots.

Last season, the Spurs finished 18th in the league in fast break points (11.7) and 21st in points off turnovers. This year, they're in the top 11 in both categories:

  • Fast break points: 13.7 (7th)
  • Points off turnovers: 16.4 (11th)

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With San Antonio moving on from Derrick White in favor of Devin Vassell, Josh Primo, and more pending draft picks, the Spurs are set up to play even faster and looser next season. If they can continue their league-leading assist pace, they could be working with something special next season.