Breaking Bud Part One: The Roster and Bud’s System

Monday, September 30, 2013
By Robby Kalland

San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks

At his first press conference, when he was introduced as head coach, Mike Budenholzer said he would be bringing his system from the Spurs to the Hawks. Coach Budenholzer spoke with last week to discuss the Hawks’ roster, his offensive system and how he sees players fitting into his system. In the first part of a three part series we will look at how the Hawks’ roster was constructed and how it fits into the overall philosophical ideals of Coach Bud on and off the court. Parts two and three will explore in more depth how the backcourt and frontcourt players on the Hawks’ roster will be utilized in the system.

There has been a consistent message from the front office to the coaching staff as to the most important attributes they looked for in players: High character, hard workers. With each free agent signing this offseason this message was repeated. The three major free agent signings, Paul Millsap, Elton Brand and DeMarre Carroll, all come in with reputations of being hard workers with high character. Character and work ethic were two of the major reasons, along with his deadly three-point stroke, why Kyle Korver was brought back and rewarded with a long-term contract.

Character and work ethic have been the talking points all summer for the Hawks when discussing the construction the roster, and speaking with Danny Ferry and Coach Bud, they feel like with players that work hard the system will allow most players to fit in.

“I think Bud’s system or any coach’s system, if a guy plays really hard night in and night out, you give yourself a better chance to succeed,” Ferry said. “There’s a level of competitiveness that you want to have as you put a team together, and I think we’ve been able to add that and maintain that to some degree.”

Throughout the offseason Bud’s system has been a topic of discussion, but often in very vague terms. In talking with Coach and watching a lot of film on the Spurs (As Bud told me: “Yes, there will be a lot of similarities [between what the Hawks will run and the Spurs’ offense].”), I came away with a better understanding of what can be expected of the Hawks’ offense this coming season. Pace, spacing and pick-and-rolls are three of the most fundamental aspects of Bud’s system.

The offense is predicated on motion and forcing the defense to defend the entire width of the court in order to create openings and mismatches. Pick-and-roll/pop accounted for 22.26 percent of the Spurs offense last season and spot-up shot attempts were another 21.48 percent of their offense (per Synergy Sports). In spacing the floor with shooters and his design of pick-and-rolls (something we will explore in more detail in part two), Bud’s offense forces defenses to either play pick-and-rolls straight up or leave shooters to help on the pick-and-roll, which creates open shot opportunities.

When discussing his system, pace is something Budenholzer constantly refers to. Pace is a vital aspect of his offense and not just in getting out in transition, but running half-court sets quickly and with a lot of motion. This was evident in San Antonio last year where, despite being one of the older teams in the NBA, the Spurs ranked 6th in pace last year (the Hawks ranked 13th in pace in 2012-13, per NBA Stats).

The Hawks’ roster reflects the importance of these three factors (pace, spacing, pick-and-roll) to Bud’s system. Korver returns to Atlanta to provide a lethal shooter on the wing for spacing purposes. Along with Al Horford, Millsap and Brand were added to the roster, and all three are athletic bigs that run the floor well, are adept at pick-and-rolls and can space the floor with their shooting ability. Gustavo Ayón is another athletic big man who can provide extra size on the interior, and Pero Antić can further stretch the floor with his shooting ability. Carroll appeals to Bud’s hopes of building a strong defensive identity, and on offense he excels cutting to the basket and in transition. Every move this offseason was calculated in the hopes that Bud’s system will maximize the skill sets of each player.

“Pace and space are going to be important to how we play,” Ferry said at his recent press conference. “Guys that can push tempo, make plays, and knock down shots will be important and are things that I’ll have to look for when making decisions on players.”

Pace was certainly one of the reasons Jeff Teague was re-signed this offseason. Speed has always been one of Teague’s best attributes, but he has struggled at times in pick-and-roll. The Hawks were 18th in the NBA in pick-and-roll offense last season at 0.84 PPP (points per possession), were 21st in pick-and-roll ball-handler scoring at 0.75 PPP, and Teague ranked 120th in the league at 0.72 PPP as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last season. I asked Coach how Teague fits in to his system, being that it is so heavily reliant on pick-and-roll, and Bud was optimistic that in his system Teague will flourish, and pointed to pace as one of the biggest reasons why.

“I think the pace with which we’re playing pick-and-roll and the pace the game is happening and screens are coming, I think it will be a really natural evolution for Jeff to become really efficient and really good in pick-and-roll,” Budenholzer said. “I think the system, the opportunity, the pace, the way that we’re setting screens, and the environment we’re putting him in, I think it will be a really natural evolution for him. I think he’s pretty good already, to be honest with you, and I think he’s going to get better.”

The way the Hawks’ roster was put together it is clear that there is a consistent vision as to the types of players they want. They have added players that fit the ideals of what the organization wants to become on and off the court, and Coach Bud’s system and philosophies are represented in the construction of the roster.

Part Two of our series will look at the Hawks back-court and how Budenholzer will utilize players like Teague, Korver, Carroll, Lou Williams, and Dennis Schröder.

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images

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