Here is a quick introduction to this new post. I will write a weekly NBA advice column throughout the season. Sometimes it will be a strategic Xs and Os. It could be for a player, team, or front-office suggestion.
There is a lot of good things going on in the NBA but every team could use a little advice. This definitely just one person’s opinion and completely unsolicited.
This week’s advice column will feature Xs and Os help for the struggling Atlanta Hawks. A bit of wisdom for coaches to use at the end of close games.
Atlanta Hawks’ Offense
I am aware that that the Atlanta Hawks are coming off a win and scored 120 points but their offense is largely predictable. Good teams will be prepared, especially in the playoffs should Atlanta make it.
When the Atlanta Hawks made the trade for Dejounte Murray in the offseason, it made perfect sense, in theory. Murray would help shore up the Hawks’ perimeter defense and give Trae Young another teammate who can be a playmaker. Freeing up that pressure on Young would allow him to play more freely. But theory does not always come through in practice.
The offense has devolved into a game of Young’s turn, then Murray’s turn. When Young has the ball, Murray is often found standing around the three-point line, where he is a 34.6 percent shooter, and some teams will not be afraid to leave to help in the paint.
Young often stands several feet off the line when the roles are switched. He does pull a defender away because of his shooting threat despite shooting 31.1 percent from deep this year. Ultimately Young is not an active participant when he is off the ball.
None of this mentions that the “offense” the Hawks run has marginalized John Collins. Over the past three seasons, his field goal attempts per game have decreased steadily from 12.2 to 11.9 to 10.1 attempts this year.
The Hawks need to transform their offense and build an actual structure. They need to get more actions with multiple players playing off each other instead of standing around and watching. A few simple actions can involve two, if not three players.
This might be a tall order for Nate McMillan, who is not known for being a creative mind. But coaches are known for stealing from each other. McMillan should swipe a few pages from Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns and even Rick Adelman’s Sacramento Kings playbooks.
McMillan can look at the Pistol actions the seven seconds or less Suns ran a ton. Bringing the ball up with pace, Young can kick ahead to Murray, run off him for a hand-off and receive a ball screen from Collins. Murray can hold onto the ball and come off the Collins screen. It could be interchangeable as well. The Hawks could run this with Bogdon Bogdanovic and DeAndre Hunter as the guards and Clint Capela or Oneyka Okongwu at the big man position.
Add-ons, like double-screens, flares, and staggered pin-downs, could be run on the weak side. But a pistol base can put pressure on defenses as long as the Hawks play with pace.
The last time the Kings made the playoffs, Adelman was running sets from the elbow with guys Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Williams, and Vlade Divac driving defenses insane. The key would be Collins being able to be the facilitator from the elbow.
It is simple, enter the ball into the elbow and play a two-man game between Young and Murray. It opens the door to back cuts, fake the action, and immediately comes off Collins for a hand-off. There are a plethora of options a team like the Hawks can cycle through.
Atlanta has enough talent to compete in the NBA. They are two years away from making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals (you can debate flukey or not) but have yet to be able to build on it. They need to change their offense to be more inclusive and with more movement. That will require buy-in from Young; if they can’t get that, they should consider finding a new face of the franchise.
Defend the Inbounder
Nothing drives me more insane than teams at the end of games leaving the inbounder wide open at the end of games. Too many teams have allowed the inbounder a free look to make the pass.
The idea of not defending the inbounder allows the defense to defend the play with an extra man. That extra-man defender can double anyone coming up for the ball and limit options for the inbounding team.
There is just one issue with this concept; it takes all the pressure off the inbounder. It allows the passer to place the pass just perfectly. There are several examples of the inbounder not being defended which has led open shots at the end of games.
Take a look at this game-winner Joel Embiid hit in the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors. Fred VanVleet started defending the ball but was called back to sit in the paint by Nick Nurse. This allowed Danny Green to see the whole play unfold, and had a clear passing lane to Embiid for the game-winner.
The Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks recently played a game down to the wire, and both teams played the end-of-game inbound entirely differently. First, the Mavs had Luka Doncic turn his back to the ball, and it looked like he was to take anyone that came his way. The problem for the Mavs is that the Bucks set up a backpick lob play for Brook Lopez. You can see on the replay there is zero pressure on the passer as Doncic does not move at all while George Hill drops a pinpoint pass.
On the Mavs’ next possession, the Bucks not only put someone on the inbounder, but they also put seven-foot Lopez on the job. The goal was to ensure no clear lines of sight. The ball still gets inbounded to Doncic, but Spencer Dinwiddie has to put some air on the pass, throwing off the timing a hair and allowing Jrue Holiday to recover.
Not defending the inbounder was a prevailing theme at the end of the Golden State Warriors-Detroit Pistons game. Down three, Steve Kerr drew up a great play but pay attention to Bojan Bogdanovic’s defense against Ty Jerome, the inbounder. He started three feet behind the line and then turned his back to the passer. This allowed Jerome to throw a perfect pass to Anthony Lamb, who hit Klay Thompson for the three.
But the very next day, Kevon Looney fell for the same trap. He was defending the ball, then shaded toward the sideline as Bogdanovic was running that way. Looney never squared back up, so Killian Hayes had a clear passing lane when Saddiq Bey ran up from the baseline and hit the game-winner. It was a tough shot to make, but it was an easy pass to make.
Yes, teams will score game-winners even with someone defending the inbounder, but why should the defense make it easier for the offense? Putting someone on the ball will at least add to the degree of difficulty.
Please don’t take my word for it. Grant Hill threw one of the most incredible passes in the Men’s NCAA Final Four history. He threw a long bomb to Christian Laettner for a game-winning shot for the Duke Blue Devils. Notice that Kentucky elected not to put a defender on the ball.
Hill reminisced about the play with Thomas O’Toole and said, “I was surprised I had such a good view of Christian. I got a clean shot of him”. The lesson should have been learned, but it has not stuck with everyone.
In 2009, the Los Angeles Lakers took game one of the conference finals against the Denver Nuggets by putting Lamar Odom on the inbounder. It forced Anthony Carter to lob up the pass and bought time for Trevor Ariza to come up with a huge steal for the game.
Please, coaches, put a man on the inbounder.
Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men’s national team. Follow him on Twitter,@MoDakhil_NBA.