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