Spurs’ Fancy Passing No Passing Fancy


MILWAUKEE – The San Antonio Spurs are known for their League of Nations roster: stocked with players who learned the game in places other than the familiar U.S. breeding grounds of urban playgrounds, suburban gyms and AAU traveling leagues. The Spurs also are arguably the most deft passing team in the NBA.

Coincidence? We think not.

A few hours before the Spurs put on a clinic of ball sharing and movement Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, coach Gregg Popovich talked about the emphasis placed on that in the development of international players. It’s pretty clear that the culture of passing has permeated the Spurs, who lead the league in assists (25.7 apg).

“It’s fundamentals that have been poured into them since they were kids, and we [in this country] don’t have that,” Popovich said after a morning walk-through at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. “They go to these academies – Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili] went when they were, what, 15 years old – they have a couple classes in the morning and then all afternoon they’re doing passing drills and shooting drills. Really honing skills in the way they play.

“I won’t mention the team, but a team we played this season … there was a foreign kid on there and the kid was open all the time. He was out there wondering, ‘What the…? I can’t get the ball?’ You’d see that look on his face five times during the game. While an American kid is dribbling in place, holding the ball. The guy played on a good team overseas, in a good program. He came over … [there], he gets the ball and shoots it. Now, it doesn’t come.”

It comes in San Antonio. The Spurs wrapped up the Bucks with passes Wednesday, knocking Milwaukee’s defense off-balance as the ball moved from here to here to here. They had 19 assists on 28 field goals in the first half, with just two turnovers, in opening a 69-52 lead. By the end, the Spurs had 32 assists to eight turnovers. At times, it looked as if they had a three- or four-pass rule before a shot could go up.

“We don’t [have a rule],” Popovich said, “but they know if there’s somebody more open, it’s got to go there. Good to great.”

That is, from what might be a good shot to an open man who then has a great shot.

The Spurs have had seven games of 30 assists or more this season and are 7-0. That includes a 38-dime performance at Charlotte Dec. 8. Parker was the high man with 11 this time, but Ginobili had six off the bench, Boris Diaw had four and Tim Duncan, in yet another throwback game, passed for six to go with 28 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks.

Notice the country of origin of those four: France. Argentina. France. The Virgin Islands. Notice, too, the familiarity built over years between three of them and the, err, tendency to play the way Popovich requires.

“We’ve been playing like that the last two, three years,” Parker said. “Up-tempo, trying to push the ball, trying to get everybody involved and move the ball and always get a good shot. On our team, we have to move the ball. That’s what Pop wants and that’s what we do now.”

Duncan said that the game actually is as easy as it looks, when the Spurs are sharing the ball like that.

“It’s easy to pass the ball and move the ball when you know that somebody else is going to move it and pass to you when you’re open,” he said. “So it’s contagious in that respect – as long as you know everybody else is going to do it, there’s no reason for you to be selfish. Because when you’re open they’re going to find you.”


  1. dayunyor says:

    as long as the big four of spurs are there (Duncan,Ginobili, Parker and Popovich) the Spurs will always be a heavy contender in the league.they are the great example of every basketball players all around the globe.

  2. lol says:

    @jah martins well you guessed wrong typical idiot who thinks hes better than the others and knows more basket

  3. Pistol says:

    Unbelievable! Pop’s statement isn’t political, he talks basketball. Basically he said in Europe baskeball is a team sport while in United States is an individual sport played five against five. That’s all!

    And PopHater, I suggest you to investigate about these “academy where kids work like horses”!

  4. CP10 says:

    Spurs will go all the way this year! They keep getting eliminated early in the playoffs but I think 2013 will be different.

  5. jarade says:

    best team there is go spurs go

  6. PopHater says:

    Pop never misses a chance to make a political statement, so I won’t either. Funny how Pop is in favor of sending 15 year-old kids to an “academy” where they work like horses for room and board – but he (and the politicians he supports) kick and scream at the idea of high school kids, say… working on the family farm. He tells kids over here to stay in school, and then bashes the US because kids here aren’t getting the same basketball training as the ones in other parts of the world who leave school to become teenage professionals. This year he preaches team play like it’s the Holy Grail, while in years past he called 4-down every trip down the floor. (Essentially, give the ball to Duncan.) He preaches respect, and then abuses every reporter who tries to interview him. He needs to move to France or Spain, where the people are more to his own taste, and open up a winery or something, Because I’m sure even American grapes don’t grow the way he likes.

