Quin Snyder’s teams in Utah were known for their defense (mostly thanks to Rudy Gobert) but were also some of the most potent offensive groups in the league. They had star players like Donovan Mitchell, but their success really came through ball movement. Under Snyder, the Jazz played a selfless brand of basketball that was unlocked by their pristine spacing and the willingness of each player to move the ball.
Nobody should benefit more from this style than his new point guard, Trae Young. Over his five years in the league, Trae has proven to be a prolific offensive performer. He’s a two-time All-Star, has career averages of 25.6 points and 9.3 assists, and has been the focal point of the Atlanta Hawks attack since he was drafted.
Watch the Hawks play and you’ll see that Young is very ball-dominant, operating out of ball screens more than anyone in the NBA not named Ja Morant. Yet Young, a dazzling shooter in his own right, hasn’t been featured as an off-ball sniper in ways he excelled at in college, even with a new co-star in Dejounte Murray in town. It seems that just what Trae needs is a coach and a system that can keep up his volume of touches and impact but ease the burden on his shoulders to create everything.
Ball movement is a great place to start. Snyder’s teams have been lauded as some of the best passing teams in recent memory, even with All-Star players and high-scoring guards. Many coaches will refer to Snyder’s principle of ball movement as the 0.5 rule, where offensive players have 0.5 seconds to decide what they’re going to do with the ball as soon as they catch it.
The result keeps defenses scrambling around, constantly moving and closing out, until the right shot or driving lane presents itself:
Under Lloyd Pierce and McMillan, the Hawks offense has seen the ball stick in Young’s hands far too often. This season, Trae is third in the NBA among qualified players for average seconds per touch, holding the ball for an average of 5.99 seconds per touch. That’s down from his league-leading 6.3 seconds last year, but still concerningly high.
Regardless of skill level, creation against a set defense is challenging. Teams can blitz Young and force the ball out of his hands, change coverages up on ball screens, and simply load up to protect the paint from the weak side. So many Hawks possessions stall out after a Young ball screen, whether his teammate gets run off the line on a kickout or Young simply cannot separate against strong defense:
In Snyder’s offense, it isn’t the player who creates shot opportunities for his teammates. Instead, the help defense bends and reveals an open man because they have to react to Snyder’s best player being in a great position to score. There is a difference, and it’s about movement and positioning. Rarely under Snyder would you ever see a possession stuck-in-the-mud like the two in the clip above.
The fact that the Hawks have had a top-11 offense each of the past three seasons is a testament to how talented Trae is and how much offensive personnel they have on their roster. But it does feel like they could be unlocked more with a super-charged, team-based approach that doesn’t see so much of a burden placed upon Young.
In theory, adding a second All-Star and potential creator in Dejounte Murray would address this and relieve Young from such a ball-dominant usage. Ultimately, a systems coach like Snyder who is opinionated and won’t bend to his stars will reveal more clearly whether the issues in Atlanta’s underachievement are caused by an inflexible Young or a lack of asset maximization by the coaching staff.
If Young is willing to give up some of those touches, the offense (and he) can benefit as a whole. Right now, the Hawks are dead last in the NBA in three-point attempt rate. Much of that is due to playing Clint Capela and John Collins together, and the sudden shooting regression of Collins this season. But part of it is how much easier the Hawks offense is to defend when Trae is trying to create from a standstill.
Under Snyder, the Jazz led the NBA in three-point attempt rate each of the past two seasons. His deep playbook, modern spacing, and team-based tendencies helped unlock easy catch-and-shoot looks for his group.
As Snyder comes in with six weeks left in the regular season, he won’t have the time to rework the entire playbook and change the whole offensive ecosystem on the fly. We’d expect him to focus more on concepts and principles out of the gate (like ball movement and spacing), then sprinkle in some sets and formations leading into the postseason.
One simple starting point might be with a common motion system that the Hawks flow into with their early offense. Watch the video below with the Utah Jazz: whoever starts the possession passes, cuts through, and then gets the ball off a Zoom action (dribble handoff) on the second-side. If this is Young, it’s a cheap and easy way to get him the ball on the move more often:
Young and Murray play the roles of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, respectively. Trae can still put up superstar numbers and get the ball throughout the flow of offense, but be less stagnant and predictable as he gets the ball on the move. The key will come down to their trust in one another, and in their teammates.
While the long-term future of this roster could use some re-shaping, there are plenty of floor-spacing wings in Atlanta to take advantage of this system. Saddiq Bey is tailor-made for something like this, with his dependable spot-up stroke and theoretically-strong decision-making off the dribble. AJ Griffin’s overall scoring blends well, Bogdan Bogdanovic is versatile enough to put the ball on the deck, and De’Andre Hunter provides value spacing the floor.
Snyder has familiarity with this organization. He was an assistant coach here for a number of years, which allowed him to work with current assistant general manager Kyle Korver. Korver notes that Snyder has the “most creative mind” he’s come across. Perhaps that brilliance can result in more whacky, innovative set plays to get Trae some open triples coming off screens... just like he used to do for Korver.
Change will be gradual in Atlanta. The Hawks are on the cusp of a postseason berth and still within striking distance of avoiding the play-in. While surface-level numbers indicate their offense is working and defense needs to be fixed, the Hawks could cobble up an elite scoring unit if they buy into embracing Synder’s eventual changes.