Can Quin Snyder Save The Hawks?

Sorry, Grant Williams Batman. The Scarecrow is back!

After resigning from the Utah head honcho position after last year’s disappointing playoff exit, Snyder took his time surveying the field to decide where he wanted to go next. I’m a little surprised Atlanta was the choice (Snyder has long been rumored to be Gregg Popovich’s successor in San Antonio), but there’s no doubt that Snyder inherits a talented, albeit flawed, roster.

Before we get to the fit with the Hawks, some quick background on Snyder. A former college player at Duke, Snyder coached as an assistant at Duke and as the big kahuna for Missouri before resigning amid an improper gifts scandal. He then moved to the G-League, leading the Spurs’ minor-league squad for three years. Many of his offensive principles can be tied to coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ basketball system, including an emphasis on quick decision-making and proper spacing. After that, he bounced around the NBA as an assistant and had a stint as the head coach of CSKA Moscow, a powerhouse international squad, before landing with Utah in 2014, where he had fantastic regular season success mixed with some disappointing playoff performances.

So he’s experienced and qualified. But it’s rare to see a coach from outside the organization hired into a team this late in the season. Can he save Atlanta?

As I expected, the Hawks have been mediocre this season, but they are still in line for a play-in spot at the least. They are just three games back from the six-seeded Nets (who have lost four straight), but only have 20 games remaining.

Snyder implemented one of the league’s deepest and most versatile offensive systems early in his Utah tenure before leaning on Donovan Mitchell-centric schemes by the end of his tenure. To wit: the Jazz were first in the league in passes per game in Snyder’s first two seasons, averaging about 358 passes per game. By Snyder’s final season, in 2021-2022, the Jazz were 27th with just 266 passes on average. Note: passes per game are not particularly correlated with offensive success (the Jazz had the best offense in the league last season); it’s more a testament to how Snyder changed over time.

To emphasize the pick-and-roll point, the Jazz led the league in possessions ended by the pick-and-roll ballhandler for the last three seasons of Snyder’s tenure. Do you know who is number one in that metric this year? That’s right, Atlanta, and it seems they’ll only lean more heavily on it now.

One thing that will quickly change: the Jazz loved to let it fly from deep, ranking in the top-three for three-point attempt rate in each of Snyder’s last three seasons. Despite decent shooting talent, the Hawks shoot the second-fewest amount of threes in the league (relative to total field goals attempted). Expect Snyder to encourage his players to let it fly. In their only game under the new coach so far (a close loss to the Wizards), the Hawks shot 35 threes, five more than their season average.

Quin designed most of his principles on both sides of the ball around Rudy Gobert: defensively, drop the giant and have the guards run players off the three-point line to give up midrange shots, and on offense, use Gobert’s screening and hard rolling to suck in the defense and open up drive-and-kick opportunities.

Gobert was the focal point on both sides in Utah due to his incredible strengths and obvious limitations. In Atlanta, Snyder will have to similarly design his schemes around a polar-opposite player: Trae Young.

Trae Young is a more dynamic pick-and-roll player than either Donovan Mitchell or Mike Conley were for Utah (and Dejounte Murray is quite capable, too). Young’s ability to launch from the suburbs, draw fouls, and hit floaters as easily as he throws lobs will give Snyder a bunch of fun new tools. Per Synergy Sports, in the Hawks’ first game under Snyder, they nearly doubled their already high number of pick-and-rolls from the rest of the season.

Great as he is offensively, Young couldn’t defend a chair; I’ve never seen a player leap out of the way as often as Young does, like someone trying to avoid getting his jersey dirty. I’ll be watching to see how Snyder tries to compensate for that. In the one game we’ve seen so far, Trae was clearly exerting more effort than usual — new coaches often get better energy out of players who are trying to impress the new guy. No one is asking Young to be even mediocre on defense; he just can’t be one of the worst defenders of all time, like he is now.

It’s not all about Young. Clint Capela is no joke at center, and although he’s nowhere near as good as prime Gobert, he possesses a very similar skill set. Dejounte Murray, like Young, is a superb pick-and-roll orchestrator. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, De’Andre Hunter, and rookie AJ Griffin are all capable or better three-point shooters. None are particularly talented passers, but they are all capable of putting the ball on the floor and keeping the offensive flow moving.

This offensive personnel, paired with Snyder’s preferred skip-pass and ball-reversal tenets should lead to more threes and layups and fewer inefficient midrange looks, which could help the Hawks’ seventh-ranked offense soar even higher.

The Hawks don’t have nearly as much defensive depth, and again, they have to play Trae Young. They also allow the third-most attempts at the rim, something Snyder surely knows. Capela will likely play exclusively drop coverage now (he dabbled with playing higher up this season), which should help. Playing Capela in a deep drop should also help the Hawks’ defensive rebounding woes (bottom-10 mark). I’ll be interested to see what the Hawks do with Okongwu, who isn’t the rim protector Capela is but is far more switchable and twitchy. Finally, expect Snyder to emphasize defending without fouling — in classic San Antonio form, Snyder hates fouls.

It’ll be difficult for Snyder to implement anything too complex at the tail end of the regular season. NBA teams don’t have much practice time this late in the year, and teaching a whole new system and its corresponding terminology will be difficult. But I do expect him to make some tweaks: less playing time for poor shooters (sorry, John Collins), more movement from Dejounte Murray and Trae Young off-the-ball, and a bevy of ball screens.

This is a fun little play the Jazz ran back in 2016-2017, when players like Gordon Hayward and George Hill led the Jazz. All five players have something to do, and there are many moving pieces.

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1) Rodney Hood (#5) sprints around Trey Lyles (#41) in a looping cut to the far corner to distract defenders and serve as a release valve.

2) Gobert (#27) sets a ballscreen for George Hill (#3), who dribbles to the corner before veering back abruptly to the top and passing to Gordon Hayward (#20).

3) Initially, Gordon Hayward sets a backscreen on Hill’s help defender to panic the defense into thinking a baseline drive from Hill is coming. Instead, Hayward then runs off another Gobert screen to sprint to the top of the three-point arc. The Gobert/Lyles screen combination around the free-throw line is like an offensive line, and Hayward is wide-open for the three.

This is a beautiful example of the kind of creativity Snyder will bring to the Hawks, whose offensive success often felt like it came despite the playbook, not because of it. It might not happen this year, but I’m excited to see what he can cook up for Atlanta with an entire offseason to implement his playbook.

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Michael Shearer is an NBA obsessive who writes to answer the questions he has about the league. You can follow him @bballispoetry. He also is a contributing writer for Fansided at Hoops Habit and writes a free NBA analytical newsletter at that goes out every Tuesday and Friday.