What is “5 Slot”? Quin Snyder’s innovation has supercharged the Atlanta Hawks offense (Part I)

The Basketball Action Dictionary
6 min readFeb 21, 2024

Context (skip if you follow me on Twitter):

In his recent Old Man and the Three podcast episode with Tyrese Haliburton (YouTube), JJ Redick gushed over what I’ve called “5 Slot,” an innovative tweak of 5-Out offense that has improved the Atlanta Hawks shot diet from 27th to 6th in a single year.

So I put Redick’s 60-second praise over video examples of why 5 Slot’s subtle tweaked has produced significant results:

I also tweeted a thread, starting with the Redick video…

…and including my first annotated introduction to 5 Slot:

Content: So What Is 5 Slot?

5 Slot is a tweak of 5-Out, which normally looks like this:

  • all 5 players stand behind the 3-point line (2 & 3 in the corners, 1 & 4 in the slots or wings, 5 at the top of the key):
  • The center (5) is near the top of the key 99.9% of the time

5 Slot simply swaps 4 and 5, who now begins the possession near the far/weakside slot:

  • the 5 — a non-shooting center—begins in the opposite (weakside/far) slot
  • the ballhandler (1) usually begins in the other slot
  • the 4/Power Forward typically starts at the top of the key (see more in the upcoming section on Jalen Johnson, whose Most Improved Player candidacy is a direct result of his increased role in 5 Slot)

(An essential part of 5 Slot is that the 5 is not a 3-point shooter. Lots of floor-spacing centers stand in the weakside slot — but that’s because their shooting lets them perform the role of a 4/Power Forward: The Milwaukee Bucks have Brook Lopez space the floor in the slot so that Giannis Antetokounmpo can play more like a 5/Center on offense, for example.)

The 4 Main Advantages of 5 Slot:

  1. Weaker rim protection: wider driving lanes because the opposing center is a few steps over)
  2. 45 Cut behind x5’s rotation: it’s more difficult for the corner defender to “help the helper”: i.e., cover 5 when x5 needs to rotate over and protect the rim.
  3. Weaker rim protector: Some defenses have trapped the box with their low-man defender (the one guarding the weakside corner), but he’s presumably a worse rim protector than their center
  4. Confusion: putting defenders in unfamiliar spots on the court forces them to do the worse thing a defender can do: think

Advantage no.1: Weaker Rim Protection

The first and most obvious advantage of 5 Slot is that the opponent’s center, x5, is now 2 to 3 feet over (remember that NBA defenders can’t be in the paint for longer than 3 seconds if they aren’t within reach of an offensive player):

Even though x5 is only 1 or 2 steps over, he’s now 1–2 steps late rotating to protect the rim:

Advantage no.2: 45 Cut behind x5’s rotation

Even if x5 successfully rotates and protects the rim, his rotation opens up a “45 Cut” from Atlanta’s center in the seam between x5 and the weakside corner defender (x3):

In this example, the Utah Jazz put their nonshooting 5, Walker Kessler, in the weakside slot. As his defender, Draymond Green (x5), rotates to protect the rim, Kessler 45 Cuts in the seam between x5 and x3 (Klay Thompson):

Even if x3 successfully “helps the helper” and prevents a dump off to 5, there’s no “X defender” close enough to X-out to 3. Normally, x5 stops penetration, x3 (or whoever is in the weakside corner) helps the helper by stopping 5, and then the so-called high I defender is expected to x-out to 3 in the corner—but just look at the closeout Andrew Wiggins, the would-be high I defender—would have to make (green arrow):

The impossibility of an X-out is why a 45 Cut opens up a lot of corner 3’s, helping Atlanta’s corner-3 frequency to jump from 21st to 5th best in the NBA:

A center 45-cutting from the opposite slot also creates more opportunities for offensive rebounds.

Advantage no.3: Weaker Rim Protector

The first advantage was weaker rim protection: Moving the opponent’s center (x5) a couple of steps over often makes him a couple of steps late to protect the rim.

The third advantage is weaker rim protector: that is, any defender besides x5—presumably, the opponent’s best rim protector—is asked to protect the rim. For example, the New York Knicks asked x3 (RJ Barrett) to protect the rim instead of Mitchell Robinson (x5), one of the best rim protectors in the NBA. Even though x3 rotates in time, he can’t stop Jalen Johnson from scoring:

Furthermore, x3 protecting the rim means x5 must now help the helper and closeout to the corner—typically not a strength of most NBA centers. As x3 protects the rim in this next clip, x5 is now responsible for covering the corner, which is perhaps why this shot is so open:

Advantage no.4: Confusion

Perhaps 99% of NBA half-court offense is either traditional 5-Out or 4-Out (four offensive players stand at the 3pt line: one in each corner and one near each slot, with a fifth player near the dunker spot or low post).

Simply by introducing a new geometry to half-court offense, Quin Snyder forces opposing defenses to rethink their typical rotations. Sometimes, nobody is sure who is supposed to protect the rim, so nobody does.

For example, x3 (PJ Tucker) stops protecting the rim when he sees x5 (Joel Embiid) rotating, and so neither one prevents De’Andre Hunter’s open layup:

Obviously, confusion will decrease as opponents become more familiar with 5 Slot, but like the triple-option offenses in college football, 5 Slot can be hard to adjust to in the short time between games; it is extremely difficult to unlearn muscle memory honed over years—if not decades—playing against more tradition 5-out and 4-Out.

And that’s the start of why 5 Slot has significantly improved Atlanta’s offense after just one offseason with Quin Snyder as head coach.