    • Jay says:

      you got that one wrong my friend..
      as far as I know (and pls correct me if i’m wrong) in the US every high school has its own basketball programm and all the schools play in some kind of league or have tournaments and stuff like that.
      thats not the case in most parts of europe..there you have school and you have basketball clubs. if you want to play ball you have to join one of the clubs and play there after school. so these “academies” he’s talking about are special schools which combine both school and basketball… so basically these academies are like usual high schools in the US. the difference is the focus on different skills in practice.

    • SPUR4LIFE says:

      I have some advice for you!Learn your ‘enemy’ before you criticise him!What a waste of letters,on your side…

    • skrutz says:

      Everyone has their own opinion, but I think you might be on your own with this one.

    • Kenishi says:

      I have to disagree with the working on the family farm statement there pophater…
      I happen to be from another part of the world (right next to France actually) and the idea you have about these academies is a bit off imo… Thery’re not 15 year olds having to work like horses. They go to school like other kids, but they spend a greater amount of time on sports then let’s say chemistry… If you want to get somewhere and hone your skills, you have to work hard and practice, but that’s the same all around the world. The difference is that in these academies the emphasis is placed on the fundamentals by professional coaches guiding these players. They are not playgrounds where being able to jump over someone is considered the highest good. Athleticism last intil you’re 30, fundamentals don’t go away…

      • PopHater says:

        Kenishi – Kids who work on the family farm go to school full time. They work before and after school – much like the basketball players. And I am all in favor of both of those things. (The kids working on the family farm, as well as the basketball academies.) What I’m not in favor of is Pop’s politics and hypocrisy. My point was that some of the very things he loves elsewhere, he rejects here. And his focus on “team basketball” wasn’t so pronounced when he had a player on his team who could dominate on his own. They used to force it down low to Timmy constantly, and Tim could beat double teams. Now that he doesn’t command constant double teams, suddenly Pop is all about team play. It’s the hypocrisy and nasty interviews I get sick of.

      • PopHater says:

        One more thing, Kenishi – Tony Parker began playing as a professional at 17 years of age. Many players begin as early as 16. That would be patently illegal in the US. (The politicians Pop supports call it child abuse.) That’s not a matter of opinion, it is simple docmented fact. Pop can’t have it both ways. Well, I guess he can since no one calls him on it. He’s a great coach, but I get sick of the things that come out of his mouth.

      • Jay says:

        whats the huge difference between european players who turn pro at 16-17 and hyped high school “stars” like o.j. mayo and lebron (among others)? I cant really see one..

  7. bball says:

    Spurs really play fantastic basketball all year long.

  8. SPUR4LIFE says:

    Pop was talking about Mirza Teletovic!A guy who played major role for his club in spanish ACB league Caja Laboral.Same club Splitter came from.He played last quarter for BKN the other night against SAS and didn’t get the ball from Tayshaun Taylor,who was supposed to be their PG!Teletovic was wide open several times,while Taylor was dribbling the whole possession!

    • slider821 says:

      Ah, this makes more sense than Shved since Shved has the ball all the time. Tetolovic is a shooter but he’s a big white guy so his teammates don’t yet seem to trust him shooting it. Also he’s in Brooklyn so Dwill is trying to prove he’s worth the money at the expense of his team.

  9. Best looking team says:

    Amen to all that. Spurs are the best basketball TEAM in the world. Watching them play is like listening to the greatest symphonies. Everything is perfect, everyone does what they need to when they need to. And all at the service of the maestro that is Pop.

    I hope very much that they’ll be champ this year. That would be the best ad possible for basketball. Not the best for the Sternba of business and money of course, but pure, plain, basketball, as it should be played all over the world.

  10. SixerFan says:

    US players are much more athletic than International (European) ones, but International players have much more basketball savvy.

  11. Kilroy says:

    Spurs best team in the league right now.. I truly believe that this is our year once again.
    5th banner, baby….

  12. aussie baller says:

    they forgot patty mills

  13. lol says:

    i bet that team are the timberwolves and the kid was shved lol

  14. Michael says:

    This is one of the reasons I like watching the Spurs so much. They whip the ball around the court so fast, it’s simply dazzling. They may not have the high-flying athleticism of James, Griffin, Westbrook, et al, but as a mere mortal without their freakish genes, I can learn more about basketball watching the Spurs than I can any other team in the league.

  15. RunM says:

    San Antonio Spurs = well oiled winning machine. FAN-TAS-TIC team with GREAT team spirit