The San Antonio Spurs system stops for nothing in order to find the best shot available. Over the past few years, they’ve developed a reputation for their excelling beyond the arc, shooting 40 percent overall for the third-best in the league this season.
They shoot so well because of their ball movement, which results in a league-leading 25 assists per game. Their pinpointed execution and the coaching staff’s ability to develop players into shooters (e.g. Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard), is what has made this offense run as the second-most efficient the league currently at 49.3 percent.
However, the emphasis on finding the best shot has led to shying away from contact and not getting into the paint as often as before. The team has always been in the middle of the pack when it comes to free throw attempts, but so far this season they’ve been dead last in free throw attempts at 16.4 per game.
Not only do the Spurs have the least total attempts per game this season, but at this pace it’ll be the lowest attempts per game for a season in history. The current worse is last season’s Orlando Magic team that averaged 16.6 attempts per game.
Combining the top five throw shooters last season (Parker, Leonard, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter), they averaged 18.4 attempts per game. This season, the same five average 11.7 attempts. Starting guard Danny Green has only attempted six free throws so far all season.
For the older stars on the team, the reason for the drop-off could be due to aging and wanting to limit the physicality and toll of the regular season in order to save themselves for the playoffs. It’s clear that more drives means taking more of a beating and increasing the risk of injury. For players like Duncan and Ginobili, those instances have to be kept to a minimum, only when the chance to score is high and clear.
Leonard has been focusing on expanding his outside game so he hasn’t gotten to the line as often as before when he looked mainly to slash, while Green is purely a shooter who only gets to the rim on fast breaks. Splitter often gets to the line because of the hacking tactic by opponents, so that’s one reason for his decrease.
The Spurs have clearly done well so far this season, holding the third-best record in the league, but it remains to be seen if they will turn up the physicality during playoff time or if this is the Spurs team we can get used to seeing the whole year.
Even if the team decides to try to score more at the rim, are they prepared? Will the younger players get back to getting points inside, and will the older stars be able to hang with the best of the teams and stars in their prime?