Film Study: Spurs From The Corner

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU — The San Antonio Spurs are a smart basketball team. For evidence, just look at their shot selection.

There are two different 3-point distances in the NBA. The arc is 23 feet and nine inches from the center of the rim, while the straight lines in the corners are just 22 feet.

The shorter distance makes a difference. Over the last five seasons, the league has shot 39.2 percent on corner 3-pointers and 35.2 percent on 3-pointers taken above the break (where the arc turns into a straight line). That difference in percentage produces an extra point scored every 8.2 attempts.

Smart teams know that a corner 3-point attempt is worth almost the same as an attempt from the restricted area (less than five feet from the basket)…

Shot areas, 2007-08 through 2011-12

Area FG% Pts/Attempt
Restricted Area 60.0% 1.20
Paint (Non-RA) 40.6% 0.81
Mid-range 40.0% 0.80
Corner 3 39.2% 1.18
Above the break 3 35.2% 1.05
Backcourt 3.0% 0.09

The Spurs are one of those smart teams. Over the last five seasons, the league as a whole has attempted 27.6 percent of its 3s from the corner. The Spurs, meanwhile, have attempted 39.3 percent of their 3s from the corner, easily the highest rate over that time.

Richard Jefferson is Mr. Corner 3. As he did last season, he’s leading the league in both makes (29) and attempts (55) from the corners this year.

In his first season in San Antonio, corner 3s comprised 10 percent of Jefferson’s field goal attempts. Over the last two seasons, they’ve comprised 30 percent of his shots.

Most corner 3-point attempts, 2010-11 through 2011-12

Player C3PM C3PA C3P% %3PA %FGA
Richard Jefferson 116 245 47.3% 59.3% 29.9%
Dorell Wright 83 199 41.7% 33.4% 15.4%
Arron Afflalo 79 184 42.9% 60.9% 23.4%
Nicolas Batum 71 181 39.2% 44.5% 18.6%
Jason Richardson 70 176 39.8% 32.8% 14.6%
Ray Allen 93 175 53.1% 39.6% 15.7%
Shawne Williams 69 172 40.1% 66.4% 37.1%
Wesley Matthews 76 169 45.0% 35.4% 14.1%
Shane Battier 71 168 42.3% 52.8% 28.3%
James Jones 77 166 46.4% 50.5% 41.6%

%3PA = Percentage of total 3-point attempts
%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

The Spurs’ offense has evolved over the years. They don’t rely on Tim Duncan post-ups nearly as much as they used to. In fact, of their 58 corner 3-pointers this season, only seven have come as a result of a post-up, and only two of the seven were Duncan post-ups.

Here’s one of the two…

Play 1: The post-up
Tony Parker gets the ball to Duncan on the left block, and then cuts through the paint. DeJuan Blair and Jefferson both flash into the paint from the weak side. The Clippers don’t double-team Duncan, but he kicks the ball out to Parker on the right wing, and Jefferson flares back out to the corner. Parker gets Jefferson the ball there, and Caron Butler doesn’t close out strong enough…

For the Spurs now, pick and roll is the game. Of their 58 corner 3s, 36 have come as a result of pick-and-roll action. And Parker has been the ball-handler in 17 of those 36 plays.

Play 2: The strong-side three
Parker drives right off a Duncan high screen. David Lee plays him soft, while Monta Ellis trails the play. Dorell Wright helps from the corner and actually gets turned around when he reaches for the ball. That gives Jefferson an easy look from the right corner…

Whether the initial action is a post-up or a pick and roll, ball movement is still critical. Of the Spurs’ 58 corner 3s, 57 have been assisted, with the only exception being a Jefferson three where he caught a Samuel Dalembert blocked shot right in the corner.

Of those 36 corner 3s off a pick and roll, 22 have come with just one pass between the pick and roll and the shot, like the one above. But 14 of the 22 have come from the opposite side of the floor…

Play 3: The weak-side three
Tiago Splitter sets a screen for Parker on the right wing. Brendan Haywood does nothing to keep Parker out of the lane and Vince Carter helps from the weak side. That leaves Jefferson wide open in the left corner…

Interestingly, only 22 of the Spurs’ 58 corner 3s have come off of multiple passes…

Play 4: The swing swing
Blair sets a screen for Parker on the right wing. Chris Bosh does a nice job of hedging, but Parker quickly gets the ball to Jefferson on the opposite side. As Jefferson catches the ball, Duncan sets a screen on LeBron James, who can’t close out on Kawhi Leonard, who takes the pass from Jefferson in the left corner and strokes the three…

The four corner threes shown above are all a result of an initial action (post-up or pick-and-roll), with the players finding the open man. But knowing the value of the corner three, Gregg Popovich will often design a play to get that specific shot…

Play 5: The out-of-bounds play
Manu Ginobili had a couple of 3s off this simple play early in the season. Parker takes the inbounds pass at the top of the key. Ginobili starts from the far corner and runs along the baseline off of two screens. Parker hits him in the left corner for the quick-hitting bucket…

Here’s a breakdown of the Spurs’ 58 corner 3s this season…

Spurs 58 corner 3-pointers, 2011-12

Detail No.
Initiated by pick and roll 36
Initiated by post-up 7
Off an out-of-bounds play 4
In transition 4
From the right corner 30
From the left corner 28
Strong side 20
Weak side 38
One pass (after play initiation) 35
Two passes 20
Three passes 2
Zero passes (shooter catches blocked shot) 1
vs. zone 3


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.


