The Atlanta Hawks entered the Christmas break with some cheer in the form of their first three-game winning streak of the season thanks to Sunday’s road victory in Detroit. As such, it seems like a good time to look at an aspect of their play that has been mostly positive as of recent. So, let’s glance at what the team tends to run on plays designed during a timeout.
ATO’s, as they are called in the league (after-time-outs), are not always highly designed plays. In fact, some of them are based upon a single, simple objective. We will look at a few examples of those types of plays.
With that said, most teams have a basic package that includes a number of variations of the initial setup of the play. The Hawks’ package primarily consists of high screen action (near the top of the key) or side screen action (near the 3-point break). And where the play starts is highly indicative of the likely objective of the play.
Note the screen in these sets can either be a ball screen or a DHO (dribble hand off). That detail is usually communicated during the timeout and based upon offensive and/or defensive personnel. Atlanta’s players can improvise, though, if needed to switch from one action to the other if the defense denies the space for the desired screen type.
When the screen is set high on the floor, as on this play, one thing to note is what the Hawks are not looking to create: an open shot in the corner. This is a spread formation intended to create as much space as possible for the ball handler and screener/roller to operate in the middle of the floor,
On this play, Jeremy Lin and Alex Len are working in the primary action. Off of the ball Kent Bazemore sets a dummy pin down screen for Vince Carter in an attempt to simply occupy their two defenders. On the other side of the court, DeAndre’ Bembry lifts above the right 3-point break.
If the Brooklyn defenders collapse to the paint in an attempt to deny a good shot attempt and the ball is kicked out to the perimeter, it is understood the shot will come from above the 3-point break. The spacing, should the play reach that development, should be one player at the left 3-point break, one player at the top of the key and one player at the right 3-point break. You can see this group readying for that alignment as the play develops.
Here, Lin is able to use a “snake” technique to get Spencer Dinwiddie on his back as he works to set up and convert a jump shot just inside the free throw line.
In contrast, on this play we see the initial appearance of a screen on the side as Carter and Len run through a dummy DHO. As the play develops, notice how shooters work to the corners (both) and toward the restricted area. The first objective here is a shot at the rim. The second is an open 3-point shot from the corner. And finally if the defense is able to cover all of that, the goal is a simple dump off pass to one of the “bigs” near the rim.
Bembry is able to finish a shot at the rim on this possession.
This is a variation of the package Atlanta can run if the opposing defense starts ignoring the corners on ATOs that start with a side screen. Here, Kevin Huerter is working with Len in the pick and roll. As Huerter attacks the paint with the dribble Bazemore and Trae Young set up in each corner. Carter sets up at the top of the key for the purpose of spacing.
The progression here should to be to look for a shot at the rim, if it’s not there kick the ball to the open man in the corner. If that player has a defender rotate to him in time the ball gets moved to the top of the key where a shot should be available and , if not, there should be an open shooter in the other corner.
Huerter is fouled on a shot at the rim on this play.
This is another example of a play that starts at the top of the key. No Hawks’ players are moving to the short corner. The defense forces the ball to Bazemore at the left three-point break. He attacks the paint and misses a mid-range shot. Because of all of the activity high in the half court Len gets behind all five defenders and gets an easy put back.
Here, we can see another variation where the initial screen action is high but the objective, in this case, is to create an open three-point shot from the corner. The video did not capture all of the action but Len and Huerter initially work in dummy pick and roll action near the top of the key.
Len then works towards Collins for a would-be side screen and role. This set has the objective of confusing the defenders by forcing them to determine whether they should be using the principles to defend the high screen action or the principles to defend the side pick and roll.
Meanwhile, Len steps in after initially setting up in the right corner and sets a cross screen for Bembry who gets the uncontested shot from the right corner, which he converts.
You may recall the Hawks running this play for Taurean Prince on the first offensive possession of many games early in the season.
We see another variation on this play with a different objective. This play has value when the opposing team has deployed a small lineup.
Lin and Len set “staggered” screens for Bembry. The defense appears ready to defend the high pick and roll. But Len cuts to the basket and gets behind all five defenders. An on-target pass likely would have resulted in an uncontested dunk for Len.
I would not be surprised to see the Hawks to use this set going forward with either Lin or Huerter as the ball handler as they are more accurate on longer passes such as this.
This variation is a side pick and roll with shooters in the corners... a familiar look. But the objective of this play is different in that they are looking to get a big on a small in front of the rim and have smaller player sealed under the backboard.
Collins “slips” the screen and works to the front of the rim. They get the rotations they wanted from the defense and he seals Emmanuel Mudiay under the backboard.
After the ball is worked around the perimeter Bembry is easily able to dribble past the close out of the slower Luke Kornet. The seal by Collins has value in the form of Bembry getting to the rim for the uncontested attempt.
Now let’s take a look at a couple of examples of ATO’s with a very simple objective.
This simple play was designed for the sole purpose of getting a good look for Huerter. The Hawks’ coaching staff has been encouraging him to be more aggressive on offense of recent. And this game had reached almost three minutes of play without him having had many touches and no field goal attempts. So they ran a play specifically to get him a look and, potentially, to signal to the rookie that they have confidence in him.
This play took place late in Sunday’s win over Detroit. At this point in the game, the Hawks were playing very solid defense but they had gotten significantly bogged down on the offensive end. So they run a simple play to let the veteran Carter operate at the elbow. He rewards them with a badly needed bucket.
Perhaps, look for some of these sets when the Hawks host the Indiana Pacers at State Farm Arena on Wednesday evening.