The days of guys like Joe Johnson and Kyle Korver bombing it from deep are gone, but the 2017-18 Hawks are surprising with their 3-point point shooting so far this season.

The Hawks currently sits fifth in the NBA among the best 3-point shooting teams. They’ve only finished  with a Top 5 ranking twice this decade, but this team has a different agenda than the past.

Shoot more 3s.

“That’s what we do,” said Taurean Prince. “That’s what we plan to do going into every game.”

Saturday night, Atlanta grabbed just their sixth win of the season, but it was the the 3-point performance that stole the show. They shot 17-33 from 3. Ersan Ilyasova, who finished the game perfect from beyond the arc, was responsible for five of them. Whether it was off a semi-fastbreak or a baseline cut to a corner, he found good looks throughout the night.

Dennis Schroder, DeAndre Bembry and Prince understand how important it is knowing the whereabouts of Ilyasova, Tyler Cavanaugh and Marco Bellinili. The 3-point line is the lifeblood of this team’s offensive prowess.

“You got to have your eye open for three point shooters,” said Bembry. “Marco is somebody like Kyle Korver. You always have to know where they are at. Coach forces us to take a lot of open shots. Don’t turn down anything. From that the numbers are just going up higher. If you are going to give us that jump shot we will take everyone of them.”

Ilyasova joined the team last year as an attempt to fix Atlanta’s spacing issues. But he wasn’t enough to stop the Hawks from finishing 23rd in the league. This season however spacing is the least of their concerns.

“The difference is the starting lineup,” said Bembry. “They are all shooting at a high rate right now. Tonight as you can see, Ersan definitely started us off. Its hard to guard stretch fours who are picking and popping. Starting with him hitting threes. Taurean is shooting around 40-percent. Dennis and Baze starting to get going. That’s a hell of a starting lineup shooting the 3. Then you have Belinelli and shooters coming off the bench.”

The most impressive aspect of this shooting display not only tonight but all season is the efficiency. Yes, they are attempting 27 shots per game, ranking just 18th in the league, but the focus here is the quality of shots. The 5-man out offense is producing the necessary space and open looks that they didn’t have at their disposal last season.

They have the right pieces for this system and its giving opponents fits. They are tough, active and confident shooting the NBA’s deadliest game changer.

“They play with five 3-point shooters most of the game,” said Orlando coach Frank Vogel. “They shoot a ton of them. That’s the style of play that they play. You try and contain Belinelli off those pin downs and more importantly Schroder. His penetration. All of their guys just driving on you and taking advantage of the space makes them tough to guard.”

Atlanta had won four of the last five meetings against the Cleveland Cavaliers coming into Thursday night’s game. They flirted with a fifth victory after leading the King and his servants 69-63 at the half, but fell short 121-114.

“They are tough,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “Schroder puts a lot of pressure on the defense. They have multiple guys that can shoot the basketball and put it on the floor. They can make plays.”

Dennis Schroder, who had phenomenal performance posting 27 points on 58-percent shooting from the field, came off a pick towards the elbow of the free throw line with 2:11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and a chance to take the lead. His shot barely grazed the front rim. What happened next was almost a certainty.

LeBron trotted down the left side of the floor and responded with his patented left wing 3-pointer to seal the deal. Splash.

Atlanta threw everyone they could at James throughout the night. Taurean Prince took a shot at him. DeAndre Bembry matched up with him most of the fourth quarter. Even Ersan Ilysova took a swipe at him.

In the end LeBron James did what LeBron James wanted to do. Finishing with 24 points and 12 assists — just three assists shy of matching Atlanta’s starters — his fingerprints were all over the Cavs’ 10th straight victory.

Despite the loss, it was another shot a top tier team for the Hawks, an opportunity Prince relishes as a competitor.

“I like playing those type of guys,” said Prince. “Iron sharpens iron. I don’t feel like I will get better unless I continue to play those type of guys. Guys like Paul George. Just continue to further my career and my abilities as a defensive player.”

