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Breaking Down Jordan Hawkins's Off-Ball Movement | The Friday Screener
Some players manipulate defenders with the ball-handling while others do it with their eyes and playmaking. Jordan Hawkins does it with his off-ball movement.
The modern NBA is rapidly extinguishing the specialist role that many of us grew up watching. Instead of having a “pure” point guard or a back-to-the-basket center or a shooting guard who endlessly runs off screens, players are now expected to do most, if not all, of that and more. While these roles are becoming marginalized, the skills on which they were constructed are not. Jordan Hawkins has taken the off-ball movement from prior generation’s shooters and elevated it to fit the modern game.
The Connecticut sophomore is an absolute flamethrower from outside. So far this season, Hawkins is shooting 40.5% from three on 7.3 attempts per game. Those numbers are really strong on their own, but once his shot difficulty and variety are factored in, they become so much more impressive. Hawkins is constantly relocating, running off screens, and losing his man due to his exhaustive movement.
What separates Hawkins from off-ball shooters of the past, though, is that a strong closeout doesn’t neuter his offensive impact. Instead of being forced to give the ball up immediately, Hawkins can put the ball on the floor, attack closeouts, get to the rim, hit pull-ups, and on the rare occasion, facilitate. Even though the bulk of Hawkins’s offense stems from his off-ball movement, it doesn’t mean that his scoring threat is extinguished by a hard closeout.
So far this season, Hawkins is scoring 1.319 points per possession (PPP) (92nd percentile) when shooting off the catch, per Synergy. Even more absurd is that Hawkins is scoring 1.378 PPP (94th percentile) when he’s guarded and shooting off the catch. So, not only is Hawkins one of the most productive off-ball shooters in the country, but he’s converting on a lot of really tough shots. He isn’t simply standing in the corner and knocking down wide-open standstill threes.
Just because Hawkins doesn’t live off of spot-up jumpers doesn’t mean he’s inept with them. So far this season, 22.1% of Hawkins’s possessions are spot-up jumpers, which ranks in just the 26th percentile of frequency. On these attempts, he’s scoring a gaudy 1.333 PPP (97th percentile). What separates Hawkins from most off-ball college shooters is how he constantly is running off screens and hitting movement threes that most players his age struggle with; 26% of Hawkins’s possessions are him running off screens, which ranks in the 99th percentile of frequency. Hawkins is also scoring an incredibly impressive 1.261 PPP (88th percentile) on these attempts.
What is so special about Hawkins’s off-ball movement is that he’s not just running off floppy actions or pin-down screens. Instead, he covers a ton of ground, lulls his defender to sleep with his change of pace, and sets off-ball screens as a decoy to free himself up.
Here, Hawkins swings the ball to the right side of the court and runs off a back screen from Adama Sanogo. Hawkins then goes to the opposite elbow to set a back screen for Alex Karaban while Andre Jackson lifts out of the corner as if he’s running off another Hawkins screen to the top of the arc. Instead, Jackson turns and sets a double drag screen with Sanogo for Hawkins to run off. As Hawkins curls off both screens, he’s completely lost his defender. His shot prep is perfect with high hands, and he smoothly hops directly into his jumper that is nothing but net.
This time, UConn runs a set play for Hawkins on the inbound. Hawkins is set up in the left corner. To get some early separation, Hawkins jab steps towards the baseline before exploding to the top of the arc. This move doesn’t shake the defender, but it gets him leaning just enough that Hawkins gets a half-step head start. Hawkins proceeds to sprint full speed off of three screens while tracing the three-point line. As he curls toward the corner, Hawkins’s shot preparation is again perfect. His hands are high and ready for the pass, he decelerates enough so his momentum doesn’t affect his shot, and he gets his feet, hips, and shoulders square to the rim as he again effortlessly elevates for the jumper.
Running complicated set plays for Hawkins will be something an NBA team can utilize with Hawkins from day one. What many off-ball shooters struggle with, though, is improvisation. NBA defenders are really good and tend to break up set plays on a regular basis. Having the ability to adapt, reset, and improvise on the fly is crucial for off-ball scorers. When this happens, Hawkins doesn’t have any issues adjusting.
Here, Hawkins runs off a simple pin-down screen after making the entry pass, and his defender stays tight on him as he catches the pass back. Hawkins quickly gives the ball up and moves as if he’s relocating. Instead, Hawkins is simply recycling the screen and running the exact same action. This quick improvisation and the chemistry with his teammates allow Hawkins to create just enough space for the three off the catch.
Hawkins is more than happy to launch from three after sprinting off a myriad of screens, but defenders know that is his calling card. Too many lethal shooters get nullified because they can’t do much else other than shoot off the catch. If they are forced to attack closeouts, get to the rim, or hit pull-up jumpers, they quickly become obsolete. While Hawkins is at his best when launching from three, he is far from incompetent when attacking off the dribble.
Here, Hawkins runs off a standard pin-down screen, and his defender chases him over the screen. This choice by the defender keeps Hawkins off the three-point line, but it opens a pocket of space in the middle of the floor. As he catches the pass, Hawkins takes a strong dribble to this space and uses a hard jab step to simulate a drive. This move simultaneously sends his defender towards the baseline and generates enough power to create space on the step back. Unfazed by the second defender, Hawkins rises and knocks down the jumper.
This time, Hawkins runs something similar but with a different result. As he goes to set a screen for Karaban in the corner, Karaban triggers an alternative option. Since his defender is aggressively denying the ball, Karaban chooses to relocate to the opposite corner instead of running off the stagger screens. This move by Karaban signals to Hawkins that he now needs to run off the second screen instead. Hawkins runs tightly off the screen, which creates a buffer between his defender. As Hawkins receives the ball, his defender is now on his back. Instead of taking the mid-range pull-up like we saw before, Hawkins takes it all the way to the rim and finishes through the contact.
This time, we again see how Hawkins creates space for himself by setting off-ball screens. As Hawkins sets the second screen for Karaban, his defender pauses momentarily, unsure if he needs to switch on to Karaban from Hawkins. This slight hesitation gives Hawkins a more favorable head start as he sprints off the Donovan Clingan screen into the space that Karaban just vacated. As Hawkins receives the ball, he sees that his defender is frantically recovering, and both help defenders are eager to meet him at the rim. Instead of immediately attacking the rim, Hawkins uses a subtle escape dribble to simulate that he is backing the ball back out. This one dribble freezes both help defenders and forces them to take a step back toward their assignment, while Hawkins’s defender has an uncontrolled closeout. Hawkins easily beats his defender and finishes through the contact at the rim.
In the 2023 NBA Draft, there aren’t many better off-ball scorers than Jordan Hawkins. He is an assassin from outside and has never seen a shot he doesn’t like, for better or worse. He is reliable at spotting up, relocating, or running off screens in set plays. Hawkins isn’t limited to just shooting off the catch, though. The same change-of-pace movement he shows off-ball also arises when he has the ball. He is constantly manipulating his defender’s momentum and running them into the ground. Hawkins moves off-ball like a seasoned vet and uses this ability to create quality scoring chances at all three levels of the floor on a consistent basis.