Offensive Staples: Atlanta Hawks Pindown
This offseason series will look at plays from each team that they relied on throughout the year and the variations they ran off each set. To see the rest of the series, click on the ‘Offensive Staples’ category at the end of this post.
Our series continues with a look at the Atlanta Hawks and their pindown screens they run for their guards. This is a simple set, with one screen being the majority of the action (often the only action), so we are going to dive deeper into the variations instead of focusing on the main set.
We first need to understand the staple set though, to understand the variations the Hawks run out of this initial action. The key action is a pindown screen for a guard, be it Kyle Korver, John Jenkins or others, run organically or out of the flex action.
Here is a frame that shows the typical action. The Hawks clear out all but two players, the screener and the player using the screen. Although the Hawks sometimes run this player off of a double screen, the majority of the time only one screen is set. The rest of the players clear out to the opposite side to allow the shooter room to operate.
What Jenkins and Korver are great at are setting their defender up to run into the screen which gives the space to make the catch. They then have super quick releases to get their shot off before the defense can recover. Again, this is a simple action to highlight before we review some of their variations.
In this variation, the Hawks do have two players setting the initial pindown screen. The defender guarding the Hawk using the screen, Quentin Richardson, jumps over the top of the pindown and cuts off the action, preventing Jenkins from going any further.
When Jenkins sees this, he curls through the lane and takes himself out of the play, which triggers the second option. The bottom screener on the pindown then flashes to the high post for the entry pass.
In the frame below, you can see how the defender, Chris Copeland, is playing on the bottom of Anthony Tolliver. Copeland is expecting the play to go to Jenkins but when Tolliver sees Jenkins curl through the paint, he flashes to the elbow.
Copeland is caught off guard and Tolliver is able to find the space at the elbow. The play is set up for the top screener to set a screen on Copeland and the screener does just enough to force Copeland to take a longer route to close out on Tolliver, which allows enough time for Tolliver to knock down the shot.
This is an effective variation the Hawks run when they have two screeners and the pindown screen is blown up by the defender anticipating the cut. It needs to be timed perfectly, so that the defender guarding the screener who flashes to the top is caught off guard. The Hawks time it perfectly in this example and it leads to an open jump shot.
The second variation also comes out of a double screen on the pindown but adds an extra wrinkle with a called variation on the set. This option, designed for Josh Smith, appears to be by design, as Korver is not looking for his shot off the screen. The defense plays the initial screen well but Korver immediately looks to where Smith is coming off the second set of screens.
Look at how the help defense is positioned once Korver comes off the initial pindown. They are positioned nicely to help on any drive but they are exposed for the Smith action.
The two screeners who set the initial screen then turn and set a second set of screens for Smith. The defenders are not in position to defend this set of screens, which allows Smith to curl into the paint, where he is a dangerous scorer.
Our final variation goes back to the typical pindown set, with one screener on the block and shows a second variation of what the offense can do when the defense jumps over the top of the screening action.
The defense has a bit of a miscommunication here, as Damien Wilkins goes over the top of the screen, while Evan Turner also steps out on Korver. Once the Hawks see this by the defense, Devin Harris cuts to the right side of the floor and receives a screen from Al Horford.
Since Turner stepped out to slow down Korver, he has too much ground to cover to close out on Harris. This, plus the extra distance to cover due to the screen, gives Harris a wide open look but he is able to convert the opportunity. This again is a read option by the Hawks once they see that the defense has overplayed the initial action.
How to defend
The difficulty in defending this play is the ability for the Hawks players, especially Korver and Jenkins, to use the screen to create space and release their shots quickly before the defense recovers. Often, the best the defense can hope for is a contested shot, especially on a long two point shot. The primary defender needs to fight over the screen and stay attached to the offensive player’s hip to give them as little space as possible. They might still get a shot but if the defense can force a contested, long two point shot, that’s great defense.
As we saw, if the defender attempts to circumvent the screen, the Hawks have several options they can run to exploit the defense. More often than not, there is little screening action prior to the pindown, so that’s why the best way to defend this set and to take away the variations is to have the primary defender stay as close as possible to the player using the screen.