  1. J says:

    I think all those who say that the spurs are boring are just saying this base on stereotypes. Anybody who really watches the spurs know the true story.

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  3. Lakers R Us says:

    I’m not a Spurs fan at all, but I think they are a well run organization! And they continue to compete, No matter what happens!

  4. Big Bear says:

    Haha, anyone who thinks John has ‘exposed’ the Spurs’ tactics is naive. NBA coaches already recognise the value of the corner 3 pointer and will know that the Spurs like to shoot it. Knowing the opponent’s tactics and trying to stop them however are different matters.

    @ Niko, yes I’ve always wondered that. 3’s taken from above the break include all sorts of difficult contested shots late in the clock. Most corner 3 pointers however are good looks that have been developed by the offense. Don’t get me wrong, the corner 3 is definitely a very valuable shot but I don’t think it’s truly worth 0.13 more points per attempt.

    I also found it very surprising that teams shoot the same percentage from mid-range as they do in the paint (non restricted area). If you think of all the 15-20ft jumpers you see put up and then think of all the pull-ups and post shots you see in the lane, I would have expected a considerably higher percentage.

  5. prix says:

    The fact is that the Spurs is the most boring team to watch since Duncan shows up…but with there basic fundamentals and corner 3s offense plus the suicide drive of Manu that´s what makes them a championship team…I better watch David Robinson bangging Patrick Ewing to make it more exciting than watching them right now…

  6. Armin Halvadzic says:

    I remember how Bruce Bowen used to make those corner 3 pointers all the time.

  7. Chico says:

    Popovich really needs to understand that using Tim Duncan all the time is not the solution. Spurs have the talent of Splitter to develop, but Gregg just prefers to use the same old team as ever. Tiago almost didn’t play last season, and is seeing very limited minutes yet. Some people in Brazil put him as the best brazilian guy playing basketball right now(he had awesome games in Europe), ahead of Nene(most of the brazilians think that this one is no more brazilian, once he refused to play for the national team many times in a row). The spurs need to believe in Splitter’s talent, because he is one of the key players of a possible run for them. And i’m talking about playing to finish games, not to give Duncan some rest.

  8. Radu says:

    great post. i dont understand why you hate the author for showing these. people who really understand these plays and can do anything about them to counteract, ALREADY know these things, don’t be naive. opposing teams already know these things. it is their job to do a better job on fighting screens. this article is for us beginners to get to understand what we watch. great job and thanks mr schumann

  9. wannabespursfans says:

    haha! oh come on! spurs fans dont be bitter every scout must have notice this so far

  10. Hakeem says:

    No it isn´t a low percentage shot. Look at the stats: Corner 3s Points/Attempts 1,18 Restricted Area Points/Attempts 1,20

  11. Carlos says:

    Mr. Schuhmann If your exposing one team, you have to do it with all

  12. frncz says:

    true spurs are the smartest team of nba

  13. Omar Muniz says:

    Great insight! Thanks for the quality article.

  14. Spursfan says:

    Mr. Schuhmann I really hate you. Thanks for exposing the Spurs.

  15. alk says:

    It’s a low percentage shot!

  16. Vincent says:

    The Spurs are not a fun team to watch but they will show you that fundamentals wins championships. They can school their opponents showing them that this is how basketball should be and flashy plays are not all important. They have always been a team substance than style.

    • jan279 says:

      Not a fun team to watch? Ever heard of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker? XD

      • Jackal says:

        He’s too busy being stuck in 2003 when the boring label actually still applied. That is, if winning basketball bores you and losing basketball excites you. Like apparently is the case for some people

  17. dew says:

    why was this not shown during the era of bruce bowen? he was the master of the corner three ball.

  18. Toast says:

    The rest of the teams in the league thank you for doing their scouting of the Spurs for them, Mr. Schuhmann. Especially the note at the end that the Spurs get very few of these shots against the zone. wink wink, right?

  19. spursfan says:


  20. Rob Staley says:

    The Spurs are a phenomenal Shooting Team. The best in the NBA. Look out world, when Manu comes back, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Go Spurs Go.

  21. Niko says:

    The effectiveness of threes above the break is underestimated by the numbers – they include all kinds of heaves late on the clock and deep threes (backcourt shots are excluded though). I wonder how big the diffrence is if you only count shots within 24 feet…

  22. Domin says:

    Where can i find all advanced stats like those mentioned above?( i mean, for example, how ,many corner 3s where initated by PnR)

  23. Bill says:

    Love, Peckovic and Rubio all had double-doubles for the 9-10 Minnesota last night.

  24. Corner3er says:

    So which one is the dumb team who values corner 3s the least?