Basic Offensive Concept - San Antonio Spurs Playbook ft. James Borrego
Time to read 9 min
Written by: Chris Hungerford
Time to read 9 min
In this article, we are going to talk about the development of the basic offensive concepts. What it means to have a basic offensive concept is that you have your offensive identity, it means that you have a certain style that you play, that you love to play and that you tend to develop and improve.
The basic offensive concept is usually defined by two things:
The Coach - Every coach loves, or let's say, is attracted by a different style of basketball, and as he is developing his team he is trying to adapt his players to a style that he likes. One of the good examples is Phil Jackson. Phil liked to play triangle offense and if we look at the teams that he coached, both The Bulls and The Lakers had much success playing it. But, when he moved to a New York Knicks, the same basic offensive concept did not work. And in all of the three franchises, he had the same star player with a similar skill set: Jordan, Kobe, and Melo, all three of them operate the same way, they all are mid-range/low post killers, they all use one dribble pull up. The Lakers and the Bulls played in a similar era of basketball, where the emphasis was on the low post-game. The Knicks were playing in the three-point shot era where the teams would just outgun them.
The Nature of the players: If you have a small and fast team, are you going to play on the low post or you are going to be a cutting-passing-transition team? Or if you have a good 7-foot high player, are you going to play run and gun or you are going to give him the ball? The basic offensive concept must be in correlation with the nature of the team.
Today, we are going to talk about the San Antonio Spurs' basic offensive concept and the coach that is going to help us is James Borrego, their assistant coach.
For this drill you are going to need 3 players. One on the point and the other two on the 45° spot. The first player needs to take two hard dribbles while attacking with the penetration on one of the sides, then he needs to pass the ball to a player on the same side and he needs to replace him. Then the next player needs to attack the rim by two dribbles, again, then comes the kick and a replace and then the third guy needs to do the same thing. After 3 passes made, the guy with the ball needs to finish at the rim.
The whole drill is about developing a habit of taking two dribbles and making a decision. Why two dribbles. In basketball, two dribbles toward the basket are going to put you in a position to shoot or to pass the ball. As you touch the paint you are going to be able to chose what you want to do based on the position of yours and the opposing players.
After the third dribble you are too deep inside the paint and usually this is where the passing becomes very hard. The only option you have then is to try and make a basket. If you did not make a good position for a shot/layup, and the defense is on you, the quality of your shot is going to be bad.
With this drill your players are going to develop a habit to pass the ball after the two dribbles they took, to free up space for another guy and to position themselves the right way so now they can again be a good passing option if the next guy does not have a good shooting or driving opportunity.
This is not a play, this is a simple muscle memory drill that is going to empower three basic things: drive, kick, off ball movement.
Once again, what we want to stand out is the fact that when you penetrate with the ball, what you have to do is to attack the paint, to go towards the rim in the straight line and to try and touch the paint. The defense is not going to collapse if you go East-West with the ball.
As you go on with this three man drill, you can add other solutions after the third dribble is made:
This offensive setup can be seen all over the leagues around the world. It is simple and it is effective, it does not require much from the players but to be patient and to execute the simple stuff.
The Players need to have the geometry same as it is shown on the diagram. We want small players to fill both 45° spots and the strong side corner. One big needs to be on the ball side block and the other one needs to fill the point.
The action starts with ball changing the side over the point position, and the player on the low post needs to follow the ball.
Now, players 1 and 4 need to make two consecutive screens for the player that is standing in the corner. As you can see, the Black Path is the primary idea of the play, to receive two screens in order to get open in the Point area.
The Red path is representing a secondary option for the player No 3. As we know, the defense is going to react and the players will tend to adapt to try and avoid fighting over 2 screens. If the defense plays on top, and he tries to deny the screen in any moment of the two-screen collision course, then the player can just cut toward the rim for an easy layup.
Let's say that there were no secondary options and player No 3 receives the ball on the Point position. Now, he passes the ball to No 4 and they fake a hand-off action. No 4 is with the ball, he makes a back pivot while 3 cuts toward the rim and receives over the top pass for an easy layup. The player guarding low post, No 5 this time, he might try to defend the situation but it is then a 2 on 1 situation.
