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Maryland basketball: What a "Spurs-like" offense could look like

Signs point to a faster tempo for Maryland's offense next season, modeled at least in part on the play of the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. What does that mean?

Mark Turgeon reportedly wants Maryland to play offense like the San Antonio Spurs.
Mark Turgeon reportedly wants Maryland to play offense like the San Antonio Spurs.
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, word surfaced that Mark Turgeon is in the midst of installing a faster-paced, running-heavy offense for the 2014 Maryland men's basketball team. Turgeon recruit Kevin Dorsey told Jeff Ermann that Turgeon told him he wants to "play like the Spurs" because of natural personnel fits on Maryland's roster.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is a basketball genius and one of the best coaches ever, and he's been riding a core of Hall of Fame-caliber stars for a decade now. Turgeon isn't Popovich, Evan Smotrycz isn't Tim Duncan, and a freshman Melo Trimble probably won't be Tony Parker. There isn't a Manu Ginobli-style bench presence clearly waiting in Maryland's wings, either, and there certainly isn't an exceptional backup point guard like Patty Mills ready to spell Trimble when necessary. Maryland doesn't have the elite players or the proven depth of the Spurs, even when obligatorily scaled to the college game.

I don't know that there's an adequate way of describing the Spurs' excellent offense (6th in the NBA in points per game last year, 6th in offensive efficiency) in a paragraph. If there is, I'm definitely not smart enough to do it. But what even the most amateur observer can cull from watching Popovich's offense is its predication on furious yet precise movement to create open looks in both transition and the half-court. The Spurs are not only mobile; they are as unselfish as teams come. The Spurs move in symphony, and they really move. Parker, Mills and Kawhi Leonard are fast runners, but on the whole, the Spurs' aren't all that athletic anymore. What they are, though, is always moving, using that movement to create shots for snipers like Danny Green or invite favorable post matchups for Duncan. Grantland offered a helpful (if now slightly dated) feature on their offensive structure last year.

So, how could such a system work out for the Terrapins? Maybe well, but there are a few challenges.

First, Maryland doesn't have a single proven post threat to play the role of Duncan in a Spurs-like offense. Duncan is San Antonio's anchor; he's a heart-and-soul rebounder, scorer and post facilitator who is key to a lot of what the Spurs do offensively. Robert Carter could serve as the Terps' Duncan sometime down the line, but the 2014-15 Terps don't have anyone who can offer a similar mix of rebounding, scoring and pick-setting. Search "tim duncan spurs offense" on YouTube, and you can get a small sampling of everything Duncan does for the Spurs that absolutely no one does for the Terps.

Second -- and more pressingly -- Maryland doesn't have reliable depth. The thing about an offense that never stops moving is that players get tired, and that's where the Spurs have leaned on a thick roster with masses of contributors. The college game is shorter than the NBA game by eight minutes, and, yes, the players have younger legs with fewer miles on them, but the Terps' best players should expect to fatigue more quickly. Where the 2014 Spurs had nine quality players taking up double-digit minutes per night, the Terps have Dez Wells, Jake Layman, Smotrycz and a lot of youngsters with pedigree who haven't shown anything significant at the college level. If the Terps want to play like the Spurs, they'll need some combination of Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Trayvon Reed and Michal Cekovsky to grow up quickly. Otherwise, any aspirations to play like San Antonio are, uh, spurious.

Still, if the Terps can overcome a dearth of preseason depth and post ability (big ifs, yes), this approach could serve them positively. Even without Seth Allen and Nick Faust, Maryland has shooting and plenty of athleticism.

In the same way the Spurs use their big men to create space for Parker near the top of the key, the Terps' bigs could use their bodies to provide space for Trimble, whose athletic ability creates obvious penetration threats in the same vein as Parker for San Antonio. From there, Trimble could slash and score, slash and kick, or simply dish the ball to a rolling power forward -- say, Smotrycz -- who likes to camp out on the arc and either shoot or fake. Imagine Trimble and Smotrycz burying some Big Ten foe like Parker and Matt Bonner did to Minnesota on this play:

Beyond that, Maryland still has a solid group of transition threats. The Spurs do a lot of different things in transition, and I subscribe to the idea that Wells, Layman, Smotrycz, Trimble, and Cekovsky are good enough athletes to give Maryland a number of ways to score, either on the run or with a bit of setup. If Trayvon Reed and Damonte Dodd can start counterattacks with shot blocks that find their way into Terrapin hands rather than the third row, Turgeon and his players can get creative and find ways to score the ball. I found a neat breakdown of some of San Antonio's different transition approaches from its series against Dallas this spring. Somewhere in there, the shoe could fit on Maryland.

Because of the Terps' comparative lack of cohesion and talent, there are a lot of pitfalls that would accompany any serious attempt to emulate one of the best-coached, longest-held-together offenses in the history of the sport. But if Maryland wants to play quickly and create opportunities for harmony between its guards and big men while finding open shots for Jake Layman on the drive or outside -- just like the Spurs have done for Leonard and Green -- there's a lot to respect in that idea. Perhaps it could even lead to an individual player or two emerging down the line.

A Spurs-like system would be unlikely to look like an exact replica on the Comcast Center floor, but some of Popovich's broad-based offensive principles could be a nice match for Turgeon's next team. There are no sure bets here, but the Spurs are an example worth trying to follow.