Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

In copy-cat league, could other teams mimic the Spurs’ offense?


SAN ANTONIO — Every coach in the NBA (and college, and high school, and youth YMCA leagues) espouses the same basic principles as Gregg Popovich on offense — move the ball, cut when you don’t have the ball, find your open teammate and trust them to make the play.

But nobody executes those things like the Spurs — they have an offensive rating of 119.2 point per 100 possessions in these Finals.

The NBA can be a copy-cat league. If coaches or scouts see something that works — for example Mike D’Antoni’s push in Phoenix to get off a shot before the defense could get set — a lot of other teams will do it. Maybe not the exact same way, but they incorporate parts. Another example, every team has a couple of triangle offense sets in the playbook.

San Antonio is on the doorstep of winning an NBA title playing “the beautiful game” of balanced team basketball — passing, cutting off the ball, swinging the ball sharply strong to weak, and being willing to give up a good shot to get their teammate a great one. It makes the Spurs offense unpredictable and hard to defend. Just ask the Heat.

“There’s nobody that’s not in play,” Ray Allen said. “For us, you have to guard a man-and-a-half, sometimes two men, in a possession.”

“Everybody’s dangerous on our team,” Boris Diaw explained. “Everybody can score at any time. It’s not like a pattern, like some times you do scouting on a team and you say ‘Who’s the head of the snake, who’s the guy who’s going to score?’ You keep them from scoring and you’re going to win the game. With us it’s a little bit different, anybody can score on any given night. You saw that during the whole regular season. One night Patty Mills is the leading scorer on our team, some times it’s Danny (Green), sometimes it’s Tony (Parker), sometimes it’s Manu (Ginobili), sometime’s it’s Tim (Duncan). It can be anyone.”

It’s a joy to watch, it makes you ask “why doesn’t every team do that?”

But is that kind of selfless team play something other teams can actually successfully emulate?

“It’s a big strategy shift from how a lot of players are brought up playing from AAU,” Matt Bonner said. “That’s give the ball to the best player and get out of the way…

“You look at teams in Europe, playing for the EuroLeague title, and their leading scorers average 13, 14 points a game probably. It’s just a team mentality, a style of play thing everybody has to buy into.”

It’s no coincidence there are a lot of European players on the Spurs, the system comes more naturally to them.

For a team that wants to do what the Spurs do on offense, it has to start with getting players not wed to that AAU style of ball. The Spurs organization focuses hard on getting guys willing to play this style, guys not concerned with numbers but rather with fitting in the team concept. For another team to emulate that would require both that team’s star player being selfless like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, then that team has to find role players to put around them who share that philosophy. Sure, San Antonio has done it, but good luck trying to follow those footsteps.

Let’s say a team did get those right guys for the system, the next ingredient is patience. It takes time to get everyone on the same page, it takes a consistency of roster.

“You don’t get it until you experience it for quite some time,” Patty Mills said. “It really took me two seasons before I really mentally understood and acknowledged what I needed to do to play a part in this team. You got to be within the group what to expect and what’s expected of you.

“There’s no textbook. You can’t pick up a textbook and read it and go and do it.”

During that time, and with the roster consistency, the Spurs also built up one other key component to making their offense click.

“I honestly think (our success) comes from the trust within each other, trusting the next person that they can make plays or they can have your back and cover you in any situation,” Mills said. “That’s a big factor that goes underestimated about the way we play.”

Would another owner be patient enough to let a GM not only find these guys but keep them together for years to work it all out? Judging from how many 50+ win coaches we’ve seen canned in the last couple years, I think not.

San Antonio is just a unique situation.

Still, should we see more of the Spurs style of play, should it be the model teams emulate?

“It should be, I think,” Mills said. “The way that we get taught how to play the game, we get told it’s the right way to play, we don’t know any other way to play and I think that’s the main thing.”

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.