Out of the Timeout: The Spurs’ fastbreak


In our Out of the Timeout series this week, we look at the San Antonio Spurs’ fastbreak. While not a set play of sorts, players have specific roles they need to fill when transitioning from defense to offense.

In order to make some sense of the Spurs’ fastbreak and the players’ roles in transition, you have to understand that point guard, shooting guard and small forward all do the same things in the Spurs’ offense. Those players have to know three positions because they are all interchangeable. Same thing with the bigs, the power forward and center both do the same things and can be switched on the fly. It makes the team much more flexible this way.

(Note: this makes some sense of why Richard Jefferson struggled mightily last season. As a small forward and small-ball 4, he had to know all five positions on the floor for one of the toughest systems in the league, in his first year with the team. It’s no wonder Year 2 looks so much brighter.)

The key thing to notice in the Spurs’ fast break is how disciplined the players are to get in their lanes as soon as possible. In the following play — and all of these plays came from the Spurs’ 113-109 come-from-behind win (the first one) over the Timberwolves the day before Thanksgiving — George Hill (2) gets the rebound and Tony Parker (1) immediately gets out wide on the left flank.

What this does is open up driving and passing lanes sooner rather than later. If Tony takes his time getting out on the wing instead of going straight there, it allows the defense to stay more compact in transition. It Tony is too close to Tiago Splitter (5) running up court, it could allow one of Minnesota’s defenders to cover both players in time for a teammate to get back on defense. By spreading out the defense early, there’s a better chance that Splitter could be open down low or Parker could be open for a spot-up 3.

San Antonio Spurs fastbreak


On this next play, you’ll see the same thing with Ime Udoka (3), Manu Ginobili (2) gets the rebound and brings it up court. Udoka makes getting out wide his first priority and takes his run towards the basket before popping out to the corner and spotting up. On the fastbreak, the first big man down the floor runs to the block (5), usually ball-side, and the other big trails the play (4). The trailing post player stops near the top of the key to give the option of swinging the ball to the other side before moving down low.

The trailing also allows the Spurs to get into a quick pick-and-roll / pick-and-pop action, before the defense is set-up, as Ginobili and Matt Bonner (4) do on this play.

San Antonio Spurs fastbreak


Again, on this play you can see the clearly defined lanes that each player takes up court. The spacing results in a open passing lane to DeJuan Blair (4) on the block and an open 3-point attempt in the corner for Gary Neal (2).

San Antonio Spurs fastbreak


The following play (in the second half of the Minnesota game, which is why they’re going the other direction) shows the discipline the Spurs have in getting to the right spots quickly. After Antonio McDyess (5) gets the rebound and outlets the ball to Tony Parker (1), Richard Jefferson (3) takes a couple of steps toward the left wing. Noticing that Manu Ginobili (2) is already occupying that side, he reverses course and fills the right flank.

By doing that, Jefferson’s defender, Michael Beasley, follows RJ and Tony Parker has a layup attempt on the other side of the floor. Then again, it was Beasley so Parker might have still had a layup regardless. But it was still the right play from RJ.

San Antonio Spurs fastbreak


All diagrams made possible by the awesome FastDraw Software from Fast Model.

  • VP of Common Sense

    wow.. this is awesome analysis.

    great job.

  • j2tao

    With the new direction that is being taken by the Spurs offense. Does it make sense that we need more of an Athletic Center/Power Fwd as opposed to a Duncan style.

    When I think Duncan, I think of half court offense solid defense. When I see this offense I think of more a (pardon my example) Antoni run and shoot. Would it benefit us more to have an Amare type big man? With the PG/SG/SF all playing the same roll is it safe to say we could do more of an athletic PF/PF front court?

    I only ask this because as all of us Spurs fans are dreading the Duncan era doesn’t have many years left. When this ends, do we look for more of an Athletic/hustle PF? This offense makes me think we can honestly run either PG/SG/SF/SF/PF or PG/SG/SF/PF/PF.

    Thoughts anyone?
    Just my 2cents…


    great analysis!

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  • Robin

    This seems to be more SSOL basketball rather than being a *fastbreak* situation.

  • The Beat Counselor

    Ring the bell, school’s in session.

  • A-Train

    thanks, looks great

  • mybloodissilverandblack

    Uh… *drool*

    All I know is they’re clicking when they move the ball well and their passes are on target.

    Otherwise, they get in trouble for turning the ball like f*ck.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ j2tao

    It sounds good but no – After Timmy retires the Spurs should still try and find a Bigman that can protect the paint – We are in the West and there aew still too many talented young bigs that an Offensive minded PF/C like Amare just can’t hang with.

    And Although our Offense is very good, i would hate to see it ran like the Suns or Knicks – that style has never won in the playoffs and there no need for SPURS to give up on winning it all, because Timmy is gone

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  • http://www.sanantoniospurs.com SPURS FAN SINCE 89

    Does anyone know when Anderson will be back???
    BEAT L.A.

  • SeaBass

    Pulling up for a 3-pointer is not a fast break.

  • Daniel


    It would be great to find a superstar athletic PF/C. I’m sure Bosh, Amare, Howard, or Josh Smith will be available sometime in the next decade. :)

  • rob

    Spurs players (once acclimated to the system) have got to be some of the smartest ball players in the league. Regardless of their physical abilities. The Spurs are like the Utah Jazz. Always in the running. Not a big market team. Just smart, non individualistic, team orientated players.

    And that shows just how good Richard Jefferson really is, can be, and will become with this team. I’m glad the Spurs didn’t give up on RJ but instead went all out to help him improve.

    Great breakdown. Enjoyed as always.

  • GMT

    Anderson was given an 8 week timetable, and it’s been 4 weeks, so (hopefully) he should be completely healed by Jan. 6th. Of course, he’ll need to get back into game shape, and, knowing Pop, he’s definitely going to be eased back onto the court, so it will likely be even later than that.

  • GitErDun

    I want the Spurs to target Blake Griffin when his contract with the Clipps runs out and he realizes they will never be worth a hoot. He is from Oklahoma and needs to come back home to a title contending team – sorry OKC isn’t it yet.

  • http://fresnobeach.com darryl howerton

    great post. like always.

  • andy

    love the fast break discipline here.

    December 8th, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    “I’m glad the Spurs didn’t give up on RJ but instead went all out to help him improve.”

    definitely, man. in addition to other things, this greatly separates the spurs from most teams. more than any other team, i get the sense that pop and his staff really tease the promise out of players, working to make sure they fulfill not only their potential, but their ability to fill the roles as envisaged and defined by the team. great organizations, from berkshire hathaway and google, to governments and sports teams all deploy a type of structuring and nurturing of talent.

  • Mike Robb

    Very good analysis. Who’s team are you on? Yes we are moving the ball better this year than last. But if you give other teams deep info like this how long can we continue to score 107 points a game? We had to change to match the level of competition and the skill level that the NBA provides on a daily basis. Our speed is the key. Early offense has allowed us to rest our “older” players. The Chicago Bulls did the same thing toward the end of the Michael jordan era. Honestly you can not win 3 championships in a row with your starting 5 avearging 30 min per game. Phil Jackson took advantage of his bench and coasted thru many of those games. Especially the last season before Jordan retired the 1st time.Duncan legitemly has 2 years left as a true force down low.We are saving him for the postseason. We are not as big down low to punish the paint, so our best option is early offense. Im intrigued to see what will happen when we actually play those ” Bigger” teams like the ridiculas Boston Celtics and the Lakers with their 3 big attack. We are supposed to win with our weak schedule. Holding serve is not enough to get over excited about. Come April, is where we separate the boys from the men. Mike Robb