There’s been quite a bit of talk this off-season, largely initiated by new head coach Steve Kerr, that the Warriors are going to try to emulate the Spurs motion offense in the coming season. Sounds perfect for the Warriors, doesn’t it? Like the Spurs, the Warriors roster is loaded with high-IQ, high-character, and unselfish players with great passing ability. Spurs offense, here we come! Right?
Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen.
The Warriors might try to run to run some of the same plays, but they won’t get anything like the same results. Why? Because the head coach and roster that GM Joe Lacob has assembled simply won’t allow it.
A major key to emulating the Spurs’ success is pushing the ball upcourt, and playing at an extremely fast pace. In countless sideline interviews last year, Pop was heard to complain that the Spurs weren’t playing with enough pace. And he was continuously pushing his players in the huddle, faster, Faster, FASTER!
Pop’s goal was to get his team wide open shots before the defense got a chance to get set. And to continue to keep the defense scrambling with constant motion and quick and decisive passing.
There are several reasons why I believe the Warriors have very little chance of emulating this offense:
Obviously, the Spurs bigs get upcourt far quicker than Bogut, and draw attention away from the ballhandler. How to match the Spurs pace with Bogut in the lineup is a continual problem.
Equally obviously, the Spurs bigs are adept at running pick and roll with Parker, and attacking the rim, while Bogut cringes at the very thought. (For those who have expressed disagreement with this frequently expressed opinion of mine, I simply refer you to Jeff van Gundy’s comment during the Spurs-Warriors playoff series: “The difference between the two teams is that the Spurs have centers who can convert the pick and roll, and the Warriors don’t.”)
Festus Ezeli is a much more willing pick and roll player than Bogut, as he’s far quicker, and has no fear of taking the ball to contact and getting to the line. But Ezeli unfortunately struggles with bad hands, and an erratic finish.
2) Joe Lacob and Smallball.
The Spurs have far more smallball players than the Warriors, and under Popovich are far more willing to play it than have been Joe Lacob’s rookie coaches. In fact, it has been obvious from the beginning of Lacob’s reign, from both his public pronouncements of his basketball philosophy, and his roster moves, that Lacob has actively discouraged the playing of smallball. (And it’s one of the chief ironies of his reign that his team has nevertheless been forced to rely extensively on it, both in the 2012-13 regular season, and in the the last two playoffs, as a result of the Bogut signing, and the consequent injuries through overwork to Lee and Ezeli.) To Joe Lacob, smallball represents “the sins of the past.”
This season, the Warriors once again appear committed to playing big on the second unit with a non-shooting center, Festus Ezeli. The Spurs, by contrast, prefer to run with stretch-fives like Diaw and Bonner.
The Spurs are far better able to stretch the floor with their starting lineup (unless Lee returns to form from midrange), and as noted have far more effective stretch lineups on their smallball reserve units. More on this below.
3) The Triangle.
While they incorporate some triangle concepts, the Spurs play very little post-up basketball. For two very important reasons: a) It slows the pace and allows the defense time to get set (it takes time to set up a post entry); and b) It’s the least efficient form of offense there is.
But Steve Kerr has expressed strong interest in using both Bogut and David Lee in the pinch post of the triangle. If he follows through on that threat, the Warriors pace will slow to a crawl relative to the Spurs.
4) Shaun Livingston.
Livingston creates a particular spacing problem that will be practically unique to the Warriors in the league.
Note that every single one of Popovich’s reserve guards is deadly from three. That is not an accident. It is crucial to running the Spurs system. First of all, the ability to shoot an early offense three is very helpful to running an efficient fast break. But more importantly, in a motion offense the point guard is not ball-dominant. He plays a major role off the ball, as a spot-up three point shooter and floor-spacer. You need shooters to play that role.
Shaun Livingston is not a shooter. With an effective range of about 12 feet, he’s next to useless off the ball. He cannot spot up at the three point line and represent a legitimate threat. He cannot draw an important defender (he will in fact draw the weakest defender). And whomever he draws will not even have to guard him, except in the low post. His presence on the court will completely collapse the defense.
Shaun Livingston is a ridiculously bad fit for a Spurs-style motion offense. He’s really only playable in a completely ball-dominant role. Either in pick and roll, or in the low post (there’s that post-up basketball again).
When you add to this the fact that Livingston will frequently be playing at the same time as Ezeli and Green, perhaps you will begin to understand my extreme bafflement and dismay at his signing.
5) Steve Kerr’s commitment to pushing the pace, and more Shaun Livingston.
Although Steve Kerr has hinted in the press that he wants the Warriors to continue to push the pace, will a guy who is steeped in Phil Jackson’s notions of floor balance, and the post-up offense of the Spurs in Tim Duncan’s prime, really prove willing to throw his previous experience out the window? What about the guy who as GM of the Suns traded Shawn Marion for Fat Shaq, traded Boris Diaw away as well, and pushed Amare Stoudemire to the four, completely destroying the Suns spacing? The guy who forced Steve Nash to walk the ball up the court and feed the post (Steve Nash!), and caused coach Mike D’Antoni to quit in disgust?
Will that same guy really be willing to put his past behind him, and push the tempo?
And even if he is willing, will he actually be able to push the tempo with this Warriors’ roster? I have severe doubts about that, for all the reasons listed above, but also this:
If Warriors management really wanted to push the pace, would Shaun Livingston be the guy they signed to play back-up point guard? A post-up player, incapable of shooting early offense threes? A guy who played at one of the slowest paces in the entire league last season? (25th out of 30.)
A guy who is currently hobbling around in a walking cast with a case of turf toe? An injury that frequently proves chronic (see Butler, Jimmy)?
Or would they have signed Isaiah Thomas, Darren Collison, DJ Augustin, Jordan Farmar or any number of other jitterbug three point bombers?
I’m curious to see what exactly the Warriors’ offensive philosophy evolves into this season.
But one thing I’m already certain of.
It ain’t gonna look like the Spurs.