clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Spurs and Heat are masters of the modern NBA offense

Sharing and spacing rule the offenses of the Heat and Spurs. More teams should copy that, even if they can't copy LeBron James or Tim Duncan.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation 2014 NBA Playoff Bracket

The Spurs once represented the NBA's defensive elite. This is where that outdated "boring" tag came from: those grinding nights against the no-points-for-you Pistons, those series wins over the fun Nash-Marion-Amar'e Suns, those scores in the 80s.

Back then, the offense was built around Tim Duncan in the post. It worked, at times very well. But it wasn't an offense anyone emulated or one that anyone really looked forward to watching. It was the ignored half of one of the league's consistently best teams.

Likewise, for the length of LeBron James' and Dwyane Wade's careers, the only reason to watch one of their teams' offenses was to watch them. LeBron's Cleveland teams had attacks centered solely on James creating off the dribble. Wade's Heat teams had supplemental creators like Lamar Odom and Caron Butler for a spell and Shaq in the pivot for a few years, but Wade was involved in the five most interesting things about the Miami attack until LeBron and Chris Bosh joined. Even then, only rarely did the offense function like more than the sum of its parts in Year 1.

These days, you can't find two offenses more fun to watch. The Spurs are now famously predicated on expert, rampant passing, set up by repeated drives to the rim. The Heat load the court with shooters around James and Wade — even Bosh has morphed from the post beast he was in Toronto to a stretch 5, hitting key shots from the corners and the elbow. There are a million things to watch on every possession, especially considering both teams are still pretty darn good on defense. (San Antonio ranked No. 3 and Miami No. 11.) But in the nine Finals games these two teams have played against each other in the last two years, offense has ruled the day.

What the teams represent is a template for the modern three-heavy NBA offense: ball movement and spacing. Ball movement can come in the form of a dominant creator (Clippers with Chris Paul, Thunder with Russell Westbrook and Heat with LeBron) or a team-wide commitment to pass with the required skill to go along with it (Spurs). Spacing comes in the form of shooting. Lots of shooting. We're at the point where if you don't have a big man who is an elite long-two shooter and/or a passable three-point shooter, you're at a disadvantage.

Still, plenty of teams have catching up to do. In many ways, the Finals are a crash course for team-builders in what you need to win in today's NBA. The Spurs and Heat model aren't perfectly replicable because it's hard to find great talent. You can't have a Heat without a LeBron, and there's only one of him. You can't have a Spurs without Duncan and drafting two reliable Hall of Famers well outside of the lottery. These are not easy tasks.

In many ways, the Finals are a crash course for team-builders in what you need to win in today's NBA.

But teams can learn from the two franchises' actual on-court behavior. Too many teams lack a corps of shooters to pop in as needed. Too many teams rely on too few shot creators or embrace a system that restricts the natural ball-handling and passing skills of its players. (The Warriors' offense, for example, basically wasted the sharing skills of Andrew Bogut and David Lee.)

There are many conflicting stories among the NBA's elite. Memphis rules with a double-big threat. The Clippers have the old-school point-guard-and-power-forward setup. The Pacers rely on a ball-dominant wing and elite defense. The Thunder have their two-headed monster.

But there's something every team can learn from the Miami and San Antonio systems that nod toward team defense while emphasizing passing and shooting. That the offenses are thoroughly dominating the respective excellent defenses in the Finals shows just how powerful the sharing-and-spacing offense can be.


Get news, links and Ziller's #hottakes in your inbox every weekday morning.