Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks keep innovating, even in a losing season

If breaking out new plays is only for competitive teams looking for an edge this season, nobody told Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff. The Hawks unveil a new set every other game these days; I covered Horns Spain last week, which they ran to open the game against Indiana on February 28. In that same game and again on March 2 against Golden State, the Hawks went to another creative entry in their playbook multiple times: Hawk Wedge STS.

Much has been written in various outlets this season about the Hawk cut (named for the Hawks back when Hubie Brown invented it while coaching Atlanta in the late 1970s), most notably with regards to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who consistently run their Hawk series in the fourth quarters to generate open shots for Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. Atlanta broke out their version of OKC’s Hawk play earlier in the year, but there are plenty of other options that can be generate from the Hawk cut. Not the be confused with the UCLA cut, which involves the point guard passing the ball to the wing and then cutting to the basket, the Hawk cut also a staple of Atlanta’s sidelines-out-of-bounds (SLOB) sets, where a wing cuts from the top of the key to the basket down one of the lane lines, usually with the aid of a screen from a big man at one of the elbows.

Wedge action is becoming more popular throughout the league, perhaps led by Budenholzer’s old boss in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich. Popovich’s Spurs employ the wedge screen (also known as the ram screen, depending on who you ask) as both a stalwart of some of their set plays and as a general part of their early offense, especially if a big man is the last man up the court after a rebound. The wedge screen occurs when a player, usually a wing or guard, sets an off-ball screen in the middle of the floor for a big man, who uses the screen to set a side ball screen for the point guard. Watch below how the Spurs use wedge action to open the middle of the floor for their point guards:

The final part of Atlanta’s Hawk Wedge STS is the screen-the-screener action that finishes the play. Screen-the-screener is another very common action throughout the league, in part to combat the exact type of defense I covered in Wednesday’s follow-up to the Hawks’ game against the Raptors. The essence of screen-the-screener action is to distract the defense with one threat while the real action is being run to the player setting the original screen. Even when a shooter like Stephen Curry sets a cross screen, the defense has to react to that cross screen or give up an open layup. Curry uses that brief space to his advantage, wheeling around a second screen while the defense scrambles to catch up

Atlanta mixes all three of these actions together in Hawk Wedge STS. Watch below how Kent Bazemore executes the Hawk cut using a screen from Taurean Prince, who then sets the wedge screen for Mike Muscala to set the ball screen for Malcolm Delaney. After setting two screens for his teammates, Prince wheels around another screen, this one from John Collins, to get the ball at the top of the key. Klay Thompson is well behind the play and Andre Iguodala has to help off of Delaney one pass away to contend with Prince’s drive to the middle of the floor, leaving Delaney open for the three-shot foul.

Earlier in the game against Golden State, Atlanta ran Hawk Wedge STS, which resulted in a floater in the lane for Bazemore:

The same action occurs, but this time it’s Bazemore who sets the two screens before coming up to the top of the key to get the ball. He curls the screen and gets into the paint, but can’t finish the short jumper.

Keeping the offense fresh with new plays every few games helps to put opposing defenses off balance and breathe life into an Atlanta offense that has trouble scoring from time to time. Budenholzer has shown throughout his career that he and his staff can draw up plays to put their guys in the best position to score consistently and the last month has been a master class from Coach Bud on finding new plays to help boost a struggling offense.

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