Breaking Bud Part Two: The Backcourt
For Part Two of our “Breaking Bud” series, we will look at the Hawks backcourt and how some of the key players will fit in to Coach Mike Budenholzer’s¬†system. For the purposes of the breakdown, small forward is being included as part of the backcourt because, as Bud told me, “Offensively, in the system, there’s not a lot of difference between the two and the three as far as fitting into the motion.”
The Hawks backcourt had the fewest changes made to it this offseason with Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver being re-signed and will have Lou Williams returning from his ACL injury at some point this season (still no timetable). The most notable additions to the backcourt were DeMarre Carroll on the wing and rookie point guard Dennis Schr√∂der. These five players figure to play the majority of the minutes at point guard, shooting guard and small forward.
Bud says he expects Korver to get most of his minutes at the two this season rather than the three, which, as Korver says, is fine with him.
“Yeah, it’s kind of the same thing [playing the two and the three]. It really makes no matter to me at all. It’s on the wing.”
Carroll figures to be the starter at the three and play the majority of the minutes, and with Korver spending much of his time at the two, Bud says training camp will be important in finding another player that can take minutes at small forward as he plans on playing a traditional lineup.
“[Kyle's] length and size at the two is really valuable, along with his shooting, and DeMarre can guard twos or threes, so those two together can be a good combination, and they match-up with however it is we feel is best for them to match-up,” Budenholzer said. “We need to develop depth, at both the two and the three. Going into camp and looking at the roster and looking at the group, I think we’ll be a little more traditional and let our bigs play big and our smalls play small.”
Korver will fit perfectly into Bud’s system as the floor spacer for the pick-and-roll. As noted in Part One, the Spurs got 21.48 percent of their points off of spot-up shot attempts, with many of these being corner threes. The Spurs created the third-most corner three-point opportunities in the NBA last season with 635 corner three attempts (per NBA Stats).¬†18.4 percent of their shot attempts outside the paint came from the corner three, and three-pointers accounted for 50.8 percent of all of their shots outside the paint in 2012-13 (per NBA Stats). The Hawks were ninth in the league with 521 corner three attempts (14.2 percent of non-paint attempts), so Korver, and the rest of the perimeter players, can figure to see a spike in their corner three attempts this season.
The corner three has, in recent seasons, become one of the most sought after shots in the NBA due to it being incredibly efficient and for the spacing advantage offenses receive from having shooters in the corners. Another part of the reason for the popularity of the corner three is that they are almost exclusively a creation of ball movement (95.4 percent of made Spurs corner three were assisted. 97.7 percent of made Hawks corner threes were assisted). As Bud explains, having shooters in the corners is a vital part of his pick-and-roll offense.
“Well having really, really high-level shooters like Kyle Korver and John Jenkins is really critical to a good pick-and-roll game,” Bud said. “They create that space, and the defense has that tough decision between leaving them and helping on a roller or helping on a situation and leaving them open on a shot, or not helping and someone else is open. So, Kyle and John and the elite shooters all make your pick-and-roll attack that much better.”
For Korver, this offense is the perfect situation, and, as he explained to me at media day, he’s admired the Spurs’ system from afar for his whole career.
“Well, I feel like I was trying to play for San Antonio for 10 years,” Korver said. “That same offense is coming here! It’s all predicated on early pick-and-roll, having someone who can get to the basket, collapse in, having good spacing, knowing when to cut, knowing when to space out. You’ve got to have guys that know how to play the system, but I think we have a good mix of guys with different skill sets, where pieces do seem to fit together well.
You know there’s certain teams out there where you go, ‘Man, that guy gets so many wide open shots.’ And you still gotta make them and they’re not gonna be there every night, but San Antonio always has good shooters and they’ve brought in good shooters. But there’s always been good spacing and Danny [Green] shot the lights out in the Finals. He hit some tough shots too, it wasn’t like he had six seconds to line up his fingers and shoot em, and he played his butt off in the Finals. But, yeah man! That’s a big part of this offense, shooting threes. I think you’re going to see our bigs shoot some corner threes. Corner threes is a big part of what we do, whether you’re the point guard or the center, we’re going to find our guys out there for corner threes. It’s going to be fun.”
