Dewayne Dedmon's Game Goes Beyond Big Man Moves
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Story by KL Chouinard
When the Hawks hired Lloyd Pierce to be their head coach, Pierce in turn texted Dewayne Dedmon an old photo. The 2014 image showed Pierce, then an assistant coach for the 76ers, playing defense on Dedmon. A rookie at the time, Dedmon spent 20 days with Philadelphia on a pair of 10-day contracts.
“He was guarding me in the post. He was just talking all kinds of s*** about it,” Dedmon said with a laugh. “He was like, 'Yeah, I was locking you up!' “
Surely Dedmon still got his fair share of baskets that day. On the other hand, if the 2014 version Pierce saw video of the 2019 version of his pupil, he might not recognize him. Gone is the player who finished the first two seasons of his career with 14 assists and 72 turnovers. Equally absent is the player who bumped away in the low post while taking over 90 percent of his shot attempts from within a free throw’s distance of the rim.
Dewayne Dedmon has replaced that older version of himself with a elegant, multi-skilled basketball player.
Dedmon expanded his shooting range to the three-point line last season, and he has improved his accuracy this season (71 of 188 threes, 37.8 percent). He is on pace to finish the season with more assists than turnovers for a second consecutive season. He has even bumped his free-throw percentage over 80 percent; at times this season he has been the Hawk picked to shoot technical free throws for the Hawks.
The 29-year-old’s refined skills are perhaps best demonstrated in the three-man dance that the Hawks run when they set a double screen to initiate their offense. Of course, basketball has been and will always be a five-man game. And the core engine of what the Hawks churn out on offense is the Trae Young-John Collins pick and roll. More and more lately, though, the Hawks have put two shooting wings in the corners while letting Trae Young weave his way around a double screen from Dedmon and Collins up top.
“That's a play. I can't tell you what it's called,” Dedmon quipped, acting like James Bond guarding the Queen’s secrets. (Dedmon remains a humor enthusiast.)
The typical setup involves Young moving parallel to the baseline from behind the three-point line while Dedmon and Collins set picks. Most times, Collins rolls to the rim while Dedmon pops out to the three-point line and keeps the defense honest using the threat of his three-point shot. If any opponent tries to send two defenders to Young, Dedmon is there to can a jumper.
“Coach is coaching Trae to his strengths,” Collins said, “giving Trae more options with time and movement. Trae seems to like having options on the fly better than he does being stationary and only having one or two.”
Take, for instance, the play below. Houston typically plays a switching defense where players quickly swap defensive assignments at the point of contact. As Young comes across the first screen from Collins, Collins slips out and rolls to the hoop while both defenders chase Young. Dedmon then steps up and sets a pick that takes out both of them. From there, Young strings out the play and whips a left-handed sidearm pass to Collins for the dunk.
Trae Young isn't going to miss John Collins wide open underneath. pic.twitter.com/OYLz50WjHO— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) February 26, 2019
Setting a double screen has its advantages. If Collins sets a pick for Young and the opposing point guard fights over it, he is usually half a beat behind. At that point, Dedmon can get into the right spot with the second pick to force a switch that leaves the opposing center trying to keep up with the ball skills and shooting of Trae Young, a matchup that usually favors the Hawks.
“Most of the time it's the same unless John is feeling it from three,” Dedmon said of the double screen, “and then he'll pop and I'll roll. It's kind of just, you go with the flow. That's how it works.”
On the next play, Collins and Dedmon do reverse roles, and it’s Trae’s turn to go with the flow.
Dedmon sets the first pick and slips it to roll to the hoop. Young senses the defender overplaying him toward the pick and crosses back before using the second pick.
Clint Capela chases to the rim to prevent an easy layup or dunk. With the quick cross-back and Chris Paul sticking to limit Collins, Young accelerates into space and hits a floater.
While the Hawks often get a head start by slipping screens just as Dedmon did on the play above, Young said that he has enjoyed the clean view of the floor that he has gotten from more physical screen-setting, often on the second half of the double screen.
"Early on in the season, we were telling our bigs not to really set screens but to slip out,” Young said. “Now that they're setting screens, my man is getting behind me, so I'm able to make reads and see what their defenders are doing. If their defender wants to stay hugged up because we have threats in Dewayne and John shooting threes, then I'm able to get to the rim and get to my floater. Or if they're back, I'm able to give them (Dewayne and John) the ball. Our bigs setting hard screens now has really been a big factor."
The double screen is only one part of what the Hawks do. Yet it is a terrific example of what the Hawks can do in an offense predicated on shooting, body movement and ball movement, especially when the largest players on the floor, like Dedmon, rank among the team’s better shooters.
“In my mind it's disguising the three different ways to put them in pick and rolls,” Pierce said. “We have double, we have triple, we have single, obviously. We have dribble handoffs. We have slip-outs. It just depends on what the coverage is that night and what is going to be easiest for Trae – really not for the three, but for what is going to be easiest for him to get downhill.
Pierce is quick to point out that all of the pieces and skills are interconnected. Young has to be able to accelerate to the rim on his drives when defenders chase him over and around screens, but he also has to be able to shoot it from outside when they do not. The wing players need to hit their corner threes, or defenders will lag in to help on drives.
Dedmon has that type of skill to keep defenses uneasy. Since that photo he took with Pierce is 2014, he has become a better shooter, a better passer and a better screen setter. As a result, he has been a key partner for Trae Young and John Collins as they seek to eventually become the best versions of themselves high up in the lofty stratosphere of the league’s best players.