The Atlanta Hawks have carved out one of the most unique niches in the league over the last two seasons by building an offense that seems specifically built around catch-and-shoot scoring. Through 7 games, the Hawks lead the league in points off of catch-and-shoot attempts by over three points per game, and score over 12 ppg more than league average on these opportunities. For perspective, roughly 1/3 of all of their FGAs are considered catch-and-shoot. They are also second in points created off of assists per game, second in drives per game — yet they’re in the middle of the pack at secondary assist opportunities. On the flip side, only 21% of their FGAs come off of scoring moves that require more than two dribbles and they are second to last in the league in pull-up jumpers.
The statistics reveal a very deliberate structure to their offense: look for catch-and-shoot opportunities and avoid over dribbling. In other words, they look for a majority of their scoring to come from off-ball action. The primary ball handler — usually Jeff Teague — plays the role of the probe, while the off-ball players use an endless array of screens and cuts to get open shots. This style fits the Hawks personnel very nicely. The roster lacks a true superstar, but they have several of the leagues best shooters at each position. Kyle Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott are all in the top 50 in catch-and-shoot ppg, and each of them shoot over 47.8% on these FGAs.
The system isn’t only a result of the player’s skill set, Coach Mike Budenholzer has installed offensive sets that are built around an unrelenting amount of off ball screens, short cuts, flare screens and pin downs. They begin most offensive sequences by reversing the ball through a forward who then screens the opposite guard. One of the things that makes this simple action so effective is the screeners are very good at reading how the defense is playing the screen and they adjust on the fly. In this clip, Horford reads the defender jumping the screen and immediately reverses his positioning to set a flare for Teague who gets a great look at an open three-pointer.
The Hawks are constantly looking for opportunities to set double screens and the forwards are incredibly adept at reading Scott, Carroll and Korver when they change direction, positioning themselves for double screen opportunities. In this clip, the initial ball reversal is denied so the Hawks quickly break into HORNS. The Hawks set the double screen for Korver but he elects to short cut the screen, since Iman Shumpert overplays him. This causes Tim Hardaway Jr. to jump into help and frees Carroll to flash to the ball for an open three. Unfortunately, Carroll does a very un-Hawks-like thing and passes up the open catch-and-shoot three and takes three dribbles into a contested floater that misses. This set seems straight forward, and for the most part it is. But what makes it effective is that the Hawks read and react to these types of adjustments very nicely. Korver short cuts which tells Carroll to flash and they both do so without hesitation.
One reason the Hawks look for catch-and-shoot opportunities so frequently is because they don’t have an elite isolation scorer. This season, Carroll and Millsap have developed the bad habit of taking low-percentage isolations late in the shot clock, but I suspect those possessions will become fewer and fewer as the team regains the form they had going into the playoffs last season. In this clip, the Hawks run their usual ball reversal action but are unable to get the ball back in Teague’s hands with the away screen. Millsap becomes the release and after two awkward, useless dribbles, he passes to Carrol who hesitates and is forced into an ill-fated isolation.
These isolations are few and far between for the Hawks and they are at their best when they avoid them all together. Their strength is in their ball movement and their philosophy that everyone has a green light to catch-and-shoot. In this final clip, Pero Antic comes out of the post to set a corner ball screen. The Knicks run “Ice,” and Antic abandons the screen in favor of a spot-up. Not every team can make their center a threat to shoot the three, but the Hawks’ strength is in their forwards ability to make quick reads and to become catch-and-shoot threats when the situation calls for it.
Budenholzer was an assistant under Gregg Popovich for 16 years before joining the Hawks. Their connection goes even deeper as Popovich recruited a young Budenholzer to play for him at Pomona-Pitzer back in the 80’s. Pop’s influence is very noticeable in Budenholzer and the system that he has built most closely resembles the Spurs. It’s the constant wave of screens, drives, flares, cuts and off ball movement that forces the defense to read and react over and over again and highlights a roster of high IQ, talented shooters who have bought in to an offense that aggressively looks for catch-and-shoot opportunities. Budenholzer has taken that strategy and adjusted it for his team’s strength and as a result, the Hawks produce a unique brand of basketball that gets a catch and shoot FGA on nearly half of their possessions.