The other key player on the wing, Carroll, is known more for his defensive prowess than his shooting stroke. A career 42.8 percent shooter (28.4 percent from three), Carroll has said that his biggest focus this offseason and training camp was to become a more consistent threat from the corner three. He showed that he’s been working on it during the first game of the Hawks’ open scrimmage, knocking down a pair of three-point shots. While Carroll’s not much of a shooting threat, he thrives in transition and on cuts to the basket. Carroll shot 64.6 percent in transition last season and 65 percent on cuts to the basket. Bud says that improving his shooting will be important, but that they will take advantage of those strengths.
“It’s going to be important to us that DeMarre Carroll, and really everybody else, has the ability to space the court and make shots, but I think we’ll also find ways to take advantage of his ability to cut and read and play basketball while still maintaining good spacing and good discipline,” Bud said. “I think the fact that we have a lot of bigs that are good shooters will also give us some options to do different things with spacing and shooting. So, you add all those things up and hopefully you have an offense that’s hard to guard, but you definitely have to have shooting surrounding our pick-and-roll attack.”
For Carroll, Korver and the rest of the players playing on the wing, they will spend much of their time moving from one side of the floor to the other, via baseline cuts, and come off of a number of different screens like pin-downs, elevator screens, or triple-screens. Spotting up in the corner and at the top of the key are often the end result of these screens.
Off-ball screening is a crucial aspect of Bud’s offense for all of the backcourt positions, and is one of the reasons for the success of the Spurs’ pick-and-roll attack. This off-ball screening action is one of the reasons Bud feels Teague will naturally get better in his system because pick-and-roll looks are not as straight forward as walking the ball up the court and running a high pick-and-roll. The point guard is often screened off the ball, with another guard or a big acting as the trigger man on the wing or at the top of the key, and will get the ball to the point guard coming off of a screen prior to getting into the pick-and-roll action. Bud discussed what advantages this motioning and screening gives the offense.
“Philosophically or big picture wise the more you can move the ball and move the defense, make them guard multiple screens and make them guard the ball moving side the side, it just makes it so once you do make them play pick-and-roll, you know every defense has it’s coverages, assignments, and responsibilities, and the more you move them¬†the more chance there is for the defense to not be as sharp or as perfect in their rotations, in their assignments,” he said. “They may be dealing with a screen and have just dealt with a screen, they may be moving and now the pick-and-roll happens and you’ve made it more difficult on the defense.”
Bud’s system has many ways of working his point guard off of screens prior to the pick and roll. One such play design is this:
As the point guard brings the ball up the floor, he gets it to the big, acting as the trigger man for the set, at the top of the key. The point guard pushes his man down to the elbow before breaking across the free throw circle to the other elbow. As he comes across, the shooting guard comes in and sets a screen for the point guard before cutting towards the center on the baseline. The center comes up the floor diagonally, receiving a screen from the shooting guard, to begin the pick-and-roll set. The small forward pushes down into the corner for spacing and the power forward gives the ball to the point guard.
Once the point guard has the ball, he quickly goes into a pick-and-roll with the center and the two guard runs up to the top of the key, getting a pin-down from the power forward. By doing all of this with pace, the defense is forced to react to four screens quickly on one set which, as Bud pointed out, often pulls players out of position. The point guard is then given many options to drive, dish to the roller, or kick it out to shooters at the top of the key or in the corner depending on how the defense reacts to the screens.
Another aspect of Bud’s offense that can be seen here is how guards are frequently used as screeners for fellow guards and bigs to create as much defensive shifting and switching as possible. This also puts pressure on defending guards to execute something they are not asked to do as often, defend the screener rather than fight through a screen.
In Part One I mentioned Teague’s relative struggles as a pick-and-roll point guard and how Bud shrugged that off and said he expects the system to make Jeff a more efficient pick-and-roll player. Talking with Teague about the difference in Bud’s pick-and-roll offense, primarily coming off of screens prior to the pick-and-roll, Jeff showed an understanding of the task at hand and seems to have bought in totally to the benefits of the design to Bud’s system.