Atlanta has shown the tendency to gear up for these games. Tonight they scored 114 points on a Cavaliers defense that has improved recently. Without Dedmon, they dominated the paint outscoring the Cavs 50-40. Their record is no indicator, but Boston, Detroit, San Antonio and Cleveland will tell anybody they had to earn those victories against these young Hawks.

“Not discrediting any lower tier teams, but we get hyped up for games like this,” said Prince. “This is an opportunity to show who we are. Opportunity for guys to get better against great players.”

It may have taken 18 games, but John Collins finally heard his name called by Ryan Cameron as the Hawks starting power forward. Collins faced a All-Star front-court tandem in Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan and didn’t disappoint, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds — his fourth double-double of the season.

Luke Babbitt and Mike Muscala’s injuries facilitated this into fruition, but the call up was earned. Collins has played a role in some of the Hawks most impressive comebacks of the season whenever they’ve faced a large deficit, and he currently leads the team in PER and win shares.

“I like his game a lot,” said Blake Griffin. “I’ve watched him play this season. Physically he’s ready. He plays the game the right way. He does exactly what I’m assuming he’s suppose to do within their offense. He’s got a super high ceiling.”

One moment he found himself guarding the all-purpose attack of Griffin, who finished with a triple-double, then on the next possession would have to find a way to position himself to score around the defensive anchor that is Jordan.

“I like him a lot, said Deandre Jordan. “He’s physical, long and very good rebounder. He’s active around the rim and dunks everything. He just need to keep working. He has a great coach in Budenholzer. They put him in spots he can be successful. I like him a ton.”

As he typically does on a nightly basis, Collins attacked the glass without concern of who stood in his way and tonight was no different. Hustled, banged and battled with the NBA’s 2nd best rebounder in Jordan was yet another impressive sight given the disparity in size. But that’s what Collins does–work, work and work some more.

That level of activity generated openings in the clippers defense for easy dunks.

Griffin, known for his highflying highlights early in his career can see a ton of potential in the Hawks young phenom and  poke with Collins after the final buzzer.

“I told him to keep working. He’s going to be a beast.”

Hawks’ 2nd-year forward DeAndre Bembry isn’t used to watching his team play from the sidelines.

The 23-year-old wing out of Saint Joseph hadn’t dealt with an injury that has held him out as long as the fractured wrist he suffered in the Hawks’ season-opening win against the Dallas Mavericks back on Oct. 18.

This season, a season in which Bembry was expected to have a significant role increase for the Hawks, he’s been hit with two injuries that have kept him off the court. Bembry also sustained a strained right tricep in September that kept him out for about a month.

“I’ve never with injuries throughout my career, other than rolled ankles and stuff like that,” Bembry said. “It’s been funny, I got two injuries in a row with the arm muscle and then right after that I fractured my wrist, this is my first time and I’m just pushing through it.”

The initial prognosis called for Bembry to miss four-to-six weeks. Three weeks after his surgery Bembry is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for his return. Prior to Wednesday’s win over the Sacramento Kings Bembry was able to get up some shots pregame.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” Bembry said. “Going into three weeks off of surgery, the scale was between four-to-six weeks and I’m probably going to get another X-Ray to see how it’s looking this week just to check on it and see what’s inside and how its healed so far. That’s going to be the start of whenever I can come back. I’m working out, I’m shooting jumpers… The process has been going well so far.”

Bembry was indeed back soon, as he was listed as probably in the Hawks’ injury report on Friday. Bembry finally returned to game-action against the Celtics on Saturday, but was quickly put back on the bench when it because clear that thinks still weren’t 100-percent for him.

As Bembry said before, he doesn’t want to be hampered by the injury when he is on the floor.

“It’s full throttle when I get back, that’s why we’re having this process now, going through the motions of working out and seeing how much I can take as far as the pressure of pushing people and getting back out there,” Bembry said.

