Before I could even settle in to enjoy the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs had sliced and diced the Miami Heat to pieces! My summer agenda is now set as I’ll spend the next few weeks taking a closer look at an offensive system that I’ve admired for years and have tried to incorporate into the system we use with our players. While Gregg Popovich has collected the ideal players, such as Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, and Boris Diaw who complement the Spurs’ Big Three in Tony, Timmy, and Manu, his system is somewhat of an enigma. While other successful coaches have calling cards like the Triangle or Dribble Drive, Pop’s system is constantly evolving (see Alex Suchman’s description in (What is the Gregg Popovich System?) The core elements, though, remain the same: Space, Pace, Movement, and Misdirection:
Now as the Spurs have recaptured the crown, the rush will be on to spread the word about Pop’s system. Today, I’d like to focus on that first element, space. Once it’s mastered and understood, players at any level can dramatically impact their team, while full teams that master it are the ones that are toughest to beat – no matter how little physical talent they may have.
Spacing and the need to use the entire floor is also a Biblical concept, so let’s take a closer look!
BASKETBALL – The Only Frontier!
Photo by Mark Duncan
I walked through a basketball camp for middle school girls yesterday and saw once again how naturally opposed players seem to be to spacing on the floor – all ten girls were packed in the paint! Not that my college guys are any better! Each year we have to stop game film to point it out and each year in the pre-season I have to physically escort a player to the spot that I call the deep corner – Deep corner means the deep corner! The analytic guys tell us every year how much the Spurs use the deep corner three to score, but more importantly to spread the defense. Check out this commentary from TNT’s coverage of the Spurs during the 2012 Playoffs:
The Spurs understand the importance of spacing. That’s the first key. Everyone on the floor must understand what spacing looks like and the spots that need to be filled. Secondly, filling those spots with urgency in response to drives and screens puts extreme pressure on the defense. Pop’s guys get that! Watch how hard they cut. Watch how deep they cut. And watch how quickly they adjust away from the ball. Space is not the final frontier for the Spurs. It’s the only frontier!
I thought maybe the key to their offense was the sets in their playbook, but as you take a closer look at Zak Boisvert’s video clips in San Antonio Spurs Playbook or pour over the diagrams in the San Antonio Spurs Playbook from Blueprint Basketball, you’ll find sets that Pop uses regularly, some he’s discarded in response to his personnel, and those that he alters and tweaks for various players. The key, though, is that the Spurs run their cuts hard and they always adjust and maintain their spacing. As the off-season begins, there will be a race to uncover Pop’s secrets. The word will spread and when it does, we’re all going to see that the “secrets” are a few basic core values – like space.
LIFE – Space as needed.
My kids are really important to me. We’re beginning a new phase as our youngest will enter high school this fall, but also have a 20 yr. old who is getting close to leaving the nest. It can be a challenging time. Have we taught him enough? Do we have him prepared? Does he know how to do his own laundry? And most importantly, have we taught him how to Biblically face the problems and challenges that he’ll face in the coming years? As much as I tend to fret about that, I also realize that spacing is important. I can’t crowd him and I can’t force him to him to live his life like I live my life. As I was thinking about the core value of space, I came across a wonderful website called Boundless.org. Sponsored by Focus on the Family, Boundless challenges young people as they set off on their own to reject society’s low expectations and live intentionally in their relationships, careers, and faith. I know that I don’t have all the answers for my kids, but I’m hopeful that they’ll count on me, as well as use a source like Boundless for inspiration in handling the challenges they will face. It’s my job to maintain spacing as needed!
FAITH – Space Command
Throughout the centuries, the broken souls of this world have twisted God’s plan for His church. I struggle with many of the battles of doctrine and tradition that never go away and I grow increasingly concerned that frequently the image of the Church prevents God’s love and grace from reaching all people. We tend to cluster in the church, like middle-school basketball players in the lane. I’m not trying to be anti-church. God calls us to fellowship and calls us to worship together, but he doesn’t call us to be exclusive clubs that make it difficult for His love to shine through. Jesus commands us to space in Mark 16:15,
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
Like the deep corner, that’s pretty easy to understand. Jesus tells us to space, to keep it spread, and to use the floor. Don’t hang out in the paint and don’t stand around. He tells us to go. He tells us to go to ALL of creation, including the deep corner!