Trae Young and John Collins are broadly considered the best young players on the Atlanta Hawks roster. In early January, I wrote about the type of big man Atlanta should look to pair with Collins in the future. Later that month, I broke down every pick-and-roll Young executed during an 18-game stretch. In that analysis, you can see that the Hawks’ rookie point guard had faced only 20 traps on those 312 possessions.
Well, that has changed of late. Teams are opting to try use the trap to force the ball out of Young’s hands, with the objective to force someone else on the floor to create offense. A part of that is certainly related to the rookie guard’s improved shooting.
Young has made 39 percent of his three-point attempts since Feb. 1. However, it’s not just that; opposing teams want to force someone else to make a play and are banking on the rest of the Hawks being unable to do so.
As such, this piece will be a bit of an overlay of the two articles I wrote in January. In this one, in light of the recent trend of increased traps, we might call this one “Which future big man should the Hawks look to pair with Trae Young?” A significant part of that will be identifying big men that can excel in “short roll” action.
Before we dive in on that, let’s take a look at a few ways that Atlanta is doing as to deal with the trap when opposing teams chose to deploy that scheme.
One way to deal with the trap is simply to take advantage of bad defenders. On this play, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo force Young towards the sideline boundary, which should functionally serve as a third defender, but Dion Waiters allows Kent Bazemore come to the rescue. Waiters, on this possession, should do everything he can to keep his body in between the trap and Bazemore.
Young executes a simple pass to Bazemore, who is able to deliver the ball to Kevin Huerter for an open three-point attempt.
Using multiple screeners in “double drag” (otherwise known as “staggered screen” action) appears to be a favorite of the Hawks’ coaching staff. It’s very hard to trap a ball handler who uses rapid picks to move laterally across the offensive half court. Only the very best of defensive can overcome this. On this play, Bazemore knocks down an uncontested three-point attempt.
Another way to defeat an attempted trap is the use of an aggressive re-screen immediately after the initial screen. On this possession, Alex Poythress demonstrates the technique beautifully. Young gets a defender on his hip and the other defender loses separation and has to track Poythress to the rim. Dewayne Dedmon is the beneficiary on this play as he also converts the uncontested shot from deep.
The Hawks can also just rely on Young’s ridiculously advanced passing skills, as demonstrated on this play. Rodney McGruder is pretty soft in his part of the trap. His hands are not active nor wide and he is not paying particularly close attention to the angle he needs to be managing.
Also, Dedmon sets a solid down screen on the would-be nearest help defender to get Huerter another look from beyond the three point line.
Some might look at these plays and assume the problem is solved. Not quite. What do you not see here? Open shots at the rim.
If the Hawks are going to truly build toward a serious playoff team, they will need the ability to generate open shots at the rim at times when opposing teams deploy the trap.
That means that Atlanta will need big men that can excel in the “short roll” action.
A big man that fits this role is not simply a good ball handler and passer. He also needs to be able to read the entire offensive floor and make the right play before the defense can recover.
So, for this rest of this season, they should let John Collins get as many reps in these situations as possible, in order to assess his ceiling in this area of play. He has the basic raw tools to likely be able to be solid in the “short roll” actions. But notice, I’ve used the word excel intentionally here. How good can he get? Let’s find out.
The same could have been said of Omari Spellman, who has all the necessary offensive skills (at least on paper) to play that role, but he’ll potentially miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Dedmon plays with urgency, but does not necessarily have the ideal skill set to thrive in these actions. With that said, his hands have improved enough to the point where he can be trusted to perform reasonably well in opportunities.
Beyond that, this kind of evaluation should factor significantly into future player acquisitions. And, for context, it should be noted that some of the league’s best performers in “short roll” opportunities were not necessarily lottery picks.