After a very successful trade shipped Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers, many people forgot about the other perimeter collaboration that had been orchestrated earlier this summer in Atlanta. However, the new couple of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray still have a lot of intrigue going on around them. And in three games together, the tandem has begun to live up to their expectations.
While “your turn, my turn” basketball moments have occurred from time to time between the two All-Star guards, the Hawks have done a noble job of influencing the duo to play each other organically.
Three actions they have used to help facilitate this symbiosis are curl cuts, off-ball staggered blocks, and HORNS.
Ironically, curl cuts were He suggested as a tool, the Cavaliers should field Mitchell and Darius Garland. And for the same reasons action was a logical choice for them, it has worked for Murray and Young in Atlanta.
Instructions are simple: one guard handles the ball over the top while the other ‘slides’ off a screen, catches a pass calmly and attacks on a downward trajectory.
The call works because both guards are talented attackers (both finished in the top 10 in units per game last season), and since one starts off the ball while the other acts as a decoy on the ball, it negates the ability of the defenses to charge at them.
It is this same line of thinking that makes off-the-ball staggered screens an effective option in the midcourt. The lineup is almost identical to the curl cut, except instead of going off one screen, the subject hits two (meaning double the strain on the defense).
Notice how one blocker rolled to the rim while the other jumped for a three? There are so many options available with these staggered off-ball screens, and it’s all accessible to the Hawks because they have great passers navigating through the action (Murray and Young were top 4 in APG last year).
Lastly, HORNS has many different variations, but it almost always starts with the ball handler at the top of the arc and two players positioned around the arc. elbow area.
Traditionally, the two players on the elbows are big, but in the video below, we see Young parked in one of those spots. This is important because Young is a much more skilled shooter and decision maker than most bigs, so he presents a challenge that defenses aren’t used to when they see that formation.
That specific possession ultimately fails, but the possibilities for Murray and Young at HORNS are endless.
The key takeaway here is that half-court possessions with these two are best served if one guard helps the other creatively pierce defenses downhill.
Don’t worry too much about half court
In addition to being a top-level offensive player, Murray is one of the best defensive players in the league. Last season, he led the entire association in total steals per game, and now he’s picking up where he left off, currently ranking third in the stat for three games this year.
His thirst for chaos leads to turnovers and transition opportunities that the Hawks lacked last year. And its impact on the box score is already being felt in both categories. In 2021–22, Atlanta ranked 16th in opponent turnover percentage and last in fast break points per game. They now sit in eighth and third place in those measures, respectively.
More importantly, in the context of his fit with Young, these transition forays mitigate the team’s half-court possessions and allow them to avoid some of the awkwardness their styles can present.
Speaking of clumsiness, there is a dilemma that has already been evident in his first three outings. To illustrate, let’s first take a look at these two clips:
In the first clip, pay attention to how far Young can draw Cole Anthony and how much easier he makes Murray drive to the rim. Conversely, in the second sequence, he sees how comfortable Josh Christopher is going down on Murray in the corner and how he allows him to tag John Collins rolling without consequence.
I know what you’re thinking: why don’t we have Murray work primarily with the ball and let Young break up the floor with his shooting threat?
In theory, that’s a splendid strategy. But in practice, this proposition probably won’t hold up because Young is the top offensive engine, and most of the time you want to have the ball in his hands.
Minor criticisms like this may seem excessive, but holes like this are exactly the kind that teams tend to poke into the playoffs. If the Hawks leave the ball in Young’s hands, opponents will drop Murray and challenge him to burn them down. And if Atlanta assigns most of the on-ball duties to Murray, his opponents will gladly welcome the prospect of having avoided the wrath of one of this generation’s great floor generals.
Still, this potential conundrum shouldn’t be a cause for immediate concern. The early returns of the Murray/Young era look promising, and if nothing else, Murray’s presence makes the Hawks a team with questions worth trying to answer. And that’s a wonderful sign in an Eastern Conference as charged as ever.