The addition of Dwight Howard and the promotion of Dennis Schröder to the starting point guard role have pushed Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer to simplify the playbook where he can to make it easier on everybody involved. The defense has been changed to fit Howard’s skills, and nowhere is the simplification more obvious than on sidelines out of bounds plays, where the Hawks have one set that they run, with a few branches and options based on the original design.
Almost every sidelines out of bounds play this year has been out of one formation: a wing inbounding the ball, the point guard under the basket, the other wing at the top of the key, and the two big men at the elbows. When the play is started, the wing at the top of the key cuts to the basket and the point guard cuts to the top of the key, essentially trading places. The first look for the inbounds pass is always the wing cutting to the basket. Although it’s rarely open, if that pass can be made, it’s almost always a free two points for the Hawks.
Kyle Korver receives the ball from the official to start the play, which triggers the cuts from Schröder and Kent Bazemore. Bazemore dives to the rim, rubbing his defender off on the Thabo Sefolosha back screen and ends up with an and-one opportunity. As one would imagine, this easy basket isn’t one upon which the Hawks can rely consistently, but Korver always looks down low before moving on to other options just in case the defense falls asleep and lets Bazemore walk in for the layup.
By far the most common option is to inbound to the point guard at the top of the key and run a double-high pick-and-roll out of Horns.
Bazemore clears out from under the rim to the weak side corner and Korver fills in at the strong side corner to complete the standard Horns formation. Sefolosha and Howard step up into ball screens for Schröder, giving him the option to go in either direction on the pick-and-roll. This puts his defender in a very precarious position, as Schröder is getting better and better at navigating the pick-and-roll and is adept at getting into the lane and finishing.
One of the key features of the Hawks’ offense is that at least one of their big men at all times can step out and shoot from distance. On this sidelines out of bounds play, it means that one of the defenders at the top of the key can’t afford to leave his man to help contain the drive or the roll to the rim.
Against the Knicks, the Hawks bring Bazemore out from under the basket to handle the ball at the top of the key and Schröder cuts to the rim. Bazemore gets the same double-high screen, this time from Howard and Paul Millsap. As Bazemore turns the corner and Howard dives to the rim, Kristaps Porzingis is stuck between two unenviable options: drop into the paint and stop Howard from receiving the lob from Bazemore, or stay out on the perimeter to contest Millsap. Porzingis stays with Millsap and Howard gets a free dunk.
Atlanta also employs a pair of wrinkles to this double-high pick-and-roll to keep the defense on their toes. Korver has long been one of the league’s very best shooters in both spot-up situations and coming around screens and the Hawks use this to their advantage on these sidelines out of bounds plays.
Schröder comes up to the top of the key to receive the inbounds pass, but instead of receiving the double-high screens, Mike Muscala and Millsap turn around and set symmetrical down screens for the wings. Korver cuts off Millsap’s screen and misses the jumper, but the set got an open shot from an all-time great shooter, so Atlanta will take that.
Quick side note: Korver actually hasn’t been all that great shooting on the move this season. He’s still at the top of the league on spot-up looks, but he’s scoring in the middle of the pack on shots off screens and handoffs. It remains to be seen whether this is a blip or a worrying trend as Korver ages and declines athletically, but it’s worth watching as we get a larger sample.
Still, whether Korver’s knocking down 45% of his threes or not, he commands the attention of the entire defense, upon which the Hawks love to capitalize.
Korver receiving the ball after a down screen petrifies Tim Frazier, who completely leaves Schröder to contest Korver’s shot. Korver doesn’t hesitate to touch pass the ball right back to Schröder, who then runs a quick pick-and-pop with Millsap. Frazier is frantically trying to get back in front of Schröder that he doesn’t switch onto Millsap and the Pelicans give up a wide-open three. It doesn’t go in, but it generates a wide-open shot and that sort of pressure is exactly what the Hawks want when running this branch of their SLOB offense.
In case the two initial cuts aren’t open, the closest big man will pop out of his spot at the elbow to receive the ball. Usually, this is followed by a dribble handoff for the inbounding wing or the point guard at the top.
Malcolm Delaney can’t get through his man, so Millsap gives Tim Hardaway Jr. an option to get the ball in before the five-second count expires. With all the movement of the other players off the ball, Millsap and Hardaway Jr. are able to run a quick pick-and-roll and find an open spot-up three, one of the most efficient shots in basketball. Once again, the shot doesn’t go down (that seems to be a theme lately with the Hawks), but they’re still generating good shots.
The Hawks are able to generate good looks on sidelines out of bounds plays, but they will need to mix things up if they’re going to be effective long-term. Over the course of the season, Budenholzer and his staff will be able to install different plays into their SLOB playbook, which will be important in the playoffs when teams can scout them out and put a stop to certain actions that they’ve seen on film time and time again.