On Friday evening, reports surfaced that the Atlanta Hawks had agreed to sign forward Luke Babbitt on a one year deal.
Babbitt is a seven year NBA veteran (drafted in 2010) and Atlanta is his fourth NBA stop, having spent time with the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and the Miami Heat.
Spending the 2016-17 season with the Heat, Babbitt averaged 4.8 points per game on 40% shooting from the field and 41% from behind the arc in an average of 15 minutes a game.
Babbitt is known amongst NBA fans for one reason: shooting.
Over his seven year career, Babbitt is a 40% three-point shooter. That’s his skill, why he has stuck in the NBA for as long as he has, and will continue to stick around for the foreseeable future.
While Babbitt may have only one distinguishable, high-end NBA skill, he’s one of the best in the league at what he does. Over the past few seasons, there aren’t many players who have shot better from three-point range than Babbitt in the entire league.
Best 3-pt FG % since 2014-15, min. 300 3PA:
1. Kyle Korver – 44.9%
2. J.J. Redick – 44.6%
3. Luke Babbitt – 43.8%
4. Stephen Curry – 43.6% https://t.co/Z9vU63waNf
— Adam Reisinger (@AdamReisinger) August 4, 2017
No shooter is identical in this league. Each have their own quirks and tendencies, and we’re going to look at some of Babbitt’s. We’ll also look at other aspects of Babbitt’s game and how he’ll fit in Atlanta.
We will start with his shooting, however, since it’s the main reason why he’s in Atlanta and the main scoring aspect of Babbitt’s offensive game.
It’s obvious that Babbitt has range (you only need to look at the stats to understand that) but he also shows extended range and is able to make shots from a foot or so behind the three-point line.
Babbitt is also more than capable of knocking down tough, contested shots.
Neither the length/contest of Kevin Durant…
…nor Jabari Parker phase Babbitt as he swishes from outside:
One thing that played to Babbitt’s strengths in Miami was that the Heat had two guards — in the form of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters — who could penetrate and collapse the defense which led to open three-point opportunities.
Babbitt was one such beneficiary:
Not the greatest defense played by Michael Beasley there but a nice shot-fake used by Babbitt to eliminate the already scrambling Beasley from this possession.
Penetration creates opportunities, and this time it’s Dragic finding his way inside the paint and Babbitt, again, benefits:
Though the Hawks only really have the one consistent penetrator in the form of Dennis Schröder, the young German should be able to create some opportunities for Babbitt as Dragic and Waiters did using his blistering speed.
Unlike his former teammate Dion Waiters, Babbitt is smart when it comes to deciding when to shoot the basketball — he makes the right play. He’s not going force a shot that isn’t there or shoot for the sake of shooting.
He’ll either get rid of the ball or, if the offense allows, pump-fake and step inside the arc to create a better shot:
Because he possesses a legitimate threat from outside which defenses have to respect, the pump-fake opens up more scoring opportunities for Babbitt, and every little helps if you’re seeing limited court time as Babbitt surely will.
Another thing Babbitt likes to do on offense is pick-and-pop, i.e. setting a screen and fading behind the three-point line:
We already looked at this play when we were looking at how Babbitt can hit contested shots, but this time we want to look at the action before he hits the three — he sets the screen and fades away behind the arc:
Nothing revolutionary, but just something that he seems to like to do and finds effective.
And, finally (at least in terms of Babbitt’s own on-ball offense), Luke is capable of taking it inside but it’s not something he does too often…
Again, he can do it but it’s not something he does often. Three-point shooting and pump-fakes are the name of the game when it comes to Babbitt’s offensive game.
And that’s just fine when you’re a career 40% three-point shooter…
But how about facilitating the team offense? How does Babbitt fare off the ball?
I mentioned briefly that Babbitt isn’t a player to take ill-advised shots like his former teammate, Dion Waiters. The ball doesn’t stay Babbitt’s hands awfully long, he makes the extra pass and the right pass.
