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Breaking down the Atlanta Hawks 2017-18 SLOB offense

Coach Bud’s got some new additions to this year’s playbook

NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks have added some new wrinkles to their sidelines out of bounds (SLOB) offense since I wrote about their sets in these situations in November 2016. With a new season comes a lot of new personnel and head coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff have changed things up to accommodate both the new personnel and the simple fact that innovation is required to stave off ineffectiveness in the NBA.

No team can run the same play multiple years in a row, as scouts have had the entire summer to dive into the film and see what every other team is doing. However, just because things needed to change doesn’t mean Budenholzer overhauled the entire system—the Hawks are still using the core of what they did last year.

Atlanta’s initial formation and movement should look familiar. The diamond is the same, with a guard or wing under the basket, another guard or wing at the top of the key, and the two big men at the elbows. The two guards/wings swap spots as the inbounder triggers the play, at which point the myriad of options begin for the Hawks.

The first is always the cutter to the basket from the top, though this is rarely open after Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore got layup after layup on this cut last year. If that cut isn’t open, the ball goes to the guard/wing coming up from under the basket, who catches at the top of the key.

From here, there are a few different things the Hawks like to do. The first is an “Iverson cut”, named for (you guessed it) Allen Iverson, for whom the move was created by Larry Brown, Iverson’s head coach in Philadelphia. If Dennis Schröder is the inbounder, he’ll run off a double screen from the two big men at the elbow to complete the Iverson cut and immediately attack, as he does in the clip below:

Schröder is at his best when he’s attacking the basket, so this is often the option he’ll take when he catches off the Iverson cut. His defender is trailing him due to the screens and the big men defenders are at the elbows with their assignments, so the paint is wide open for Schröder to plant and explode toward the basket.

Schröder will also run a quick side pick-and-roll with the closest big man if he doesn’t have an immediate avenue to attack:

The Hawks’ point guard puts a lot of fear in the defense when he’s able to get into the paint, which opens up his teammates for easy catch-and-shoot three-pointers, like the one Prince makes in the above clip. Even though the pass from DeAndre’ Bembry didn’t give Schröder an immediate avenue to the basket, he still had the advantage over his defender, who was out of position due to Schröder’s movement and the screen from Atlanta’s big men at the elbows. Ersan Ilyasova stepped into a ball screen for Schröder and he was able to find Prince in the corner.

Bazemore will often run that same side pick-and-roll when the Hawks decide to run their SLOB offense for him:

Bazemore and Miles Plumlee have developed a nice chemistry within the offense and they show it off once again in the above clip, in which Plumlee steps into the ball screen for Bazemore and hits the layup on the roll.

The Hawks get more creative with Marco Belinelli, who doesn’t have the playmaking or at-the-rim scoring chops of some of his younger teammates but can knock down a jumper on the move better than just about anyone on the team. Atlanta leverages this skill within the same SLOB set to get Belinelli jumpers that are open enough for him to knock down:

Belinelli inbounds the ball to Isaiah Taylor and makes the same Iverson cut we see in the other clips, but this time, Taylor doesn’t look for Belinelli immediately. Instead, Taylor enters the ball to John Collins at the elbow and cuts through to the corner. Belinelli wheels around from the opposite wing and takes the handoff in what’s called “Chicago”, where a guard comes off one down screen and then gets a handoff from a second big man. In the above clip, Belinelli comes back behind a Cavanaugh screen and receives the ball from Collins.

Another wrinkle of this set involves the point guard also screening for Belinelli, giving him as much separation from his defender as possible for the jumper:

Atlanta will only do this if they have to, as it clutters up that side of the floor, but when Paul George is guarding Belinelli, the Hawks have to throw as many screens at him as possible to get Belinelli the opening he needs.

To keep the defense honest, the Hawks don’t always go to the Iverson cut; they’ll sometimes revert back to the play from last year, in which the guard at the top of the key receives a double-high screen from the two big men at the elbows. One big rolls, the other pops, and someone is usually open:

This double-high screen was the only SLOB set the Hawks ran consistently last season, but this year has come with some new ideas and different tactics to get their players in the best positions to score. It’s worked—the Hawks rank second in the league in points per possession in SLOB offense after ranking 25th last season.

Overall, the Atlanta offense has struggled this season, though they’ve made some advancement on that end over the last few weeks. These SLOB situations arise a few times every game—conjuring up a set that consistently produces good looks is an important part of Budenholzer’s job.

All stats are courtesy of Synergy unless otherwise noted.