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Atlanta Hawks offensive playbook: ‘Power Forward Post’

Let’s get into some film.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks will have a very different look next year, as has been well chronicled in this space and elsewhere. At the same time, I would be surprised if the actions we see next year will look completely different apart from maybe just looking to play faster. Today, we will be looking at the “Power Forward Post” action.

The last few seasons this play was almost exclusively run through Paul Millsap. Ersan Illyasove is not a great fit for this play, but we did see Charles Lee run it through Taurean Prince during the Vegas Summer League. Perhaps we will see Prince, John Collins or even Mike Muscala get some opportunities to operate in this action next season.

On the court, these plays are called “4” or “4C”. Let’s take a look.

This is the most basic form of the “4” play. The clip here picks up the action a little late but it is a good example of the basic aspects of this play. On this play, Malcolm Delaney enters the ball to Millsap in the low post on the right then crosses to other side of the offensive formation. The other players on the court are not moving much, just trying to achieve the right spacing. Muscala sits in the dunker position and the wings provides spacing above the three-point break.

The goal on this play is simply to give Millsap the room to operate basically in isolation. The result is an easy hook shot for two points.

Here is the same play on the same side of the court with one variation. With the Wizards having a rim protector on the court at the center position, Delaney directs traffic and Muscala sets up above the three-point break instead of on the baseline in the dunker position. This formation gets Gortat out of the play and Millsap gets the easy step back jumper for the score.

This is the same play with the same group of players. But, this time, even though Gortat is defending at the center position, Muscala sets up in the dunker position and Delaney provides spacing as a shooter at the top of the key. Why are they positioned differently here?

With Millap operating on the left block, he has a different preference. He does not want Gortat positioned where he was on the previous play because as a right-handed player it would be too easy for his defender, Andrew Nicholson, to push him to his right and straight into Gortat’s help defense. He operates comfortably on the baseline and hits another step back jumper.

The result of this play is a turnover but it’s a good example about what is different when they run “4C” instead of just “4”. The “C” instructs the shooting guard, Kyle Korver in this case, to set up in the corner on the same side of the floor as the power forward. After the point guard enters the ball into the post, it then becomes Millsap’s option to have Korver stay in the corner or to have him clear out to the other side of the floor.

But in this example, you can see a bit of the triangle-like motion that they sometimes get into on this play instead of just spacing as shooters on the perimeter. Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore and Korver start to get into some of that action as the defensive double team takes place and creates the turnover.

This is another look at “4C” action with a variation. On this play when Millsap communicates to Korver to clear out of the corner, instead of simply moving to the other side of the formation, he runs “pinch post” action and creates the easy passing lane for the uncontested lay up at the rim.

Here is another look at the “4” play with beautiful triangle-like motion on the weak side. Korver and Bazemore demonstrate perfect timing exchanging positions just as Howard moves down toward the baseline. The result is that their defenders bump into each other and Millsap delivers the ball to Korver for the wide open three point attempt.

Apart from the result of this play, this is a thing of beauty. Bazemore enters the ball to Millsap on the right block and runs the “pinch post” action. Look at the gorgeous movement, spacing and rhythm on the weak side. Contrast this play to one of the earlier ones we looked at where the action was basically stationary. In this example you can see how many potential passing lanes are created as a result of the movement.

This is another variation as they run “4” through Thabo Sefolosha in garbage time. On this play after Prince enters the ball to the post, Delaney sees how high Thabo ends up on the floor and comes over to offer a “pinch post” look that confuses their defenders. DeAndre’ Bembry and Kris Humpries initiate “gaggle” action on the weak side to occupy their defenders. The result is a straight path to the basket, one dribble and an easy lay up at the rim.

There you have it. When the power forward is operating in the post in Atlanta’s offensive system, there are many different off-ball actions that can be used to create stress on the defense. Communication and reads are a big part of what happens after the ball is simply tossed into the post. The traditional post game is dying, but big men can still provide value to teams as passers and scorers in post-up situations.