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Atlanta Hawks offensive playbook: ‘Pick and Roll’ action part one

Let’s look at the meat and potatoes of the Hawks offense

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

This is the third edition in our Atlanta Hawks offensive playbook series. We have previously looked at “Power Forward Post” and “Horns Action”. Today, we will be looking at the “Pick and Roll”.

There are countless variations on how this action can progress on a given play so it is not feasible to cover every possibility. But we will try to cover the most common actions that come out of pick and roll sets. In part 1 of the pick and roll overview, we will focus on plays that involve the two offensive players in the basic primary action.

One quick thing to address before we dig into how the Hawks used the pick and roll during the 2016-17 season. There are three basic techniques the screener can use after setting or slipping the screen (more to come on the difference there).

He can either roll (or dive) to toward the rim, he can set up for the pop (be ready to catch and shoot the ball from mid-range or the 3-point-line) or he can operate a short roll. The short roll means he does not roll all the way to the rim but he is stepping into space and prepares to catch the ball with the option of attacking with dribble penetration, or looking to operate at the point of attack and pass the ball to a player set up for a perimeter shot or cutting to the basket.

When Al Horford manned the center position for the Hawks, we saw a lot of the short roll technique. He might be the best center in the league in the short roll action. When the Hawks transitioned to Dwight Howard at the center position, the short roll technique was almost completely eliminated from the pick and roll action, even when Howard was not the big man operating in the pick and roll.

Just so you can visualize the short roll technique I did want to share one example.

Most short roll techniques do not look exactly like this. More often you see a pocket pass toward the middle of the offensive set. But this still meets the definition on this play although here the pass is a kick out to Paul Millsap at the 3-point line.

You can see Millsap is not looking to shoot when he receives the ball. Instead he wants to attack in dribble penetration and either get to the rim of find a passing lane to a teammate. He hits Tim Hardaway Jr. as Josh Richardson initially overplays the outside passing lane. The result is an easy layup for two points as Millsap occupies Miami’s rim protector, Hassan Whiteside, well away from the play at the rim.

Again, we saw very little of this from the Hawks last season. Now on to the other actions.

This is the basic high screen action where the screener separates the defender from the ball handler. Dwight Howard sets the textbook screen and Dennis Schroder attacks the paint with dribble penetration and hits the runner over Richaun Holmes for the score.

Here is the same action with a slight variation. On this play, the Hawks jump right into the action before the defense can get set after getting back in transition following a missed 3-point attempt on the previous Cleveland possession. Howard communicates to Mike Muscala to stay on the baseline and sets the quick screen for Schroder who gets into the paint for another runner and the score.

Here is a basic example of the point guard, Malcolm Delaney in this case, getting the screen and stepping into a pull up jumper instead of attacking the paint. He gets a solid screen from Howard and hits the open mid-range shot for the score.

This is favorable action for Delaney. Despite having had a terrible overall shooting season last year, he was a better pull up shooter on 2-points attempts than Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Devin Booker and James Harden. This is one of the reasons I am optimistic he will bounce back and have a nice season this year.

This is a very similar play, but they decide to run it through Hardaway due to the matchup. He has a lot more foot speed than Dwyane Wade at this point so Schroder hands the ball off to THJ on this play who gets the screen from Mike Muscala and hits the step in jumper.

This is our first look at when the screener, Howard in this case, decides to use the slip technique instead of following all the way through with the screen. This is based upon a read. He can see that Kyrie Irving is all ready in trouble in his positioning trying to defend Schroder so he uses the slip technique to more quickly get into his dive toward the rim. This speeds up the play for Tristan Thomspon who has to offer some defensive help on the dribble penetration and can’t recover to affect the lob dunk at the rim.

Contrast this play with the previous play. Here, Howard is not worried about Jahlil Okafor being able to remotely offer help on Schroder and help at the rim. Okafur does not have nearly the defensive ability of Tristan Thompson. So in this case, he sets the screen to separate Gerald Henderson from Schroder then dives to the rim for the easy lob dunk.

This offers some insight as to when you need to speed up the play at times against good defenders versus simply prioritizing precision when you are operating against inferior defenders.

This is a basic example of execution of the pick and pop. The Bulls defenders use the trap technique to deny Schroder dribble penetration and Muscala steps into the open space at the free throw line, receives the perfect pocket pass and hits the open jumper in rhythm.

Notice the variation on this pick and pop. It’s basically inverted from the previously play. Millsap is setting the screen for Delaney to attack the middle of the defensive formation and threaten Thompson who is defending the paint. So Millsap spins the opposite direction to get separation from Irving who as a smaller defender can’t get back to challenge the 3-point attempt.

This is another example of where the slip technique is valuable. As we saw a few plays back with the Muscala pick and pop, the Bull defenders had been trying to use the trap technique to deny dribble penetration.

On this play, Millsap uses the slip to get separation from the defenders and forces Rajan Rondo to abandon the trap. The result is that Schroder gets downhill on Taj Gibson and draws the foul for the easy points at the free throw line.

This is a beautiful use of the slip technique. On this play, Muscala sees that both defenders are expecting the screen so he starts to step into it but slips backdoor. Schroder delivers the bounce pass right through the lane and Muscala gets the easy layup. Here you can see how effectively the slip technique speeds up the play before the defense can react.

That is all that we will cover here in the pick and roll part one overview. In part two, though, we will cover how the Hawks attack when the defense uses a switch to cover the initial screen action. We will also cover a number of scenarios in which a third offensive players is involved in the action. Stay tuned.