While the regular season is a grueling slog that forces teams to think big picture, the NBA playoffs are a different beast. Each game becomes a chess match, where little strategic nuances can be the difference between success and failure. In these previews, we’ll take a look at one intriguing tactical quandary facing each team.

Atlanta Hawks

- Dennis Schroder versus an under coverage

Unlike some of the other players featured in this space, there’s no mystery as to how the Wizards are going to guard to Schroder in pick-and-rolls. Due to his shaky outside shot -- and his penchant for relying on it -- any Wizards' defender will be seen ducking underneath Schroder’s screening teammate daring him to beat them from the outside. The math says this is the correct choice as Schroder posted a points per possession mark of just 0.88 when facing an under, a good notch below his 0.96 PPP in situations where a defender went over the screen, per Synergy data. 

While it’s fun to get creative in figuring out a way for Schroder to experience more success versus an under coverage, in this case he needs to focus on two things. The first is simple: Schroder needs to simply make shots:

Nothing punishes a team daring to go under a screen than the ballhandler sticking a 3-point basket in his face. If Schroder can make a few of these early on in the series, it could force the Wizards into changing their coverage, giving the Hawks point guard a greater chance to control the game. 

Now if the jumpers aren’t falling, Schroder can’t stubbornly stick to firing away from deep or becoming so passive he doesn’t create any offense coming off the screen. Instead, he needs to use his speed, along with a change of pace, to beat his defender’s recovery angle and put pressure on the basket to either score for himself….

….or collapse the defense and create easy putback chances for his big men.

The good news for the Hawks is that Schroder is pretty used to seeing an under coverage, seeing it in about a third of his opportunities where he didn’t run a defender into the screen, according to Synergy’s database. Most times in basketball, players don’t need to adjust to a new wrinkle as much as they need simply execute for something they know is coming. In Schroder’s case, he knows how he’ll be defended and in order for the Hawks to win this series, he simply has to be beat the under coverage.

Washington Wizards

- Will the playoffs bring about a rise of Iso-Markieff?

As we’ve heard for years, the playoffs bring about a different level of basketball. When the pressure mounts, those zippy, up-tempo pick-and-roll plays get replaced with grinding possessions featuring one-on-one battles. And though the Wizards are driven by the two stars in the backcourt, their best isolation player is actually a forgotten frontcourt man -- Markieff Morris.

Like his brother in Detroit, Morris’ game isn’t suited for this new style of basketball. He’s an old-school, tough-shot maker that would have thrived in the iso-heavy eras of the 90s and early 00s. That’s why despite his more talented backcourt teammates, Morris produces a better return on investment in these situations. In 106 isolation attempts. Morris posted a PPP rating of 0.96, besting Brad Beal’s 0.91 mark and John Wall’s figure of 0.80.

That’s why it wouldn’t be hard to see Morris talking on a bigger role during the Wizards playoff run. While living on a steady diet of isolation plays isn’t a recipe for success, turning to Morris and letting him attack one-on-one in short clock/end of game/quarter situations could be a viable option for Washington:


In this series in particular, going Iso-Markieff might be one of the team’s better options given the stingy nature of Atlanta’s fourth ranked defense. While the Hawks are good as a team defensively, they don’t exactly have a collection of standout, individual defenders in their frontcourt rotation. Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala and even Paul Millsap could prove vulnerable to Morris’ mid-range savvy. And Washington hasn’t shied away from isolating weaker defenders and letting Morris attack them during the regular season:

While the analytics trend has largely helped shape basketball in a positive direction (despite hand-wringing from “purists”), sometimes in the playoffs a team just needs a bucket on a crucial possession, long-term efficiency be damned. With Morris on their roster, the Wizards have a player they can turn to more frequently in their playoff matchup against the Hawks to produce points when they become hard to come by.