One Bembry is ready to fully return, Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer’s bench gets deeper as the addition/return of Bembry adds another versatile wing that can play both ends of the floor as well as take some of the ball-handling duties and pressure off of the three point guards the Hawks rotate.
Bembry is ready to help where he can to give the Hawks a boost after a 3-13 start to the season.

“I’m definitely ready to get back out there, it’s tough when you’ve got a lot of guys that’s hurt and a lot of new guys coming in with big roles,” Bembry said. “I was looking forward to the start of the season, but I took the loss at the beginning and now I’m just trying to come back out there and try to help my teammates get a win somehow.”

For the second time in two weeks, the Hawks lose a heartbreaker to the hottest team in the NBA.

Atlanta walked into a Philips Arena filled with more green than a Wiz Kahlifa video. Fully aware of the the Celtics 14-game win streak that was at stake. They gave Boston their best shot but fell short 110-99.

“I knew at some point whether when they made the run or at the end of the game they would come back at some point,” said John Collins. “Talented and a well coached team you know will come back with something.”

Out the gate they jumped out on the Celtics to an impressive 26-10 lead. No suprise if you ask them, they believe they can run with the best of them. But, they also understand this Celtics team is as elite as there is in the league.

“Sure you believe, when you go up 15 points or however much we were up,” said Collins.  “It always creeps into your mind. But these guys aren’t going to lay down. They aren’t going to give up their streak.”

Impressively, Atlanta very rarely blinked whenever Boston made a run through the first three quarters.

The resilience was evident all night long. Celtics started the 2nd half with a couple buckets from Al Horford and Jaylen Brown to reduce the lead to just one, then Schroder responded with 8 points. Brown cashed in a 3 with 5:49 in the third quarter to give the Celtics a three point lead — Luke Babbitt responded with a three of his own. The ball movement was evident all night and created good looks.

“People can see we can compete with anybody,” said Malcolm Delaney. “When we pass we look like one of the best passing teams in the league. “

Passing is just a portion of the battle when you face a Brad Stevens’ team that has rallied from a significant deficit several times during this current streak. Atlanta on the other hand will need to address their late game struggles. Tonight was another reminder after they trailed by just one with 6:35 left in the 4th quarter that they will continue to lose games if they can’t find an answer.

“Some of the leads we have when we got back into the game after losing the lead we need to take those possessions more seriously,” said Delaney. “That’s how we will win a couple games. When you look deep into the stats, we are terrible at finishing games.”

They won’t have much time to harp on this loss with a trip on Monday to San Antonio, who have won six of their last eight.

 

 

It’s the little things.

Atlanta Hawks’ point guard Malcolm Delaney dives on the floor to tip a loose ball away from a Boston Celtics’ guard as Dennis Schroder sprints full speed after the loose ball. Schroder gathers the ball just before it goes out of bounds and finds center DeWayne Dedmon streaking down the middle of the paint for a dunk. Two points, all based on a few small, extra efforts.

The Hawks’ energy was evidenced throughout Monday’s game on a couple of occasions. Late in the fourth quarter, a Kent Bazemore pass was intercepted by Marcus Smart, Schroder did not pout or hesitate, it was a dead sprint back to get into position to where Schroder ultimately earned a charge. Next possession, Schroder hit a mid-range jumper to put the Hawks ahead by one.

Little things.

“For every team, it’s (hustle) is going to give energy into the game when somebody hustles or dives on the floor like Malcolm (Delaney) did, that’s why I chased the ball down,” Schroder said. “Those kinds of plays give the team energy. We competed for 48 minutes, we did a great job sticking with them, but they hit some tough shots, we’ve got to give them credit.”

Prior to the 2017-2018 NBA season the chatter league-wide stated that the Hawks weren’t supposed to be good. They were a lottery-bound team with slim hopes of many winning nights.

