How unsung Antic helps the Hawks

All the little things that Pero Antic does are helping to take the Hawks to new heights this season. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

The Atlanta Hawks were a couple of missed shots away from upsetting the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Pero Antic was a big reason why.

Antic, inserted into the starting lineup having just returned from a stress fracture, shot only 16.7 percent from the field in the series and didn't have a made 3-pointer after Game 2. But the Hawks outscored the Pacers by 29 points for the series with Antic on the floor, a team high.

"He's so unique," said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. "He does things, you just go back and watch film and usually it's brilliant. It's not necessarily anything that we've told him. He's just a really, really smart, instinctive player, including the defensive end. You go back and watch tape of him and learn a lot."

One of the techniques Antic uses on defense is “pulling the chair.” Antic -- a 6-foot-11, 260-pound Hulk of a player -- has the body and strength to match opposing players in the post. Knowing this, he often takes advantage of an offensive player trying to overpower him.

Here, Antic allows Kevin Seraphin of the Wizards to body him up. But once Seraphin attempts a second move to power into the paint, Antic backs out of the way and Seraphin’s momentum forces him to travel.

Antic uses the same technique on forward LaMarcus Aldridge, but instead of waiting until he’s deep post, with the opponent’s back to the basket, Antic bails out in the high post with Aldridge facing the basket and attempting to drive into the lane.

On the offensive end, it’s Antic’s screens that do the trick for the Hawks.

"Offensively, I think people probably pick up and see the stuff he does on that end of the court with the passing and the screening," said Budenholzer. "He's a great screen setter. I think people probably don't appreciate that when guys come open, it took a great screen to get that guy open.”

The Hawks’ screens aren't all about springing Kyle Korver for an open look, either. With Jeff Teague as the ball handler, Antic slips the screen and rolls toward the basket. The maneuver allows Teague to get around LeBron James and go past Chris Bosh, whom Antic has sealed off from defending Teague’s layup attempt.

"[Screening] is everything," Teague said. "Al [Horford], Paul [Millsap] and Pero and those guys do a great job of making it easy for me to get open looks. It's something we take pride in -- setting great screens -- and I think they do a great job of it."

Of course, there’s also the move that helped Antic make a name for himself last season as a 31-year-old rookie: his devastating pump-fake.

The slow, methodical form on his jump shot is easy to mime and draw defenders into the air. It often looks silly, but Antic has used the fake to make some pretty important shots.

“Driving it and passing it and pump-fakes,” Budenholzer said, “there's so many small things that I think when you add them up, they may not be in the box score, but I know his teammates appreciate it and most of the time I appreciate it. Sometimes I get frustrated with it [laughs]. I have to remind myself he's brilliant."

The stats back it up. Among players with at least 400 minutes this season, Antic has the league's best per-minute plus-minus of any player not on the Golden State Warriors (per Basketball-Reference).

When told of the compliments from his coach, Antic, a native of Macedonia, demurred, chalking it up to a basketball upbringing in Europe.

"It's just the fundamental basketball that they teach me from kids' ball," Antic said. "I recognize some situations where I'm not supposed to go, but it's a team game. You have to help just by instinct. I'm not thinking. My body goes by himself, so I follow him."

Thanks to Antic, every other Eastern Conference team is now following the Hawks in the standings.

GIFs compiled by Jake Martinsek. Follow @BoChurney, @BuddyGrizzard and @IAmMartinsek on Twitter.