Babbitt Impacting Hawks With More Than Just Three-Point Shooting

Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images
Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

About an hour before a Hawks home game earlier this season, Luke Babbitt finished his stretching. As he stood on the baseline and waited for his turn to shoot, two boys, maybe 12 or 13 years old, hollered from about 50 feet away.

"Hey Luke!"

Babbitt nodded, and the boys seemed pleased and emboldened.

"Can we take a picture with you?"

A courtside usher quickly turned and put the kibosh on the attempt. 

"You can't...," she said, and the boys complied so fast that she left the rest of her sentence unspoken.  A moment later, Babbitt, who was waiting for his turn to shoot while some teammates finished their warmups, glided over quietly – perhaps wordlessly – and put an arm around each kid while making a small smile for the photo. 

Then he went back on the court and got in his pregame shooting work. He hoisted shots, mostly threes, and the vast majority of them were taken in motion with a footwork pattern mimicking a facet of game action (such as drifting into the corner, running a pick and pop, etc.)  How many shots are there in a 10-minute warmup done with coaches and rebounders? Each of Babbitt's misses was jarring and that's because, by my count, he missed two.  The shots themselves were beautiful: Left-handed, repeatable, with an emphatic wrist and forearm action that made them looked effortless. Babbitt only missed two shots in the actual game too, scoring 13 points in 11 minutes of a Hawks win. 

Babbitt's jump shot is enough of a weapon that it can open up things for his teammates. The Hawks' offense heated up in November at right around the same time when Babbitt's minutes picked up. In October, Atlanta's offense scored 99.2 points per 100 possessions. In games played since Nov. 1, the Hawks have scored 104.8 points per 100 possessions – and over the same timeframe, Babbitt has connected on 31 of 61 threes (50.8 percent).  

While Babbitt is a nearly unparalleled shooter, it may be the ways in which he leverages that skill that are worth discussing a bit further. 

First and foremost, he makes space. Watch what happens when he makes an off-ball cut:

Dennis Schröder and John Collins run a pick-and-roll. Schröder passes, Collins catches and drops in a layup. Simple, right?

But watch it again and take note of the back corner (and keep in mind that Babbitt had just made two threes in the previous three minutes). LeBron James is guarding Babbitt but lingering close enough to jump in on a play at the rim. As the pick-and-roll unfolds, Babbitt glides up out of the corner. James goes with him, as does any chance of a help defender getting in the paint to slow Collins.

Babbitt makes space when he works closer to the ball too. Check out his positioning on this pick-and-pop play with Marco Belinelli.

Not only has Babbitt made a sidestep move that took him a number of feet horizontally from the original screen, but he is also a few feet behind the three-point line. To challenge this type of shot, defenders have to make a strong commitment that inhibits them from helping to defend on other Hawks. (Also worth noting: this shot went in.) 

Babbitt has a wonderful, symbiotic relationship with his point guards. Plays like the one above create space for his point guards who, in turn, drive and kick for the shots that make him such a weapon. His presence is part of the reason Schröder leads the league in drives per game and points per game from drives, and Schröder's drives helps Babbitt get open threes.

"Luke just adds that unique dynamic of a knockdown three-point shooter that everybody has got to honor," Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said. "It creates opportunities not just for himself, but for his teammates."

Babbitt can do a lot more than station himself in the corner too. He also works well as a screener. A quick glance at the most efficient roll pick-and-roll players from around the NBA shows that vast majority of efficient rollers, like DeAndre Jordan or Clint Capela, are big players who catch lobs and do other things close to the rim. Babbitt is efficient (89th percentile, 1.38 points per possession), on the other hand, by popping out and pulling the defense apart from its core, but he can mix things up with some rolls toward the hoop, too. 

On those pick-and-rolls, Babbitt is as equally proficient at setting a physical pick… 

…as he is at slipping the screen and making the defense react to him.

Defenders charge hard when Babbitt gets the ball with space on the perimeter, and he has countermeasures.

"(He has) a little bit of a dribble-drive, pullup game," Budenholzer said. "Early in his career, he played some small forward, so he has got some ball skills that are a little bit unique for a big guy."

Babbitt echoed that sentiment.

"The first couple of years when I was in Portland, I was handling it a lot and coming off screens," he said. "Now, I'm more of a screener, but I guess those skills stay with you."

While Budenholzer praised Babbitt for being an elite shooter, he didn't stop there. As much as anyone, the head coach realizes all of the other things that Babbitt brings to a basketball court. 

"I love how hard he plays," Budenholzer said. "He gives you everything on every possession on both ends of the court. He is just fitting into the way we play in a good way and having a really positive impact in a lot of different areas."

Luke Babbitt may never be the player who racks up the most highlights. He won't be the player who garners the lion's share of media attention for a game. But quietly and efficiently, Babbitt will give the Hawks a consistent effort of winning basketball plays from beyond the limelight.