In transition upon receiving the ball, Babbitt realizes he has nothing on for him as the Spurs have done a good job picking him up in transition. But Babbitt quickly sees the trailing Dion Waiters, who he finds for three:
Again, Babbitt — realizing there’s nothing on — makes the quick extra pass upon catching the ball, and James Johnson knocks down the three-pointer as the shot clock winds down:
Babbitt also shows potential in moving off of the ball, something the Hawks like their players to do.
After Russell Westbrook does a good job to take away the three, Babbitt gives the ball up, makes a nice cut, receives the ball again and fires a pass out to the open Josh Richardson in the corner:
Not a great shot by Richardson in the end, but a nice opportunity created by Babbitt.
Babbitt doesn’t look to cut very often — perhaps preferring to remain behind the three-point line should the likes of Dragic or Waiters collapse the defense — but his willingness to pass is there to be seen.
He’s not going to register three assists every night and he’s not a ball handler that you can run your offense through but his willingness to make the extra pass will serve him well in Atlanta.
Let’s move on to Babbitt’s defense.
As NBA fans, we sometimes build our own ideas of what a player is like on defense without really seeing them defend. I’d imagine many would’ve pegged Babbitt as a poor (possibly very poor) defender but the honest truth is he’s not that bad. Not fantastic, mind you, but not terrible either. He does a solid job contesting shots and he shows effort.
As Jabari Parker — a talented offensive player — drives into the paint, Babbitt does a good job sticking with him and does a good job contesting his shot, resulting in a miss:
As Parker comes off a screen, Babbitt initially finds himself a little too far away from Parker but does a good job recovering and successfully contesting the shot:
Against the Thunder, in transition, Russell Westbrook finds himself in an isolation situation with Babbitt following a switch. But Babbitt sticks right with Westbrook and effectively contests Westbrook’s arguably ill-advised long range shot:
His lateral speed isn’t too bad either. Though Jabari Parker isn’t the fastest player around, Babbitt does a good job taking away the baseline drive from Parker and he’s forced to pass off to another teammate:
That’s solid defense.
Babbitt is also capable of doing a solid job staying vertical when near the rim. Here, he displays not only his defensive effort but his ability to challenge vertically, and made this offensive possession as difficult as possible against the much taller Pau Gasol who does a good job converting this shot:
A good defensive effort here by Babbitt, but the size and skill of Pau Gasol proved too much.
Babbitt also proved to be a decent team defender. He’s smart and sees the danger before it happens.
With Hassan Whiteside being badly out-hustled by John Henson in transition, Giannis Antetokounmpo delivers a beautiful bowling-ball pass to the running Henson but Babbitt is alert to the danger and steps in front of Henson — where Whiteside should’ve been — and deflects the ball out of bounds, preventing a certain dunk.
There are times, however, where Babbitt is sometimes caught napping on defense and doesn’t really contest shots until it’s too late, or loses his man for an open jump shot. It does happen on occasion, but not as often as you might think.
The aspect of defense that probably hurts Babbitt the most is when players (and usually players who are also usually quite built muscularly) come at him with momentum.
Here, the much stronger Michael Beasley is easily able to spin and power his way over Babbitt for an easy bucket.
On this possession, Parker uses his combination of speed and power to bully his way past Babbitt to the rim.
Again going downhill, Victor Oladipo proves to be too much for Babbitt to handle and Whiteside’s help comes too late, and a goal-tend is called.
To be fair to Babbitt as a defender last season, he had to play a lot of power forward and he’s not a true power forward. Sure, it shows his versatility that he can play that position in lineups (as he often did for the Heat last season) but — because of the Heat’s injury problems and whatnot — he would actually start at power forward and that’s not Babbitt’s strongest position.