“[Coming off screens before the pick-and-roll] definitely gives you more options,” Teague said. “Instead of just coming down and setting a screen-and-roll, you’re coming off pin-downs and still have options off those, then coming off pick-and-roll it makes the defense adjust and you gotta shift them and do different things. That was the biggest thing for me was, I had to get my conditioning up. I was used to, you know, throw it in the post a couple of times, maybe run a high pick-and-roll, but now to be running off triple screens and then going into a pick-and-roll you’ve got to be in great shape. Like, seeing Tony Parker do that a whole game, now I appreciate what he does.”
Conditioning for the pace of the offense will be a crucial part of training camp for all of the players, and Teague showed that he’s been studying this offense and what it will change for him in terms of positioning and how he will be used. Teague continued by discussing how the spacing Bud’s system provides, coupled with the shooters on the team, will make his job much easier and the Hawks tougher to guard.
“It’s great [having so many people that can score on the court], he said. “Getting Korver back to spread the floor like he does, and then having Lou come back all those guys that can really score the basketball, it really makes my job a lot easier. I know I can get to the rim and do things like that, but when I put pressure on and I can kick it out to Kyle and all the great shooters we do have, we’re a tough team to guard.”
Rookie Schr√∂der will enter the season as the back-up point guard to Teague. Schr√∂der made a big impression on coaches, front office personnel, the media, and most anyone in attendance at Las Vegas Summer League this past July. Schr√∂der, somewhat like Carroll, comes in with a defensive reputation and has great length and quickness for a point guard. At just 19, he has plenty to develop in his offensive game, particularly jump-shooting and finishing at the rim, but showed very good court vision, was terrific in transition, and worked well in the pick-and-roll, especially with fellow rookie Lucas Nogueira (who will spend this season in Spain). ¬†Schr√∂der appeared to possess a great deal of patience in letting the play develop off of pick-and-rolls and was adept at drawing the big towards him one extra step to allow an easier roll to the basket.
Coach said that it was likely that the Hawks would look at using two point-guard lineups at times this season, depending on the match-ups, and with Lou out early there will be minutes to fill at guard. Schr√∂der’s defensive ability is going to be what, early on, earns him minutes as he continues to develop and become a more consistent offensive player, according to Coach Bud.
“[Schr√∂der] has a knack or an ability defensively to really have an impact on the game,” Bud said. “I think with his quickness and his length he can bother, he can really guard. There are so many pick-and-rolls in a game, and he’s shown the ability to be hard to screen. It’s not easy, he’s going to have to stay committed, he’s going to have to work hard, to be not-screenable, but he has that and that’s what’s most exciting about him is his defense. He’ll be earning his minutes and earning his role by having an impact on the game defensively.
We would like to have [Schr√∂der pressure the ball-handler full-court] really all the time. There will be some situations where that might not be appropriate, you know, game plan or clock, but more often than not we want him pressuring and really letting the ball feel it and impact it early in the clock.”
The return of Lou Williams from ACL surgery at some point this season will add an extra dimension to the Hawks lineup. Bud thinks that Williams will be able, like Teague, to adapt to the system naturally.
“Lou’s a heck of a player in all ways, shapes, and forms, so we’ll all as a group look forward to having him back,” Bud said. “I think he can play a couple of positions and his ability to play pick-and-roll and to put him in some more pick-and-rolls where you can have multiple guys on the court that can initiate and have the ball swing to them and have another pick-and-roll, the more guys we get like that who are efficient and good in pick-and-roll the better. I think he’ll add that dynamic and he can play one-on-one, he can get a basket. He’s a unique, dynamic scorer that will take some of the strengths from his career and what he’s done to this point and hopefully add to it. Again, I think the natural flow of the system will put him in a lot of situations and a lot of opportunities to be good.”
Having two players that can operate pick-and-rolls is something that Bud’s offense likes to take advantage of. In San Antonio, the Spurs would often have Parker or Manu Ginobili begin a set running pick-and-roll with the opportunity to, as Bud said, swing the ball to the other side and have the other guard run pick-and-roll. Those kinds of sets are another example of how Bud’s system uses pace and motion to move the ball from side-to-side quickly and provide multiple options within each set. Each player I’ve spoken to has referenced how Bud’s system gives every player touches and how excited that makes them that, no matter their role, they can expect to have offensive opportunities.
When we look at the front-court in Part Three, we will further explore the Hawks ability to mix up pick-and-roll combinations with their versatile combination of bigs like Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
Click here to read Breaking Bud Part One
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