5 teams most responsible for the NBA’s spaced-out revolution

Miami Heat, NBA

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We all know the 3-point revolution has changed the NBA. But who were the teams most responsible for implementing it and pushing the game forward?

“The Game Done Changed.”

This statement is both an accurate interpretation of the state of the NBA and the title of the introduction chapter to author Mike Prada’s new book Spaced Out: How the NBA’s Three-Point Revolution Changed Everything You Thought You Knew About Basketball.

Coincidentally, the novel is Prada’s thesis on the radical change the NBA experienced and all of the downstream effects that stemmed from this revolution. But what exactly changed?

“The court doubled,” Prada told FanSided.com. “For 60-odd years…players didn’t stand any further than 23 feet out. Then, over the course of a decade, it basically went double that because, not only are you shooting more 3s, but you are standing farther away to shoot them.”

“It’s as if you are playing capture the flag, and then one day your instructor is like, ‘actually the dimensions of the field are [doubled].’”

This doubling of the available surface area without adding any extra players to fill the excess void has completely changed the manner in which the game is played. Over the course of 12 chapters (plus an introduction and epilogue), Prada catalogs these developments and highlights the parties most responsible for them.

Within his historical rendition, he details five overarching team-wide innovations that have taken place during the Spaced Out era. So, to better understand these concepts, we caught up with the author to figure out which teams in NBA history are the most responsible for these changes.

Read-and-react basketball: 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs

For a long time, halfcourt possessions were dominated by arduous set plays that left little room for improvisation. The best initiators hung around the elbow or wing, patiently waiting to receive the basketball. Once they did, they maintained what is known as the “triple threat position,” which enabled them to methodically survey the landscape and determine whether the best outcome was to dribble, shoot, or pass.

The 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs — in an effort to compete with the Miami Heat’s swarming defense — need to speed up their offensive decision-making process, so they created what is now known in all NBA corners as the “.5 rule.”

“The concept was literally created by the Spurs,” Prada explained to FanSided. “The year after they lost to the Heat [in 2013], Greg Popovich came back and said, ‘we move the ball really well…but Miami was just a little too fast for us. They sped us up. They screwed up our timing. We need to be even better.’”

“He just emphasized…throughout training camp that year that you make a decision in .5 seconds. It was their way to overcome their loss, in cruel fashion, from the year before.”

And with that, the “Beautiful Game Spurs” were born.

That iteration of the Spurs led the association in assists en route to an NBA title, vanquishing their old friends in Miami. Since then, many coaches and teams have adopted this free-flowing approach to decision-making and halfcourt offense.

Pick-and-roll offense: Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns

After an unsuccessful first season (where he entered the job 21 games in) and the signing of point guard Steve Nash, the pressure was on for Mike D’Antoni to make some progress in the 2004-05 season. And boy, he did.

As legend has it, D’Antoni conceived of the idea of playing four-out, one-in and spamming pick and rolls after watching his projected roster playing together during the offseason. From there, D’Antoni decided to create an entire offseason based on what was once viewed as a mere play type, and the way the pick-and-roll is used has forever changed because of it.

Analysts codenamed his variation of the play the “spread pick-and-roll” because of how perfectly it spaced the floor. When executed properly, it gave the offense five potential pathways to high-percentage shots (as highlighted in the video below, volume up!).

“They were the first team to conceive of the pick-and-roll in that way,” Prada said. “Rather than just [seeing] it as a play, it was a cascading effect of decision-making. Everything [else] has kind of proceeded from that.”

Pick-and-roll defense: 2020-21 Milwaukee Bucks

At the end of his chapter on pick-and-roll defense, Prada writes, “[t]he modern pick-and-roll is far too complicated to address with just one scheme. The only way the defense can stop it is to use multiple ways. Plural.”

It is not one specific coverage that cures all ailments. Instead, it is scheme versatility that rules the day. And as Prada points out in our conversation, the Milwaukee Bucks’ evolution throughout the decade is the perfect example of this.

“In the book, I use the device of Milwaukee to talk through this because they were the team that, over the course of this era, [bounced] from a lot of different coverages. From [Jason] Kidd’s blitzing, to the [Mike] Budenholzer deep drop, to this hybrid that they now play where there is some dropping, some switching, some overly complicated veer back switching.”

“I wouldn’t say they are necessarily the ‘trendsetters’ in this regard, but they are an illustration of how this has all changed.”

The final stage of the Bucks’ defensive metamorphosis came in the 2021 NBA Finals. There, they seamlessly toggled through multiple pick-and-roll coverages against the star ballscreen tandem of Devin Booker and Chris Paul, coming back from a 0-2 deficit to win the series in six games.

The NBA positional revolution: 2011-12 Miami Heat

One of the most important clarifications the book makes is that the NBA’s positional revolution did not cause teams to play smaller. Instead, it led to a redistribution of size and skill throughout the depth chart.

“There’s a lot of talk that this is a positionless era…or that this is small-ball because they’re not big lumbering centers,” Prada expanded. “What it is really about is divorcing the idea that your position is [based on] your size. It has less to do with your size [and more to do with] your skill.”

In his book, Prada cites Don Nelson as the forbearer of this positional revolution. Whether it be his teams in Milwaukee with Marques Johnson and Paul Pressey playing the point forward, his decision to play Dirk Nowitzki at center while coaching in Dallas, or the uber versatile lineups he deployed at the helm “We Believe Warriors,” Nelson has always had an understanding of the fluidity of positional constructs in basketball.

However, the team to turn this understanding into championships was the 2011-12 Miami Heat. After defensive coordinator Dwane Casey’s precise defensive scheme exploited their poor spacing during the 2011 Finals, Erik Spoelstra experimented with a more dynamic frontcourt lineup featuring LeBron James, Shane Battier, and Chris Bosh. The lineup didn’t make them smaller (they are all 6-foot-8 or taller), but it did remedy their spacing concerns and give them more versatility (since all of them were capable of performing the duties of multiple positions).

The result, you guessed it, back-to-back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013.

Modern-day spacing and movement: 2017-18 Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets

At the tail end of the first chapter, Prada identifies two teams most responsible for this entire Spaced Out insurgence. Coincidentally, those two teams faced off in the 2018 Western Conference Finals for what would be remembered as one of the great clashes of the century.

“This concept of how do you actually space the floor…I think that is essentially the Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors rivalry distilled,” Prada said in his interview with FanSided.

“You have one team that says, ‘let’s just stand really, really, really far away and open up room [that way].’ Meanwhile, Golden State is much more about the whiplash movement all over the place that kind of creates this chaos engine.”

Prada continued, “that rivalry is the best way to distill this movement because teams are now doing both rather than one or the other.”

Here is an example from last postseason. The Luka Doncic-led Dallas Mavericks are the team that is most often compared to James Harden’s Rockets. With that said, look at how much off-ball movement their offense incorporates (while simultaneously maintaining their spacing principles):

Today, teams try to mime the movement patterns of the dynastic Warriors within the spacing infrastructure that the helio-ball Rockets popularized – a clear indicator that the two teams’ monumental clash changed the game as we know it forever.

To learn more about the tactical revolution that changed the game forever, be sure to pick up a copy of Mike Prada’s new book Spaced Out: How the NBA’s Three-Point Revolution Changed Everything You Thought You Knew About Basketball.

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