The Atlanta Hawks have turned into one of the NBA’s best teams out of nowhere.
One of the biggest reasons for their emergence is their fluid, efficient offence.
In 2013, Atlanta hired former San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer, who has since installed an offence that models the Spurs’ system of spreading the floor and relying on ball and player movement to get good open shots.
SI’s Lee Jenkins profiled the Hawks and spoke to point guard Jeff Teague, who said the system is quite basic and relies on players’ instincts.
He called it “controlled pickup,” explaining:
“We’ve basically got two plays — strong and weak. That gets us into positions, but from there, we all have to make split-second decisions on what we do out of it: maybe a high pick-and-roll, or a dribble handoff, or Kyle coming around a screen. We look at the defence and just do what feels right. Other teams will call out, ‘Thumb four!’ and we know exactly what they’re going to do. No one knows what we’re going to do because we don’t even know ourselves. It’s like controlled pickup.”
The Hawks’ roster allows this offence to work. Teague is speedy and can get into the lane when he wants, Kyle Korver is the deadliest shooter in the NBA, and big men Paul Millsap and Al Horford are versatile enough to roll to the rim or space the floor.
Here’s one play as an example.
On this play, the Hawks work around the ball until Teague comes around on a curl, gets a hand-off from Horford, and initiates a pick-and-roll. It results in an alley-oop for Horford:
As Teague drives with the ball, the player guarding Korver can’t help out because he’ll leave Korver open. Horford gets open because his man has to help stop Teague’s drive, but before Teague makes the lob, he could have hit Millsap open at the top of the key, or swung it to DeMarre Carroll, who was open on the opposite wing because his man has to help on Horford’s roll to the rim.
Here’s another example.
On this play, Atlanta’s ball movement and hard cuts get point guard Dennis Schroder an open three, but there was once again other options. Watch Schroder’s (number 17) movement from the start of the possession to the time of the shot:
Below you can see the path Schroder takes over the course of the possession. He runs from the left wing to the top of the key, cuts through the paint to the baseline, to the right corner, and then shifts to the right wing, where he gives Horford an escape pass because the Kings stopped him from rolling to the basket.
And when Schroder gets the ball, he has the option to hit Korver, who shifts over during the pick-and-roll, at the top of the key:
This type of offence requires the right personnel: good ball-handlers, reliable shooters, versatile big men, and smart players.
Nonetheless, the Hawks are showing that these types of players, even without a superstar, can win a ton of games in the proper system. The Hawks (nor the Spurs) aren’t the first team to utilise this type of offence and make it work, but they are proving how effective it can be.
As long as this system works, expect other teams to try and copy it.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.