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Atlanta Hawks offensive playbook: Off-ball screens part one

Let’s dig into more film.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is the fifth edition of our Atlanta Hawks playbook series. This time around, we are going to start to look at plays that involve off-the-ball screens.

Offensive screens that are set away from the basketball have two objectives that are ordinal in nature. First, the screen action should result in a high probability shot as defenders get separated from their assigned players. Second, if the opposing defense has to over-commit to the spot on the floor where the screen action is taking place, the result should be a ton offensive spacing on the other side of the floor for the other players to leverage.

Let’s take a look at some “scissor” like action. Note that none of this is pure “scissor” action but it is all based upon “scissor” concepts.

This play is about as close to pure “scissor” action that the Hawks run. Dennis Schroder tosses the ball to Dwight Howard in the high post. Schroder then make a cut towards Kyle Korver and starts to set a bit of a down screen for Korver.

Korver then sprints toward Howard and they execute a simple DHO (dribble hand-off) that creates the space for Korver to receive the ball and knock down an open 19-foot jumper.

Notice the variation and the affect on this play. Here Korver starts on the weak side of the offensive formation as opposed to the near side. After tossing the ball into the high post Schroder heads straight for Korver like he did on the previous play. But he is heading away from Howard to the opposite side of the floor where he starts to initiate similar screen action.

On this play, however, the initial screen is dummy action and Schroder slips back door to open up the space for Korver to head toward Howard and another DHO. This play provides Korver a longer route and a more natural path to the 3-point line. He gets separation from his defender and hits the uncontested 3-point attempt.

Most observers looking at this play in isolation might call this a simple “split cut”. And they would not necessarily be incorrect. But you can see how this play is based upon the “scissor” concept we looked at in the previous plays. Howard is not in the high post and Schroder is already lined up on the side near Korver so there is no opportunity for the point guard to make a cut past Howard. So he turns and moved straight toward Korver for the screen action.

For most teams and players, Howard is way too high on the floor for this to be considered a DHO threat. But Korver has as much range as a shooter as any player in the league so he is a credible threat to cut toward Howard for the DHO and 3-point shot attempt. The defenders react strongly to that threat and Korver punishes the overplay by cutting back door for the pass and the uncontested layup.

Let’s take a look at one more example where the point guard and the shooting guard are involved in direct screen action. This play is not based upon “scissor” concepts but is another example of how in the Hawks offensive system the back court tandem have to have the ability work together in screen action.

This play begins with the familiar weave action the Hawks often use to initiate offensive sets. The weave involves a guard moving the ball to a wing on the other side of the court via a pass through the center or power forward at the top of the key. On this play, the Hawks are playing small with Paul Millsap at center and Thabo Sefolosha at power forward so this fully qualifies as their normal weave.

After Malcolm Delaney initiates the weave by moving the ball to Thabo, he heads toward Korver to offer a down screen. As often is the case with an elite off-the-ball offensive player, Korver does not even need a full screen to get separation from his defender.

In fact, on this play Delaney eventually just stops and put his hands straight up in the air as to avoid the possibility of being called for an illegal screen. Delaney’s judgment and decision making here were critical for this play to be successful. Korver gets the separation he needs from Andre Roberson and drills the 3-point attempt.

In our next edition, we will look at plays that involve screen action between the bigs and the wings to create offensive opportunities. Stay tuned.