Passing the ball is the nature of Spurs game. In roots of their “beautiful game” stands basketball at its most fundamental level. Fundamentals are essential for success, but they are not interesting to wider audience. Fans look for highlights – posterizing dunks, monster blocks, last-second shots. But this season Spurs have something to offer in that regard – alley-oops.
For things to remain the same, things will have to change. This is how one can describe San Antonio Spurs. They were constantly changing their game, but at basic level, they are model of consistency.
When you have the Big Fundamental in your team, you play fundamental basketball. Despite his Hall of Fame career, Tim Duncan never covered front pages. It wasn’t his style. But he was a leader, and what a leader he was. At his younger age he led scoring and rebounding, and in later stages he was vocal leader.
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For all the time he played for silver and black, Spurs were always “boring” team. Although you don’t need to look further than 2014 Title and see probably the most beautiful basketball some team played in last 30 years. But, it’s just something that stuck with their name.
One of the reasons because Spurs were at bad voice for attractiveness of their game was lack of alley-oops. Obviously, alley-oop dunks are among most popular segments for basketball fans. Reasons are clear – combination of perfect timing, skill and athleticism.
In Duncan era, this was not so popular play for Spurs. In fact, it was a rarity. It’s not only because of Duncan – Spurs simply didn’t have that kind of athletes in their roster. It’s also risky move, something that Pop doesn’t like very much (or at all).
It’s easy to conclude why numbers are distributed like this. In first three seasons of new millennial, Spurs had 86 alley-oops. In 2003-04 season they had 5. It might had to do something with Spurs having David Robinson in team. With departure of Admiral, in next 6 seasons Spurs had 35 in total. So Robinson’s influence is obvious.
Then, in 2009-10 season, Richard Jefferson arrived. With his athleticism and long hands, Jefferson made 22 out of Spurs total 30 alley-oops in three seasons. After Jefferson left Spurs, Spurs didn’t have that kind of athleticism anymore. Duncan was approaching last stage of career, and Kawhi still was at the very beginning.
So Spurs took a little rest from alley-oops. In 2012-13 season they had only one, next season six, and in 2014-15 seven. With addition of Aldridge and emergence of Leonard, 2015-16 season brought 18 alley-oops for Spurs. These two players made 14 out of 18.
Looking at these numbers, we can say that Spurs are not immune to attractiveness. They just need the right personnel. When athletic player is part of Spurs team, they will most definitely use him.
And, for true fans, one of 7 alley-oops in 2014-15 season belongs to Tim Duncan. Here is Timmy’s last alley-oop of his career. Enjoy
Now, with likes of Leonard, Dedmon, Simmons, and Bertans, Spurs can finally get above the rim. Number of alley-oop dunks for Spurs this season so far is surprise a few of us expected. But it’s a pleasant one. In 34 season games so far, Spurs made 27 alley-oops.
And they are doing it in all ways; after pick&roll, in transition, after set-pieces. The thing is, alley-oops are, ironically, natural part of Spurs game. With their ball movement, Spurs generate a lot of good offensive situations.
Motion offense results in high percentage of open shots. And alley-oops are just that – open shots. They are just more difficult to execute than “normal” open shots. You need great athlete, you need great passer, and you need great level of understanding between the two.
Spurs always had great passers. And now they had plenty of athletes who can jump sky-high. With perfect and synchronized movement, Spurs have open door for highlights. And so far it’s working out pretty good for them.
Moments for enjoyment
First of all, a little stats. Four different players so far were above the rim for Spurs alley-oops. Most often it was Dedmon (17 times), then Simmons and Aldridge (four times each), and Kawhi Leonard (two times).
As far as assistants are concerned, Mills (nine), Gasol (four), Laprovittiola and Bertans (three), Murray and Parker (two), and Leonard, Green, Lee and Anderson (one) made final passes.
Spurs performed alley-oops in various situations. Sometimes they just happen naturally. It’s mostly in transition or after quick basket cut when defense come to help on driving man. But sometimes they are carefully orchestrated. Clear example of these alley-oop are well-known high-low action, or genius Out of bounds plays by Pop.
So let’s break down and show a few examples of how and when Spurs go for alley-oops.
Spurs are not famous for their transition play. But this season, with new young and athletic guys who can run the floor pretty good, they had their moments. Five times so far spurs ended their fast-break with alley-oops.
Simmons was a beast at running the break and jumping above the rim. This fast break vs Jazz and monster throw-down is perfect example.
And just not to be left of, Dedmon can run the break extremely well for center. Look where he is when pass is made, standing at three point line. And also, Kyle Anderson can pass. Really. Enjoy
Spurs also often use Dedmond’s athleticism as a roll-man after pick&roll. He is good at rolling to basket quickly, making himself perfect target for above the rim passes. He had 12 alley-oop dunks after pick&roll.
Here’s freshest example of this action, from game versus Suns. Dedmon screens for Murray, cuts to basket afterwards and routinely throws it down.
Dedmon gets the ball from Murray, signals him which way to go, and then they work the alley oop to perfection. pic.twitter.com/wXlmdNVRqj
High-low game is one that Spurs use for a long time. Tim Duncan was elite passing big, so Spurs used him a lot on top of the key as a passer. Although Timmy is gone, Spurs found decent replacement in one of the best passing big in game.
Gasol is terrific passer, so plays like this one, a high-low alley-oop for Aldridge are piece of cake for Pau.
One more example of Gasol succeeding Duncan as passing big is alley-oops after off-screen. It starts with Gasol receiving the ball on perimeter, and another big setting back-door screen for Kawhi. It’s something that Spurs often did in Jefferson’s time with them, and with Timmy as passing big. Here is the play
Spurs are perfect executors. When it’s about Xs and Os, Pop is among all-time greats. His after timeout plays are executed at a very high level. So Spurs used their coach’s brilliancy, but this season with alley-oops as a cherry on top.
Spurs used this play to start fourth quarter against Nets at AT&T center. A little back-screen from Dedmon, with Manu and Bertans keeping help defense busy. Just enough distraction for Simmons to jump in the open paint and slam it down.
For the end, we saved the best. Just look how simple and beautiful this out of bounds play is. This play is worth watching number of times. Characteristic of genius is making everything look simple and easy. Even when it demands highest level of skill and concentration. This is just a genius play
Although they are not famous for highlights and flashy moves, alley-oops are pretty much natural for Spurs. It suits perfectly with their passing game. With new roster, there are plenty of athletes who can execute them. So Spurs are using them now more that ever. It’s fun to watch new Spurs.