When I was a kid I grew up watching the Vince Carter era of Toronto Raptors where isolation ball and dunking was the norm. The one team I really did not want the Raptors to play was the San Antonio Spurs. Rarely did they play but when these two teams met I cringed for two reasons. One, the Raptors would get carved up defensively because they threw it into Duncan and he went to work, and two, the Raptors couldn't score so it was boring to me. The point of this story is fast forward 10 years later and the Spurs in my mind play the most beautiful brand of basketball, granted their offensive execution has change a little since those days but it is still a sight to see. I am not a Spurs fan, in fact if I had to classify myself I would say I am a Lakers fan with a soft spot in my heart for the Raptors because I’m Canadian. However I feel like if any a team that a basketball fan should study, it is the Spurs.
In an age where isolation ball runs rampant, the Spurs have shown that the ball is faster than any man. In an era where individual stats are more important than team loyalty, the Spurs have shown that a united team can beat individuals. Their ball movement is lightning quick, there spacing on the floor is near perfect and the unselfishness of each player is astounding, especially given that there are three Future hall of famers on the team.
All these things and more makes Spurs basketball more beautiful than Kate Upton in a bikini. However the thing is that their brand of basketball has not really gotten noticed as quote “Beautiful” until now. The Spurs are beautiful for a lot of reasons but to me they are mostly beautiful because they're a model that literally any team can imitate, maybe not duplicate because the Spurs are a team with talent and second to none coaching. But teams can definitely imitate, case in point the 2013/2014Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors we’re predominantly a “Pass the ball to Rudy Gay” Iso team and they started the season 6-12. Masai Ujiri then decided that because the team is going nowhere, it is time to tank and the Raptors Traded Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes and the rest was history. The Raptors became a ball movement and defensive team (sounds like the spurs *wink wink*) which saw the emergence of Demar Derozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and company.
Everyone on the roster from Kyle Lowry to Chuck Hayes contributed to the team and understood their roles. This resulted in Demar Derozan being an All-Star, the Raptors went from 6-12 to 48-34 and had possibly the best crowd this year backing them up for the playoffs. However the transformation didn’t just happen due to trade.
A couple games after the trade the Raptors played the Spurs twice and both times got a beatdown but that’s when the ball movement started. I think in a weird way the Raptors imitated the Spurs playing style by sharing the ball and playing hard defense but are not as talented. For example, both teams run a similar type of play set known as “horns” which is a common basketball play set where the a big man goes to the top of the key. Both the Raptors and the Spurs actually look to horns to start ball movement and both will actually pass and cut or start a “weave”. With this play set and ball movement, the Raptors became a unified team, found chemistry and transformed themselves into a winning team.
My point is this, if a team like the Raptors can have success sharing the basketball, more talented teams will follow. Eventually it will be common to have team run sets where ball movement, cutting, and spacing is stressed and anyone is allowed to shoot a high percentage look so long as they play defense which is Spurs Basketball.
This is obviously a theory but if teams mimic the Spurs playing style, it can be really great from a purely basketball perspective. We all know that the NBA brand of basketball is highly influential in North America which right now is sad because for years in high school, most players do not want to play with ball movement. When they do decide to move the ball, it is because of the play set and therefore the ball movement is wasted motion and makes offense become stagnant.
Very rarely do we see high schools play with ball movement. Kids gravitate towards individual players in the NBA and not team sets in the NBA. If the Spurs gain more support outside of Texas than kids in high school will actually grow a liking for quick ball movement because there is no true number one star to the team that is the San Antonio Spurs. Thus the game as a whole becomes more beautiful. However the Spurs need more and more national and international exposure so that people can take a liking to the way they play. Therefore the Spurs winning is good for basketball.
If you have any comments, points, questions, you can reach me on twitter @michaelasiffo
By: Michael Asiffo