With the Heat’s injuries and small-ball rotations creating size issues in certain situations/matchups, the Heat would sometimes double down on the opposing team’s best player — or in some cases would simply have to send a second man over in a mismatch — and would try and make other players make shots, and Babbitt would have to leave his man to help out and this sometimes resulted in a three for the opposing team with Babbitt trying to recover.
On this possession, the much smaller Rodney McGruder is left with the unfortunate task of trying to guard Giannis, and Babbitt simply has to come over and help. Giannis makes the right play and passes the ball to the open Tony Snell (Babbitt’s man on defense) who knocks down the three.
In that situation, you’d take Snell making a perimeter shot over Giannis bullying his way to the rim over a smaller defender in a mismatch.
Against the Thunder, a good screen from Domantas Sabonis frees Westbrook of Dragic, and Babbitt (who is defending Sabonis as he is forced to play power forward) has to step into the lane to stop Westbrook from pulling up into his favored mid-range shot at the expense of an open three for Sabonis.
Again, you’d take a rookie like Sabonis making this shot over Westbrook taking/making comfortable shots.
Injuries forced Heat head coach Erik Spolestra to have to dig deep into his rotation. Babbitt started 55 games for the Heat last season, the most games he has started in a season by far (his previous high was 19 starts with the Pelicans in 2014-15).
In a normal situation, Babbitt isn’t going to be starting (and certainly not starting 55 times) and he’s certainly not going to be starting out of his natural position as he had to last season.
So, again, it’s unfair to expect Babbitt to defend guys like Jabari Parker, Russell Westbrook and Pau Gasol as he had to at times last season because of the Heat’s injuries/mismatches/defensive schemes. In an ideal situation, Babbitt is coming off of the bench and he’s not having to defend players like that.
That said, he played good defense on those guys at times, and it wasn’t as if he was being roasted on defense possession after possession, even though he spent a lot of time out of his ideal position at power forward.
I watched five sample games of Babbitt before writing this. Milwaukee, Golden State, San Antonio, Detroit and Oklahoma City were the games I watched, and none of those teams went out of their way to consistently target Babbitt in isolation in a half-court set, even though players David Lee, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Marcus Morris and Enes Kanter would’ve easily feasted on Babbitt.
The Bucks were probably the team that went after him the most, but a good bit of that has to with the fact Jabari Parker was the team’s second leading scorer at that time (January) and he played power forward, the position Babbitt had to play.
When you average 20 points per game as Parker was doing, that means there are many other players who are also struggling to defend him. And it wasn’t as if Parker was scoring every single time he had the ball when Babbitt was defending him. Babbitt defended him pretty well at times and produced multiple stops.
Overall, Babbitt is not a defensive disaster. He’s not spectacular but he’s not bad either. He is certainly playable, unlike Tim Hardaway Jr. was when he joined the Hawks…
Babbitt’s ability to shoot the ball and stretch the floor will be a great help for the Hawks — if he sees rotation minutes — and it might mean the Hawks could have some fun with some shooting lineups.
You could have Dennis Schröder as a penetrator, Marco Belinelli, Kent Bazemore/Taurean Prince, Babbitt at the four and maybe John Collins at the five as a roll man?
Or, as an alternative shooting lineup, you could run with a Schröder, Belinelli, Babbitt, Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Muscala lineup? That wouldn’t be a very good defensive lineup but it at least gives Mike Budenholzer options.
Babbitt’s willingness to move the ball will serve the Hawks well and his defense is fine enough that you can leave him out on the floor for 10-15 minutes a night.
In the U.K. and Ireland, there’s a paint, wood stain and preservative manufacturer called ‘Ronseal’, whose slogan is “Does exactly what it says on the tin.” So, when it came to instructions and guarantees on the tin of what the product would do, that’s exactly what it did. It did exactly what it said on the tin.
And that’s exactly what the Hawks have with Luke Babbitt. He’s advertised as a shooter and when the Hawks bought his services, as such, that’s exactly what they got — a shooter. Nothing more, nothing less… but, after all, he’s a pretty darn good shooter.