Gregg Popovich

Gregg Popovich: Spurs have never chased No. 1 seed

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There’s nothing wrong with trying to secure a No. 1 seed. The top seed gets homecourt advantage through at least the conference playoffs, and that’s, um, an advantage.

But going for the No. 1 seed can take a toll, increasing pressure and exhausting a team through a long season. See Pacers, Indiana.

Gregg Popovich has a clear opinion on which approach is better.

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Remarkably, the Spurs have more No. 1 seeds in the last 15 years than any other team, anyway.

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San Antonio as No. 1 seed in last 15 years:

  • 2011-12: Went 50-16, lost to Oklahoma City Thunder in conference finals
  • 2010-11: Went 61-21, lost to Memphis Grizzlies in first round
  • 2005-06: Went 63-19, lost to Dallas Mavericks in second round
  • 2002-03: Went 60-22, won NBA championship
  • 2000-01: Went 58-24, lost to Los Angels Lakers in conference finals
  • 1998-99: Went 37-13, won NBA championship

The Spurs, who lead the second-place Thunder by 3.5 games, are on the verge of receiving yet another No. 1 seed.

Quite the feat. And it’s even more remarkable if you believe Popovich – and I do.

People sometimes underplay their motivations, making their accomplishments seem accidental – adding a level of humblebrag to increase the noteworthiness.

Claiming six No. 1 seeds in 15 years is impressive no matter what. Doing it when you’re not trying to is better. That make it sound as if you can’t help but win so much. Imagine what the Spurs could do if they were trying.

You can see why Popovich would embellish to draw more credit.

But all other evidence supports his claims. He famously rests his top players frequently, both limiting their minutes per game and even total games. And as Kurt recently wrote, “Gregg Popovich has reached the ‘I don’t care what people think’ phase of his career… actually that might have started Day 3 of his tenure in San Antonio, but the coach is taking it to new levels lately.”

This is the real deal.

The Spurs have the NBA’s best record despite not setting out to get it. As other teams give maximum effort to win as many regular-season games as possible, the Spurs don’t worry about that.

Just imagine what happens when they start trying in the playoffs.

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

James Harden makes impressive chase-down block. Really. (video)

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If we’re going to post all of James Harden‘s defensive lowlights, it’s only fair to acknowledge this impressive block.

Please overlook the fact that Jason Terry is 39 years old.

Steven Adams posterizes Rudy Gobert AND Derrick Favors with one thunderous dunk (video)

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Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors form an impressive defensive tandem that usually walls off the paint.

If there were any walls here, Steven Adams jumped right over them.

Video Breakdown: How Kyle Lowry dismantles NBA defenses from 3-point range

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Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry is arguably the team’s best player thanks in large part to his increase in 3-point shooting ability this season. He’s just above 43 percent from deep this year, much better than his career average of 36 percent. Lowry has increased his 3-point percentage six points over last season, and he’s a big part of why the Raptors are so good on offense, and why they’re a contender in the Eastern Conference.

So how does he do it?

Watch the full video breakdown on Lowry’s 3-point shooting above, or read the text version of the article below.

Early Offense

I looked at a lot of tape of Lowry over the last 3 years and he hasn’t changed much on his shot mechanics. There’s no big change in his sweep or sway toward the basket when he shoots, and he still brings the ball up from his left side.

Part of his leap is be how quickly he’s getting his shots off and how many of his early offense field goal attempts come in the form of 3-pointers.

Lowry has bumped up how many 3-pointers he’s taken in the early offense, recorded here as between 24 and 15 seconds on the shot clock. Year-over-year he’s taken nearly eight percent more of his field goals as three pointers in this range.

This takes form on the court in a couple of ways, both in transition on the fast break and on quick 1 or 2 dribble pull ups off the pick-and-roll.

Transition

With the ball in secondary transition here, Lowry gets a quick screen from DeMarre Carroll to open him up for a 3-point bucket against the Hornets. And that’s still with 18 seconds left on the shot clock!

Pull-up and off-the-bounce jumpers

The other way Lowry scores quickly is off the dribble, with quick pick and rolls. Toronto is great at screen assists — picks leading to an immediate field goal — and have three players in the Top 50 and two in the Top 10 in setting them.

Here, the Celtics defender cuts off Lowry’s attack to the middle of the floor. The screener sets up to Lowry’s right, but then quickly flips it to his left. One dribble, and it’s an easy 3-pointer.

Here against Portland, the Raptors run a two screen setup with one wing and one post. The Blazers make the switch and try to blitz Lowry, but he stays resilient and sinks the bucket with what little space they allow him anyway.

Working with DeMar DeRozan

The other thing that’s been talked about a lot is the gravity of DeMar DeRozan, who himself is having a career year for the Raptors. While Lowry is making a ton of unassisted 3-pointers this year, the Raptors point guard does benefit from DeMar.

Part of that is how good they are in transition together.

Here you can see DeMar bringing the ball up the court with Lowry in front of him. He sets the screen, then fades to the arc. Three Utah Jazz are trying to stop DeRozan, and Lowry is left all alone.

When he’s not the primary ball handler on the break, Lowry will immediately get out to the wing. DeRozan has a way of finding him to get up quick Js.

Of course, in good old set plays the Raptors see this gravity effect as well.

Here Toronto is running another double screen with a guard and a post, but Lowry is one of the screeners. At this point, all three Heat players are guarding against DeRozan’s midrange jumper, leaving just enough daylight for Lowry.

Toronto is also third in the NBA in “hockey” or secondary assists, which means two or more passes leading to a made field goal.

On this baseline out of bounds play, again it’s DeRozan’s gravity that frees up Lowry. As the ball is inbounded, DeRozan sucks three warriors defenders with him, including Lowry’s. Meanwhile, Kyle is running down the baseline to get a bucket off a pass on the opposite side of the floor. All the raps have to do is rotate the ball.

So that’s a little bit on why Kyle Lowry has been so good. It’s been about shot selection, decisiveness, and some practice in addition to the effectiveness of his teammates.