What this year’s playoffs can teach the San Antonio Spurs (2024)

A blueprint has been laid by the league’s elite Playoff squads for the San Antonio Spurs’ return to prosperity. Three-point shooting is essential, but it comes behind defense and rebounding. However, getting to top-tier status will take multiple seasons of management upgrading the roster and the youngsters developing.

Let’s review what the Postseason has exhibited.

Size is king

Look at the Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks. The former beat the 2022-23 champs (Denver Nuggets) with size and its strangling defense. The latter upset the one-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder because of superior 3-point shooting and the damage inflicted on the glass, recovering 28 more rebounds in six outings.

In the Western Semifinals, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns gave Aaron Gordon, a top-shelf defender, problems since he is four inches taller, has four extra inches in wingspan and is 13 pounds heavier. And throughout the series, the Timberwolves permitted only Nikola Jokić and Gordon to have efficient field goal percentages out of seven rotation players.

The Spurs need another big man next to Victor Wembanyama who can be a lob threat plus guard well up and down. First, think of him throwing lobs out of a trap in the post to the man in the dunker spot or cutting up the baseline. Second, picture a frontline partner who can play the helper or let Wemby roam as the weak side shot blocker.

Perhaps someone like Utah’s John Collins can provide more muscle on offense via trade.

Having multiple playmakers

Had the Spurs not been starved for adequate playmaking in the last campaign, the public would have seen more dazzling highlights from Wembanyama in the open court or on half-court rim rolls. As a center, he is their top trigger man, but the group needs two more so opportunities are created through pick and roll/handoffs and using the drive and kick. The team also must increase its free throw attempt rate from 28th of 30.

One of the reasons the Nuggets went down is because they didn’t have a dependable guy late to break down defenses off the dribble outside of Murray and Jokic. As a need filler, the Spurs could target someone like Chris Paul due to his outstanding résumé as an orchestrator because that could maximize Wembanyama taking more high percentage attempts. He would also serve as a helpful locker room leader.

The need for sharp pick-and-roll defense

The Spurs mainly defended pick and roll in drop coverage this season. The scheme was successful whenever opposing ball handlers foolishly tried to attack the low man, primarily Wembanyama, at close range.

Yet, when the point-of-attack defender was pinned on a screen, a deep jumper was available, and Wemby was successfully shot over on many occasions. To limit this opposing attack, he shouldn’t drop so deep when protecting the rim in this scheme and work more on blitzes to take away the 3-point shot and force turnovers.

Additionally, improving the perimeter protections is critical so the defender in the back has an easier job of checking the roller and shooter. Signing someone like Nuggets forward Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has a player option in summer 2024, would be a massive get for the Spurs. He has been Jokić’s security blanket while working the outside because of his quickness maneuvering around picks.

To a lesser degree, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro is a restricted free agent but a strong defender who would help the Spurs improve at defending screen rolls.

The Spurs must be elite at stopping this set. The Western Conference Finals between the Mavericks and Timberwolves is evidence — four-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert was obliterated in the drop when Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić pulled up on the side of a screen.

Furthermore, Boston Celtics big man Al Horford demonstrated the value of switching to the outside. In round two against the Cavaliers, Horford neutralized Darius Garland, going downhill and attacking up top.

Need for a dependable bench

Another reason the defending champions were taken out is because of their weak offensive reserves. When the Nuggets won, Bruce Brown and Jeff Green supplied 16.1 points on 49.5 percent of shots. This season, the Nuggets relied on Christian Braun and Payton Watson to spark off script runs, but that didn’t happen often. As a result, Jokić and Murray had to carry the group for too long.

On the other hand, the Pacers took out the depleted Bucks and battered Knicks because they had extra manpower, and the bench produced 33.1 points in round one, then 38.5 points per game in the East Semifinals. The Spurs should try to emulate the Pacers’ strength in numbers because of how everyone is always banged up come Playoff time.

3-point shooting

Three of the top six Playoff teams in three-point percentage made the Conference Finals: the Pacers, Celtics, and Mavericks. Each of these teams had the marksmen and the activators that get them open.

The Mavericks have Dončić and Irving stopping on dimes and pulling up from long range, too. Yet, their inside dribbling absorbs defenders, unlocking the outside for capable shooters like P.J. Washington, Jaden Hardy and Derrick Jones Jr.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are perimeter threats off the dribble, but getting downhill will bring a defender away from one of Boston’s shooters (Derrick White, Jrue Holiday and Horford) creating dangerous kick out options.

The Pacers deployed Tyrese Haliburton and Pascal Siakam as shot creators. Both made good reads on the drive to Aaron Nesmith, Andrew Nembhard and Myles Turner, yet Siakam has the size of a big, allowing sturdier dribble handoff opportunities.

Defenses will sag off the corners to clog the lane no matter how lethal the marksman standing there is. While the Spurs need playmakers to generate quality 3-point looks, Wembanyama is already a top-shelf trigger man. His size at 7-foot-4 makes it easy to pass over defenders, but an innumerable amount of his kick outs went nowhere, as the Spurs converted 34.7 percent of their treys, good enough for 28th of 30 teams. The Spurs need dependable snipers from the corners and above the break to capitalize against overreactions. Those players are not out of reach.

For Dallas, Washington, who splashed 46.9 percent of 3-point attempts in the second round against the Oklahoma City Thunder, was obtained on Feb. 8 with second round picks in 2024 and 2028 for Seth Curry (no defense), Grant Williams (mid-level player but alleged locker room headache) and a 2027 first round pick. The Mavericks signed Jones to a minimum deal in the 2023 offseason as well, and he has dropped 39.6 percent of his threes in 17 postseason games.

And who could forget the Celtics’ deal with the Spurs for White in 2022? All Boston had to give up was Romeo Langford (last played 17 G-League games in 2023-24), Josh Richardson (traded a year later in the Devonte’ Graham deal) and a 2022 FRP (Blake Wesley selected). White has recorded at least four triples in six of his 14 Playoff appearances this season.

The key additions made by the Mavericks and Celtics prove that a) opportunity is there for non-stingy asset holders and, b) proficiency in the scouting department makes a difference. You’d assume that the Spurs are paying attention.

What this year’s playoffs can teach the San Antonio Spurs (2024)
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