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Strong Pitch mimics the best parts of Double Drag for the Atlanta Hawks

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks have seen a bit of a renaissance in their offensive production in recent months, but that production hasn’t necessarily extended to their after timeout (ATO) sets, where they still rank near the bottom of the league in efficiency on a per-play basis. Atlanta’s normal halfcourt offense is heavily reliant on Trae Young’s brilliance in Double Drag action, as we’ve covered extensively in this space, but one of the keys to Double Drag is how often Young can get going downhill against a not-perfectly-set defense.

Even after a made shot, the Hawks will move the ball up the court quickly, catching defenses off guard as they get matched up. Opponents who crossmatch against the Hawks’ big men will also have trouble as John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon (prior to his season-ending injury) alternate rolling and popping out of their ball screens.

These advantages for Atlanta aren’t necessarily available to them after timeouts, when defenses are wholly set and know exactly what their matchups are. As a result, their normal halfcourt offense is more than four points per 100 possessions better than their ATO offense, which is also roughly five points per 100 worse than league average.

One way they’ve found to mimic the advantages of Double Drag is a set I call “Strong Pitch”, in which a wing sprints off two staggered down screens from the right corner (also known as “Strong” action), then plays catch with Young at the top of the key (“Pitch”). The second screener turns around and sets a ball screen for Young, mimicking the second screen in Double Drag, and works the pick-and-roll with him from there.

It’s not a particularly complicated play, but the Hawks sometimes have to break out some slight decoy action ahead of their pick-and-rolls in order to get Young the space to turn the corner and get into the paint. When a team is trapping ball screens at the top, this play can be particularly useful, as the big man is distracted and isn’t prepared for the eventual pick-and-roll with Young. The shooter’s movement out of the corner also provides as distraction for his defender – the defender in the weak corner crashes in, as he’s supposed to, on the roll, then Young has an easy (for him) skip pass to the open man in that corner, while the defender who stuck with the shooter/pitch man over two screens will likely lose track of his other defensive responsibilities and not help down into the corner.

The same action can also flow into a number of other plays, such as a modified version of the Taurean Prince play, which I’ve written about here. Rather than cutting into the paint off the first of the staggered screens, Prince can go to the top, pitch the ball back to Young, then cut down the middle of the floor, rather than exit out to the left wing. Young would run the ball screen with the big man in the same way he usually does, but this time Prince would exit out to the strong corner (where he started the play) for an open shot. To my eye, it’s not something the Hawks have successfully completed yet this year, but it’s a variation of the same idea that could work in addition to their normal pitch-exit strategy.

There are plenty of other actions they could run out of the same “Strong” trigger, which I’m sure head coach Lloyd Pierce and his staff will integrate into the playbook as they move forward at the helm of the Hawks.