Even with this season’s relatively limited personnel, Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer has continued to prepare his team for key dead ball situations that pop up throughout the game. I covered their sidelines out of bounds offense a few weeks ago and now it’s time for their after time-out (ATO) sets, which offer a bit more variation and usually score well for the Hawks.
Atlanta currently ranks sixth in ATO efficiency, scoring 95.5 points per 100 possessions on these sets. ATOs comprise about 14 percent of possessions league-wide and there’s a significant difference between the top and the bottom: the best teams score almost 20 points better on ATOs than the worst. 20 points across 14 percent of total possessions adds up to almost three points per 100 possessions, a difference that could vault a team from the mid-20s in overall offensive rating to the top ten.
The familiar Iverson cut makes its return in the Hawks’ ATO playbook. As with their SLOBs, Atlanta has found a lot of success running their guards on Iverson cuts across the court to find openings in the defense. They have a lot of different options out of their Iverson series and break them all out at various moments, depending on what the defense shows. The most basic is when Dennis Schröder, or any guard in his position, takes the ball straight to the basket:
When the second screener on the Iverson cut is a shooter, it’s very difficult for the opposition to defend both Schröder and that shooter. In the above clip, Ersan Ilyasova pops out to the three-point line and Schröder has a free lane to the basket. If the guard isn’t open on the Iverson cut, the Hawks can come back to him later, with this “Chicago” action that gets Delaney into the lane and an open three-pointer for Tyler Cavanaugh:
Delaney initiates the play with his cut from the right wing to the left wing, where he would normally receive the ball from Marco Belinelli. Delaney wasn’t immediately open, so Belinelli went the other way, entering the ball to John Collins at the right elbow and Atlanta runs the Chicago action to get the ball back to Delaney, in which Cavanaugh sets a down screen for Delaney, who immediately gets a handoff from Collins.
Almost every team uses Chicago to get their ball handlers to the middle of the floor, as defenders usually have a hard time navigating the down screen and handoff in succession. Once he’s in the middle of the floor with a live dribble, Delaney has his pick of openings: he can take the shot himself, find Collins on the roll, or hit Cavanaugh on the pop, as he does in the above clip.
The Chicago action is a popular tool for the Hawks to find openings on their ATOs. See below how they transpose out of a traditional Horns alignment into the Chicago action:
As Delaney brings the ball down the court, Cavanaugh clears out to the right corner and Ilyasova flashes to the right elbow, where he receives the ball. Delaney clears to the right corner as Cavanaugh lifts to the right wing and Tyler Dorsey, previously in the left corner, cuts up behind a down screen from Kent Bazemore and gets the ball from Ilyasova on the handoff, just like Delaney did in the previous video. Dorsey takes the handoff at full speed in the middle of the floor and rises up for the jumper, leaving his defender too far behind to adequately contest.
Another play based on this Chicago action starts in much the same way but transposes into something very different once the ball is entered to the right elbow. I’ve named this one “Double Away Counter Down”, though I’m sure the Hawks have a less complicated name for it when Budenholzer calls for it during a timeout or live play.
Watch Ilyasova in particular: he receives an initial down screen as if he’s going to be the ball handler in the Chicago action, then counters to set his own down screen for the guard, who completes the Chicago action with the big man at the elbow. Ilyasova rolls off his down screen but then pops back out behind a down screen from the big man who handed the ball to the guard:
There’s a lot going on here, but all of the initial action is just window dressing for the eventual down screen for Ilyasova. In each of the above plays, Ilyasova moves under the basket and the Chicago action gets the ball to the guard in the middle of the floor, but it’s all a distraction for Ilyasova to reverse course and pop out for his own shot.
All of the movements before the simple down screen are important, as each man plays his part in putting the defense off balance and unaware that the ball will end up in Ilyasova’s hands. In every instance, Ilyasova’s defender was just a beat behind, figuring out far too late that his man would be wide open for a three-pointer.
There are plenty of other plays the Hawks like to run out of timeouts as Budenholzer continues to innovate and tweak the sets he and his staff see in games at every level to fit Atlanta’s personnel. They don’t always run something complicated out of a timeout (they’ll frequently get into their motion-based offense out of standard timeouts), but when they need a bucket, they usually turn to something in the Iverson or Chicago family to get the job done.