One of the hallmarks of the Atlanta Hawks’ offense over the last six years has been their lack of specific set plays and emphasis on overarching offensive philosophies. Even after changing coaches this past offseason, the reliance on a system, rather than set plays, seems to remain.
The system itself has shifted under Lloyd Pierce’s stewardship, both due to Pierce’s own preferences and the roster he has, but that theme has been retained during his first season in charge. However, that doesn’t mean Pierce and Mike Budenholzer, who made way for Pierce after five years in Atlanta, didn’t also love their set plays, but rather that the Hawks don’t run quite as many of them as other NBA teams.
One play that made it to the court in nearly every game through the first half of the 2017-18 season was nicknamed “The Ersan Ilyasova Play,” rather than some sort of convoluted name to describe everything that was going on. I broke down the Ilyasova Play in more detail last year in a discussion of the Hawks’ after timeout (ATO) plays, if you want the full details of how it worked.
The important aspect, as it relates to this iteration of the Hawks and their set plays, is the predominant idea behind the play. Distracting the defense from a shooter, only to have that guy pop out behind a screen for a 3, is something the Hawks have retained this year with a slight variation on the Ilyasova play, a play I’m calling “The Taurean Prince Play,” since the third-year forward is the most common shooter for whom they run it.
The play begins with the ball handler at the top of the key, two players setting staggered down screens for Prince in the right corner, and the fifth player spacing the floor on the opposite side of the floor. The primary threat is Prince immediately shooting off the two screens, but he curls around the first screen toward the basket.
This is a relatively common cut, usually called “Counter”, and the expectation is that Prince will exit to the left corner and essentially become part of the spacing for the strong-side action happening on the right side of the floor. John Collins, one of the screeners for Prince, steps up into a ball screen for Young, further implanting the idea that the defense should be focused on the two-man action on the right side of the floor.
If Prince were to exit to the left corner, then his defender is responsible for helping on Collins’ roll to the rim, which further distracts the defense from the true goal of the play. Prince wheels around and sprints out behind another screen to the corner, where he’s wide open for a three.
Check it out again, this time with annotations at the key points of the play.
It’s not quite as pretty and doesn’t work as well as the Ilyasova variation of the same idea, mostly because there’s an extra person in the Prince version, but it’s still something that the Hawks have run often during the 2018-19 campaign. It is not specific to Prince — they’ve called the same play for a lot of their perimeter players this season — but he is the most common recipient of this particular play call and that makes sense.
Look for “the Taurean Prince play” the rest of the season, especially in after-timeout situations.