Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks offensive playbook: Off-ball screens part two

This is the sixth edition of our Atlanta Hawks playbook series. This time around, we are going to start to look at more plays that involve off-the-ball screens. We will focus on the interactions between bigs and wings operating together off of the ball.

As we dig in, you will notice that reads, timing and rhythm can often be more important in this action than actually getting a defensive player physically dislodged from the player he is defending.

This is simple action the Hawks are able to use as Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore occupy space on the strong side of the offensive formation. The result is plenty of room on the weak side for Kyle Korver to cut and force his defender toward Dwight Howard.

As you can see, little if any contact is made between Dwight Howard and Korver’s defender. But a sharp and timely pass from Dennis Schroder leads to a mildly contested three-point attempt at the top of the key.

On this play, you can see that the same unit starts with the same basic offensive alignment. The threat of Howard as a screener and Korver as a shooter results in Joel Embiid turning his back to action on the other side of the play.

This play drawn up on paper would call for a pin down screen from Paul Millsap and a cut by Kent Bazemore toward the ball. But the Sixers are showing no threat of switching, so Bazemore just gets his defender on his back and curls around Millsap and to the front of the rim. Embiid is occupied just long enough as a potential rim protector that Bazemore gets the pass and the largely uncontested lay up at the rim.

On this play, you will see the same concepts but they are used just a little differently. This is the first play following a quarter break, so it is drawn up to execute similar actions with a little more sophistication mixed in.

Here, Malcolm Delaney and Kris Humphries give a common high pick and roll look while Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mike Muscala offer that familiar off ball screen action on the left side of the offensive formation. You can see that the timing and rhythm of this play is more important than contact with the defensive player.

THJ gets the ball as he curls around Muscala with the space to be a threat as a shooter. But similar to the way Bazemore did on the previous play, Hardaway feels his defender trailing the play so he attacks the paint as a dribbler. Muscala executes a cut to the baseline with excellent timing to create just enough space for Hardaway to get to the rim for the lay up.

Here we see the same concepts with another wrinkle. This is the first play after an official’s timeout, so we see more creativity and sophistication.

On this play Millsap receives the ball on the wing as Schroder and Hardaway exchange spots on the opposite side of the formation. Bazemore demonstrates an aggressive curl around Howard toward the middle of the paint to threaten the rim. Meanwhile Howard seals his defender on the baseline and gets the lob from Millsap for the dunk.

This action should look familiar. On this play Bazmore is initiating the offense at the top of the key. Howard and Korver are operating in that same screen action on the weak side. In this case the defenders are working hard to deny Korver the opportunity to get the space needed to catch and shoot.

Howard rotates back to face Bazemore and they execute a give-and-go that uses the space in the lane create by the threat of Korver working on the perimeter. Bazemore gets straight to the front of the rim for the easy score.

The formation on this play should look familiar. Howard and Korver are demanding the defensive attention on the left side of the action. However, as opposed to the operating on the opposite block Millsap and Hardaway set up to a wider positioning.

The contact on this play is a greater priority but the timing is still important. Millsap dislodges Hardaway’s defender from him and the result is an open three-point attempt on a critical possession in overtime.

On this play, Millsap is playing at the small ball 5 position. He and Korver are setting up that familar screen action near the three-point break. Semaj Christon is defending this play and refuses to allow Millsap to separate him from Korver.

So Korver decides to walk Christon straight into Millsap’s defender, Steven Adams. Millsap uses the screen to space out to the wing. The result is an uncontested three-point attempt from the stretch five.

Note that this variation is usually not an option with a traditional center on the floor. In the Hawks offensive system, centers with stretch ability, such as Mike Muscala, are really valuable.

This is “floppy action” in its purest form. Korver starts on the the baseline with the option of cutting off of a screen on either side of the formation. There is a slight preference to cut towards the side that offers two screens as opposed to one. But if the defense overplays the strong side the result is usually in a ton of space to work with on the weak side.

As Korver works off of Millsap’s screen Russell Westbrook appears to gamble for a steal. Korver quickly moves the ball back to Schroder who “punishes” the gamble by Westbrook by hitting the open three-point attempt.

I do want to point out however that on these last two possessions we looked at versus Oklahoma City, on both possessions the Thunder defense forced the lower percentage shooter involved in the action to take the perimeter shot. That is sound defense.

The Thunder gave up the 4th fewest three pointers in the league last season. And while on these plays we can see how the Hawks use variations in the action to counter how the defensive unit is defending the play. We can see why it is critical for the Hawks roster to be constructed as to have shooters available up and down the lineup at all positions.

The Hawks are likely facing their third consecutive season in which they will win fewer games than they did during the prior season. But having players like Muscala, Ilyasova and Babbitt (and perhaps Collins eventually also) on the roster will help with the offensive development of players at the point guard position and on the wings.

This will wrap up the off ball screen playbook review. In the next episode, we will dig into DHO (dribble handoff) action.

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