The San Antonio Spurs have had an impressive showing on offense so far this season, mostly due to the strong shooters on their roster.
With the offseason signing of Marco Belinelli and the development of their younger three-point aces, they have had no trouble scoring this year. Their offense is currently averaging 1.15 points per possession on spot-up opportunities and 1.18 PPP on catch-and-shoot attempts, per Synergy Sports Tech. These measures both rank No. 1 overall among all teams in the league this season.
It is especially impressive when compared to last season when San Antonio averaged 0.97 PPP (27th in NBA) on spot-ups and 1.04 PPP (28th in NBA) from catch-and-shoot looks. During the 2017-18 season, the Spurs ranked 21st in total points scored on catch-and-shoot possessions. Now, they rank No. 6 overall.
“We were terrible offensively and very good defensively last year. This year, it’s the opposite,” coach Gregg Popovich told HoopsHype. “Offensively, we are where we are and I don’t really know why.”
When asked how much of the success on catch-and-shoot opportunities have come from the new personnel rather than something more intentional, he told HoopsHype he doesn’t try to think that deeply.
Planned or not, San Antonio currently has five players (Patty Mills, Davis Bertans, Rudy Gay, Bryn Forbes and Belinelli) that currently rank in the 74th percentile or better on spot-up possessions. Forbes has scored 287 points on spot-up possessions this season, which ranks No. 4 overall.
Similarly, among all players who have finished at least 50 possessions as a spot-up shooter this season, no one in the league has averaged more points per possessions (1.43 PPP) than Mills. Bertans, meanwhile, ranks Top 5 with the same qualifications.
Even though he had typically been used frequently as a ballhandler in a pick-and-roll offense, Gay now feels a lot more comfortable as a spot-up shooter. He has scored 4.4 points per game on this play type, which ranks Top 20 in the NBA.
“We put a lot of work into it,” said Gay. “Last year was a different year. We had fewer shooters and now, we have Beli. Meanwhile, Davis has come into his own and Bryn has also come into his own. We are able to get more open shots just because we have more shooters out there.”
Bertans credited more playing time as well as increased knowledge of the San Antonio system for his own success. Much like Gay, the 26-year-old Latvian-born sharpshooter also tipped his hat to their offseason adjustments.
“We have some guys who are very well-known shooters and that is one thing that opens up more shots for somebody else like me,” he said.
Bertans is currently connecting on 98-of-199 (49.2 percent) of his catch-and-shoot attempts from three-point range this season. That ranks as the best among all players who have taken at least 100 attempts. He has also been the best shooter in the league on three-pointers above the break on the left side.
As he mentioned, San Antonio has done well at creating open looks for their opponents. NBA.com defines an open look as any when the shooter’s closest defender is between four and six feet of the basket. That is when Bertans and Forbes are at their best.
Bertans is 49-of-104 (47.1 percent) from three on these opportunities and Forbes is 62-for-133 (46.6 percent) on his attempts. Both rank Top 3 (minimum: 85 FGA) among high-volume contributors this season.
Bertans said the more that defense collapses on DeRozan and Aldridge, the easier his attempts become.
“Of course, DeMar and LaMarcus take up a lot of focus,” said Bertans. “So when they drive or attack the basket, the defenses collapse and we get open looks.”
According to Synergy Sports, the four-time All-Star has dished 45 assists to spot-up shooters when in isolation on draw and kick situations. That ranks second-best in the NBA. He also has 86 assists to spot-up shooters when he has been the ballhandler in a pick-and-roll offense, currently ranking Top 5.
Aldridge, meanwhile, has recorded 53 assists when passing from a post-up to a spot-up shooter. That ranks No. 2 overall in the league, trailing only Blake Griffin.
“I think having talented players around you always helps,” echoed Forbes. “They’ll draw defenders and it makes my job a little bit easier to get open shots.”
Speaking more generally, it has been a welcome change of pace for a veteran like Gay.
When he first got into the league and he played for the Memphis Grizzlies, players on his team were not encouraged to take three-pointers. Now, there are fewer worries taking looks at the top of the key. He described the difference as like night and day.
“That’s how the league is changing,” explained Gay. “I’ve been a part of the change. It’s funny to me. Before, people would say this is bad basketball. But thanks to teams like Golden State, they’ve proven it’s not true.”