If over the top pass does not work, then the last option is a dribble hand-off action with the player in the ball side corner.
This was a weak side action with 3 players involved in the movement. The next segment that we are going to work on is if No 3 does not use the 2 screens but decides to change sides.
As we can see, if you want to mix things a bit, then, the player that is in the corner and ready to receive the two screens, he climbs to the level of the first screen, he takes a step with his right leg toward the screen and pushes off and start running toward the opposite corner. If the defense is playing on top, after the cut there is a chance for a pass underneath the basket for an easy layup.
As the pass goes into the corner, the player on the ball side low post climbs up and makes a back screen for the player on the 45°. So now, we have another passing option for a layup.
If the cut does not work, then we have a ball screen action as the situation demands: pick and roll, pick and pop, hand-off, pick and re-pick, and there is good spacing on the weak side for some extra pass options and 3 pt shots.
A very important part of practicing your offensive concept is does it translate to a court? Does your drawn play really work in live games? The big question is how your players will react in situations that they are going to find themselves during the live game and a strong defense?
This is my take on the whole thing:
I analyze my crew and I write down our strong and our weak sides. I like to define where do I have the advantage and where I lack firepower.
I draw a few things that come to my mind thinking about how to emphasize my strengths and how to hide my weaknesses.
I compare my squad to the other teams and I tend to find similarities: I have two good bigs, one ok shooter and a very fast Point Guard who cant shoot but is good on assisting. Which team has similar qualities (in their own realms)? When I find a team/teams (Alba Berlin, Gonzaga and Brooklin Nets have similar squads on the different levels of basketball, let's take a look at what is their playbook, what are their ideas.
I write down their points of emphasis: Alba likes to play High Low, Gonzaga likes to have Point Guard screen for the Center, Brooklin likes to make a pass directly on the low post while the other big goes on the high post...
I watch a lot of tapes and I try to imagine how would my boys react and do in the same setup
I make a decision which plays am I going to use
Last 5 minutes of the practice I take my starting 5 and I teach them the play while the second unit is doing my other play with the assistant coach
Then we play 5 on 5 and we call the plays, we make a video of everything
I watch the tape and I make adjustments on the next practice
The friendly game, make a video, analyze.
When you make a decision which plays you are going to use, then, you have to teach it 5 on 0 first. You need to show your players what are the positions and what are the options.
Then, you have to brake it on the strong side and on the weak side. On the strong side, you will have 3 men and on the weak side, you will usually have 2 players. 3 man concept is the next phase of learning the play.
The third segment is all about the detail, the little things. What is the screen angle, where to cut, how to get open, what is the spacing...
The final stage is by adding defense and making stops and explaining the looks and the opportunities that they had play by play.
The 5 pass concept out of the pick and roll action is a simple drive and kick, fill up the spot action. The San Antonio Spurs Philosophy is based on creating just one advantage on the floor and then the ball goes by itself and usually ends up in the right hands for an open shot.
The second anchor of the Spurs offense is a Pick and Roll action. If you ask them, and not just them, it is the easiest way to make some kind of advance on the floor at any time.
As you can see, it's all about making two hard dribbles, touching the paint and making the pass to an open man.
After the pass it is essential that the player who just made the pass, knows where to run and how to fill up the free spot. If the spacing is good, if the geometry of the offense is good, there will be some good shot opportunities produced for your players.
After the forth pass, players need to think about making the final swing. Is it going to be a shot, a cut, a drive to the rim, it is up to them to be able to read the situation and to make decisions and execute.
Work hard, think hard, know yourself, your team, learn, try, make mistakes. Sometimes you will do something good, the other times you'll learn something new off of your mistakes. Building the basic offensive concept is not a one and done deal. It is a process that is sometimes going to bloom, and the other times it is going to stagnate. Think about the big picture but pay attention to the small things. As they say, the difference between a good shot and a bad shot is in a half a step.
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