Prior to the recent All Star break, I had previously went in-depth about the Bulls need to have Doug McDermott more involved in the offense, if he is going to play substantial minutes. Since that point, while not overly involved, there has been an uptick in McDermott's activity offensively. Specifically, coach Fred Hoiberg has implemented a "Hammer" set geared towards getting McDermott an open corner three. And so far, though it may not have always resulted in a made basket, the Bulls have successfully executed the set on more than one occasion.
On the season, McDermott is shooting 43.1% from three point range, and from the corners, he's shooting 51.6% from the left and 43.5% from the right, pretty good if you ask me. Therefore, it would make some sense to have part of your offense ran as a means of freeing him up for open looks in those spots. For one thing, it gets McDermott shots where he is converting at a high rate, and secondly, a chance to space the floor and open up opportunities for others.
For those that aren't up to speed on what a "Hammer" set is, a few years back Doug Eberhardt wrote a great definition while dissecting the San Antonio Spurs patented play:
""Hammer" is the name of a Spurs set (or actually, sets) that creates pick-and-roll misdirection on the side with the ball, leading to a step-up or flare screen on the opposite side. That step-up is the "Hammer" screen that hopefully frees up a player for a corner three-point shot. You may have heard through the grapevine that the corner 3 is a pretty efficient NBA shot."
While not quite Spurs-esque, the Bulls have begun running their own version of the Spurs set. Going back to Chicago's pre-All Star game in Charlotte, the Bulls initiated the action with an Aaron Brooks-Pau Gasol high pick-and-roll going baseline:
As the play begins, McDermott starts above the free throw line, setting himself up for the corner three. Gasol sets the on-ball screen going baseline, and Brooks "snakes" back around into the middle of the floor. Meanwhile, at the same time, as McDermott's man is focused on Brooks, Portis rises up to set the "Hammer" screen to free up Doug:
Though McDermott wasn't able to convert on the three, the play itself was ran effectively to get him an open look.
In Chicago's first game post-All Star break against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls again successfully ran the Hammer set, and McDermott was able to convert on one of two open looks:
Again, the action is initiated by a high PnR, this time involving Brooks and Taj Gibson, only the pick is set toward the middle of the floor. McDermott starts high above the free throw line, and slides to the corner as his man focuses on the ball-handler, and gets crush by a screen from Bobby Portis:
Later on in this same game, the Hammer set is ran once more, but this time with Derrick Rose and Gibson:
Gibson sets the high PnR at the top of the key for Rose, and as he starts his drive into the lane, gains all of the attention from the Cleveland defenders. Cavs wing Iman Shumpert gets sucked in helping on Rose's drive, and he doesn't notice that McDermott has drifted towards the corner. And at the most opportune time, yet again, Portis sets another terrific screen to give McDermott more breathing room:
Then, last Friday night McDermott put Toronto's poor Terrence Ross through the ringer with his off-ball movement.
Instead of beginning the set with a PnR, Brooks passes to McDermott then comes off a series of off-ball screens and finally a dribble handoff, driving towards Doug. As Brooks drives, McDermott slides down to the corner, again being free'd up by a screen from Portis on a clueless Ross.
And the final Hammer set during this same game, though ran with different variation than the previous:
Unlike the previous times, the initial action in this clip begins with the dribble weave that we've seen at times throughout the season. Once the ball gets back to Rose, Gasol lumbers over to set the pick so Derrick can drive middle. But that is a decoy, seeing as Toronto's Corey Joseph ICEs (shout out to Thibs) the pick, Rose drives baseline to set up the Hammer pick from Gibson for McDermott.
What makes this set so effective is the fact that it is misdirection. On one side, or in the middle of the floor, there is a PnR or dribble handoff, while on the other side a Hammer screen is being set. With Rose and Brooks handling the ball in the PnR, it requires the defense's attention, in addition to the player setting the pick, Gasol or Gibson as both are able to hit the pick-and-pop jumper. The final piece to this puzzle is the screen being set for McDermott, in the multiple instances shown. Portis and Gibson do an outstanding job of making contact on their screens, an underrated, but essential part of the play.
The Bulls attempted this Hammer set on Sunday night against the Lakers, although it wasn't successful due to a couple of bad passes from the ball-handler. Nevertheless, this is the type of misdirection and "flow" offensively that Hoiball was supposed to bring a long time ago. As teams start to account more for McDermott sliding to the corner, it will, or at least should, theoretically, open up more for the ball-handler and screener.