Whenever a coaching change is made, we immediately wonder what will be different. After five years of Mike Budenholzer’s “the sum is greater than its parts” egalitarian offense, it would be easy to believe that there would be a major change coming via Lloyd Pierce.
Pierce has let it be known that he is building this team first through defense. With that modus operandi leading the way, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see some of the philosophies from Budenholzer’s system bleed into what we’ve seen from Pierce throughout summer league and the preseason.
Selecting Trae Young in the 2018 NBA Draft helped to guide what we will see out of the Atlanta Hawks this year. At the end of the preseason, the Hawks ranked third in the NBA in pace–a measure of the number of possessions a team has per 48 minutes– at 110.6.
Pushing the tempo is going to be crucial in getting easy looks for this young team in 2018-19. Expect an emphasis to be placed on getting the ball up the floor as quickly as possible, even if it leads to sloppiness early.
Most transition opportunities are organized chaos. However, the teams that excel in this part of the game usually have options that they can utilize if the initial fast break is stopped. This is known as the secondary break.
Pierce has a couple of quick hitters that flow from the secondary break.
The first is a staple of Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense, the spread pick-and-roll. Two players are slotted in opposite corners, one on the wing above the break, and the final two are positioned at the top of the key.
This play will likely see Trae Young as the ball handler and one of Dewayne Dedmon, John Collins (when he returns), or Alex Len acting as the screener. Collins gravity comes from his abilities to roll to the basket and play above the rim, whereas Dedmon and Len have the ability to either cut to the lane or pop back to the perimeter following the screen. As a unit, the Atlanta big men have the 8th best roll gravity (weighted for projected minutes played) of any NBA team.
Spacing the court with shooters like Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, Tyler Dorsey, and potentially rookies Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman should help the Hawks really flourish in this set. If the defense pays too much attention to the players involved in the screen it leaves a shooter open.
The next secondary break set Pierce chooses to use is one that Atlanta fans should know well. During his five-year stint, Budenholzer would use this action to create easy looks for Kyle Korver.
The floor is aligned similarly to the spread pick-and-roll except the ball handler is stationed closer to the sidelined than the middle of the floor.
As the ball comes across half court, both bigs sprint into a double screen for a shooter in the corner. The shooter jets around both screens into a hopefully open look from deep. If not, the big that set the second screen and the shooter flow into a pick-and-roll to take advantage of the rotating defense.
There will surely be growing pains for this young team, especially with a rookie point guard calling the shots. Yet, letting the team play in the open court is one way to help them get things going.
With the season upon us, keep an eye out for just how fast the Hawks look to play under Pierce.
In the end, all coaches steal from each other. If one team unearths something that works, you can be assured that several of the other 30 NBA teams will soon be running some version of that action eventually. Aside from the plays discussed above, expect to see some dynamics from Brad Stevens’ Celtics after time out sets and Steve Kerr’s Warriors sets sneak into Pierce’s offense as well.
What will ultimately set this team apart from the Budenholzer era is the sheer amount of opportunities these Hawks look to take advantage of within the first five to seven seconds of any given possession. We’ll see in 2018-19 just how impactful that can be.