Will Additions of Splitter, Tavares Help Hawks Offensively?
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In what way will the Hawks look differently than they did a season ago? What roster change will necessitate the greatest adaption in their style of play?
While DeMarre Carroll may have been the most significant departure from the Hawks roster, the backup center position is likely the most important change from a style viewpoint. Where Carroll's minutes will be replaced by similar 3-and-D players like Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore, many of Pero Antic's minutes will go to newcomer Tiago Splitter, and perhaps even Edy Tavares.
Last season, Antic thrived on offense by setting screens for ballhandlers and slipping out for a jump shot. Splitter's role will be to set a pick and then make himself a target for a pass while stepping toward the rim.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer thinks the change will help put pressure on the rim on offense.
"I think we're going to have just a little more pressure on the rim with both Tiago and Edy, and their ability to roll and collapse the defense and put pressure on the rim and play around the rim," Budenholzer said.
Think of the Hawks' offense like a machine. There are scads of gears and moving parts, and they work well in tandem, but to get the machine moving, someone has to turn the crank to get it running. For the Hawks, cranking up the machine means getting to the rim, and that is a job that has fallen on the shoulders of Jeff Teague, Dennis Schröder and Paul Millsap. Once the Hawks get the ball to the rim, it can be kicked back outside to search for an open shot, but that initial move that causes the defense to react and help is vital to starting the process.
By adding two more players skilled at rolling to hoop on the pick and roll, Budenholzer hopes to ease the burden on his playmakers.
"Between Jeff and Paul, they've had a lot of pressure on themselves to put pressure on the rim, I think Tiago and Edy are going to take a little bit of that off of them."
Below are the 2014-15 shot charts for Splitter (left) and Antic (right). Splitter attempted more than 98% of his shots within 10 feet of the rim. Antic took more than half his shots from behind the three-point arc as a pick-and-pop player. The change should give the Hawks a different look this season, especially when MIllsap and Horford are resting on the bench.
One of the players who stands to make the biggest adjustment is Schröder. Among players with 50 or more games played, he led the league in points per 48 minutes scored at the rim: 12.2. (Teague finished third with 10.6 points per 48 minutes). Having Antic out beyond the arc often afforded Schröder a measure of space in the paint with fewer big bodies around to deter his shot.
Schröder will still get to the rim this season, but in doing so, he will be making far more pick-and-roll plays with Splitter. To get ready for the adjustent, he prepped by studying video of Tiago's former running mate.
"Tiago is a good player," Schröder said. "He did it with the Spurs, and I watched a lot of film of Tony Parker and how they play pick-and-roll. I look forward to playing with him in the pick-and-roll. Either he'll get the pass or I can go to the basket if I'm open."
Shelvin Mack is also ready. He prepped himself for the switch with a month of pre-camp pickup basketball at Philips.
"You definitely need to get ready for the change," Mack said, "especially since my man Pero wasn't rolling to the basket at all. Tiago, he is rolling to the basket every single play, so you have to pick up those habits while we're playing 5-on-5."
Of course, the Hawks can still put together options that involve spreading the floor. Mike Muscala and Mike Scott are both three-point marksman who can spread the floor as power forwards paired with Splitter. Or paired together as big men, Muscala and Scott can do some incredible things, like when they helped erase a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Game 3 against Washington. And that is to say nothing of the two versatile All-Stars that the Hawks have in the frontcount.
"Al is a really good pick-and-pop player. Paul is a really good pick-and-pop player," Teague said. "We try our best to get them to roll, but they're also comfortable at picking and popping."
According to Synergy, the Hawks scored the fourth-most points by roll men last season, 726, with Horford (278) and Millsap (193) contributing the bulk of those points. The addition of Splitter and Tavares only figures to increase that ranking.
Perhaps Teague summed up the change best when he said, "It just adds a new weapon to our offense."
Story by KL Chouinard