The best shooters in the NBA have a gravity that can single-handedly change how opponents defend their team. They don’t even have to touch the ball to warp the defense and create openings for their teammates. Shooters like Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick, and Kyle Korver can receive a down screen out to the three-point line and all five defenders are fully trained on those guys. Spot-up bombers like Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, and Kevin Durant don’t even have to move to command the defense’s attention. Elite off-the-dribble long-range scorers like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving put panic into the hearts of defenders due to their ability to create an open look from deep all on their own.
But nothing has more gravity than the ball itself.
The San Antonio Spurs understand the gravity of the ball better than any team in the league. Nobody swings the ball from side to side to pressure the defense better than San Antonio. The Spurs finished fourth in passes per possession last season and Brett Brown and Quin Snyder, who are direct descendants of Gregg Popovich’s coaching tree, man the sidelines for two of the three teams who finished above them.
The Spurs’ ball and man movement drives their entire offensive philosophy. While San Antonio finished with the fourth-slowest pace in the league in 2016-17, they’re certainly not standing around pounding the ball through the hardwood. They always sprint up the floor into their sets, then take their time from there, moving the ball and their players to find the best shot. Despite their slow overall pace, the Spurs ran the second-most total miles on offense in the league and no team had as much movement on a per-possession basis than San Antonio.
All that ball and man movement generates open shots consistently, despite changes in personnel over the years. They’ve been among the top six teams in the league in three of the past four years in wide-open shots generated (defined as a shot with the closest defender being further than 6 feet away) and in the top five in wide-open jumpers.
San Antonio runs specific sets to take advantage of the gravity of the ball to get open looks for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, their two best shooters. Ram Fan puts Leonard’s defender in an impossible situation, asking him to either stick with Leonard and give up a lane to the basket or leave Leonard to help out his teammates and cede an open shot to one of the best shooters in the league.