Well, they don’t seem to know nor care what they are ‘supposed’ to be. The Hawks knocked off the presumed top-dogs in the Eastern Conference Sunday evening in a 117-115 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Monday, they battled the team that was considered the next best thing in the Boston Celtics to a 110-107 loss. The Hawks had their chances and with a little over a minute left in the game the Hawks looked up and saw themselves in the lead.

Little things.

“We don’t have a superstar or whatever, so we’ve got to do all the little things like competing on the defensive end, dive on the floor whatever it takes to win some games,” Schroder said. “I think we got better tonight competing for 48 minutes and they hit some tough shots and you’ve got to give them credit.”

The Hawks’ loss Monday night dropped them to 2-9 on the season, a record that was expected but deceiving. The Hawks have been in most of their losses with only three coming by a margin of 12 or more. Bazemore feels that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that has been the first 11 games of the season and thinks the energy and effort of the last few games have brought the team closer together.

“Our record doesn’t show, but it’s not as bad as it looks,” Bazemore said. “We’ve been in pretty much every game. I thought the Houston game and probably the Milwaukee game out of the 11 we’ve played were the only two that we kind of didn’t show up. Going into the last three games actually brought us closer together. If you’d have told someone we’d split these games at this point of time in the season, they’d probably laugh. To get one of the two is big for us. We actually had chances to win two, so it’s early in the season and we still got 71 to go so anything can happen.”

This time last year Taurean Prince’s primary focus was adjusting to all the challenges the NBA has to offer along with satisfying his rookie duties. This year he is facing a new challenge — fatherhood.

Ameera Prince arrived five months ago, but surprisingly, an emotional player like Prince initially expressed very little feeling.

“It was so surprising really because I didn’t cry or anything. It was so indescribable. Something you really can’t describe unless you go through it. Seeing her is like that’s me right there. From that moment your entire mindset changes on how you do things and how you carry yourself. Five months have flown by just like that and I’m getting better every day. It’s amazing. Just getting to see her smile every morning she wakes up. Even the times she cries you get a chance to comfort her.”

 

Via Instagram: @taureanprince

The first child for any parent offers up challenges that you won’t be prepared for. Now add a demanding and travel-heavy NBA lifestyle on top of that, and you are in for a ton of work. It doesn’t matter if you are one of the best players in league with commitments from endorsers pulling you left and right or the 12th man at the end of the bench.  Fatherhood never stops.

The physical demands Prince faces day in and day out means less time spent with Ameera. So he’s appreciative of the work and love his long time girlfriend shows their daughter.  

“I have an amazing girlfriend. She does so much being that I’m tired a lot of the times. Credit to her. She wakes up in the middle of the night and takes care of my daughter. I try to do the little things like make bottles and feed her. But my girlfriend is a great mother.”

Via Instagram: @Taureanprince

Prince may not know it all when it comes to fatherhood, but he does understand what showing support truly means when it comes to raising a child. Before he left to play his college ball at  Baylor, he helped his mother raise his baby brother for two years following the death of the baby’s biological father. Prince’s mother needed someone to help watch the baby while she was at work, Taurean was there. Feeding and changing diapers, Taurean didn’t mind.

Fast forward six years later and the same devotion is reciprocating from his family.

“It’s great. My father lives in Atlanta, so he’s ten, fifteen minutes down the road. Anytime my girlfriend needs something he watches her weekends at a time so that sometimes me and her can get alone time and go kick it. When my mother is in town, she watches her. Everybody loves her and those who are first-time parents always need that support. Its different for the second or third time around. But the first one we are grateful for the people that show love to her.”

A big part of playing this game is not only for love, but to financially secure your family for years to come. Just last month the Hawks picked up his third-year option to lock him in for another season.That security allows Prince to create a quality lifestyle for Ameera to grow and blossom within.

However, a quality lifestyle does not negate the obstacles she will face as a woman once she embarks on the world. Prince is fully aware and believes that a sound parenting foundation is critical, but her own experiences will mean just as much.

