December 7, 2023

The Spurs spring Leonard with a twist on their most famous play

With the Pacers up one, the Spurs used a rub screen out of ‘4 Down’ to free Leonard for the go-ahead baseline jumper

If you’ve followed the Spurs through the Duncan years, you’re well aware of the 4 Down set. In short, a wing player got a rub screen from Duncan and popped out on the strong side. Parker passed the ball to the wing player and then cut to the opposite three point line. Duncan would use his leverage from the screen to pin his defender, and he would then receive the entry pass, wait for the passer to cut through and then go to work in the post. This action is out of the Motion Weak family, with the rub screen being the distinct difference.

(Here’s an example of what the end of the play looks like, run against the Celtics.)

The Spurs don’t have Tim Duncan anymore, but LaMarcus Aldridge’s post play has opened the doorway to use similar sets. We’ve seen wrinkles out of the 1-4 Flat (interchangeable with 4 Down) already this season to get looks for Aldridge.

Monday in Indiana, the Spurs used a variation of 4 Down to get Leonard a baseline jumper. This play gave the Spurs a one point lead en route to their 110-106 victory.

Here’s the play:

The Match-Ups:

Paul George on Kawhi Leonard

Myles Turner on LaMarcus Aldridge

Jeff Teague on Tony Parker

Monta Ellis on Danny Green

Kevin Seraphin on Dewayne Dedmon

While Green is a little slow to his spot, you see the Spurs line up with 4 players across the baseline and Parker at the top. Instead of simply running the screen between Leonard and Aldridge, there’s a wrinkle. Dedmon flashes up to the high post and receives the pass from Parker.

As soon as this happens, Parker cuts to the weak side corner and Green drifts up towards the wing. Simultaneously, Leonard cuts down through Aldridge. The rest of the play unfolds quickly. Leonard takes two hops in the lane and then spins back towards the baseline. Aldridge pushes off the shoulder of Turner and sets a convincing screen on George. Watch again from eight to ten seconds on the video and you’ll see the pick shoves George away from the basket, increasing the distance of his potential closeout on Leonard.

Dedmon, who does a great job sizing up Seraphin with a triple threat stance (notice him swing his elbows side to side), makes a good enough pass to Leonard who catches, rises and drills the jumper over George, who does a nice job sticking with the play and getting a hand up, but is too late after the Aldridge screen.

Dedmon does multiple things on this play. First, he sells his intent on getting a good low post position before planting hard to spring up to the high post for the pass. Then, he stays active with the ball which keeps Seraphin engaged; otherwise, Seraphin may have sagged off to force Dedmon (not an outside threat) to shoot. Bringing Seraphin away from the basket means there’s no weak side help in the paint (without completely abandoning shooters), which would have mattered if George got to Leonard sooner, forcing Kawhi to dump the ball into Aldridge on the low block.

Why don’t Paul George and Myles Turner Switch?

It’s fair to ask why Turner didn’t jump out on Leonard, allowing George to stay with Aldridge. There are four reasons why:

  1. Myles Turner is glued to LaMarcus Aldridge and trying to prevent a post opportunity, fronting him when Dedmon gets the ball. When Aldridge turns his body towards the basket to set up for the screen, Turner goes with him, and appears to lose sight of the ball. Turner doesn’t see Dedmon’s pass to Kawhi right away and is late to react. At that point, already attached to the hip of Aldridge, he hopes George will be successful fighting over the screen (if he even sees the screen).
  2. The play is designed to make this switch difficult. Kawhi Leonard starts at the three point line and cuts down through LaMarcus Aldridge, seemingly towards the weak side. Indiana isn’t expecting Leonard to immediately curl back around. The Spurs haven’t shown this look, and defenders today see a lot more floppy action and pin down screens than rub screens. Turner and George get fooled.
  3. The Pacers had the match-ups they wanted with Paul George on Kawhi and Myles Turner on Aldridge. Indiana is not built to switch at every position. Although Turner is agile for a center, guarding Leonard would be a tall order.
  4. It’s riskier to switch in the lane. You see a lot of teams switch pick and rolls on the perimeter because they may have two defenders with similar length and an ability to guard multiple positions. Or, teams are willing to switch bigs onto smaller guards to prevent the guard from getting wide open on the screen. When this happens, at least the team still has two layers of defense behind their big to help. If George and Turner switch here, Aldridge has George easily sealed off and it would be an easy lob pass from Leonard to Aldridge for a layup. If either weak side guard tries to help in the lane, Leonard has an easy skip pass to Green or Parker.

This play took an old set and tailored it to San Antonio’s new star, Kawhi Leonard. Leonard continues to dominate the league and is now posting numbers of 25.9 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, 3.4 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game. He’s shooting 49 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the foul line for a 42-13 Spurs team with no other All Stars.

Unfortunately, Leonard trails Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the MVP conversation as critics point to plays like this and say he’s good because of the system. That’s nonsense, and diminishes Leonard’s ability. It also takes a lot of basketball intelligence to execute these plays, and a commitment to doing so results in a lot of winning.

This play gave the Spurs the lead, and they got a nice bounce back win after losing in Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Source: Pounding The Rock


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