Hammer action — sometimes referred to as a Hammer play or a Hammer set — was made ubiquitous in the modern NBA by the San Antonio Spurs. It’s really not as complicated as it sounds to identify, and it’s got two main principles.
First, the Hammer part of any set is a back screen to setup a cut by a wing player around the arc to the corner (or sometimes on a flare to the wing).
Second, the Hammer always happens away from the ball side of a play. It’s a weak side action, and typically anything happening with the ball on the strong side at the beginning of the play is purposeful distraction.
You can learn all about the Hammer by watching this week’s NBA Glossary video above, or by reading the text version down below.
Here we have a set where the ball is on the right side of the floor, with one post high and one low. The Hammer action happens on the weak side of the court between the shooting guard and the center:
The small forward is going to start the pick and roll with the power forward going to the right side. Meanwhile, the center is going to set the back screen on the left left side of the floor. This is our Hammer action, and the shooting guard will run off that screen to the corner.
Once the play starts and the small forward gets to the baseline, he passes it out to the guard, who shoots the corner three.
Let’s take a look at it in action and how the Spurs mix it into different looking plays.
Here they have the ball at the arc on the right side of the floor. Kawhi Leonard is coming through the paint to receive a pass off the screen.
Meanwhile, Patty Mills is the player that’s going to run off a hammer screen here on the left elbow.
The ball is passed, and with Kawhi dribbling toward the arc, the trap is set, and the Hammer action commences.
The defender turns his head, and Mills runs toward the baseline unimpeded to take the jumper.
In this example, we have the pick and roll to the right side. The hammer action is going to happen between the guard and the post on the weak side.
As the pick and roll is run, the Hammer screen is set.
Notice San Antonio has cleverly positioned Tony Parker at the top of the arc, and when LaMarcus Aldridge pops out, it’s up to Parker’s defender to stunt over to help.
This makes Danny Green’s defender slide over to help cover Parker, basically leaving Green unguarded in the corner.
Aldridge sees this, and passes the ball to Parker for the quick rotation over to Green.
That’s the basics of the Hammer play. It’s nothing super complicated, but it shows you how spacing and exploitation of defensive tendencies can be programmed into an NBA offense.