“You can’t control a lot of the things that we are scared about. All we can do as parents is do what we can do for them the first 18 years of their lives and lead them in the right direction. Lead them towards greatness and success. Lead them to do things that we didn’t do in order to be successful. That is my only goal. When she’s grown, she’s grown just like when my parents released me into the world. They allowed me to make my mistakes and that allowed me to become the man I am because of the mistakes I’ve made. They advised me to do better and that’s all you can do for your daughter. All you can do is prepare them for what you know or what you think they will face and leave the rest up to them.”

The same importance applied to the work Prince puts into perfecting his craft on the court is equally exerted towards his conduct and being a better person. He’s continuously paying attention to how he treats anybody he interacts with. The goal now is leaving a lasting legacy that Ameera will not only be proud of but adopt as a way of life.

“My main thing I want to leave behind is how I treat people. I hold myself accountable for shaking hands every time I’m done working out, whether it be the coaches or the people who rebound for me. Respecting all things until somebody gives me a reason not to. Yes sir, no sir, no mam, yes mam and just doing right by people whether they’re the janitor, GM or the owner in any establishment. I just want to shed that to her and do right by people. God will take care of the rest.”

No longer is he Taurean Prince the NBA player. The correct phrasing would now be: Ameera’s father, who plays basketball for a living.  

 

CHICAGO — Hawks players won’t tell you, definitively, who their leader is, their face, their most well respected voice, because it’s not clear who exactly that is.

If the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Milwaukee Bucks are basketball’s constitutional monarchies—with one player serving as the practical and symbolic leader of the team—then the 1-6 Hawks are a liberal democracy, with a decent amount of haves and a handful of rulers, but equal voice dispersed to all its constituents.

“Things go a little more smoothly when you don’t hear just one, two, three guys talking all the time,” Kent Bazemore said. “I think it works when you do everything by committee.”

The Hawks under the Budenholzer administration (2013 to present) have always been democratic in their leadership, even during times of success, though the current quality of play certainly hasn’t warranted any star treatment. 2014-15’s 60-win team was widely celebrated for its unselfishness, which was evident both on and off the court. The starting five, after all, was collectively given the Eastern Conference Player of the Month award.

Budenholzer’s Hawks teams have never had one defining, authoritarian voice. Dwight Howard attempted to disrupt that dynamic through his behavior last season, and was promptly jettisoned away. Besides virtually demanding for more minutes during his exit interviews, Howard’s selfish need to be the center—of the locker room, of the offense—resulted in multiple Hawks players screaming in jubilation at the news of his departure, according to Zach Lowe.

“We all get along with each other,” DeAndre’ Bembry told HawksHoop’s Eric Yeboah earlier this month. “We have no problems off the court. Us being cool off the court is where it starts and makes its way towards the court when we play together.”

This season, the departures of Paul Millsap and Howard have created a bit of a power vacuum in its wake, one that the likes of Dennis Schroder and Bazemore have begun to partition. But the two believe in the model of Hawks democracy in leadership. Bazemore, for one, prefers it.

Rookie John Collins applauds Bazemore’s willingness to embrace egalitarianism.

“We are a brotherhood when [Bazemore’s] with us,” Collins said. “He doesn’t mind doing it from the top to the bottom.”

Equality doesn’t mean that the elders don’t teach, though. Bazemore is loud, expressive, animated—especially on the defensive end of the floor—and that method of instruction has helped the younger players reinforce concepts.

“Any time I’m on the court, he tries to help me during the game on where I can do better,” rookie Tyler Dorsey said. “I think that’s what’s rubbing off on me [from Bazemore] the most—learning what to do in those game situations.”

Schroder, by contrast, leads by example, consistently setting the tone by hitting the deck for loose balls and making high-energy plays. It’s this dichotomy that Bazemore thinks makes their leadership tandem effective.

“It’s very, like, yin and yang,” Bazemore said. “Two different styles, and both effective.”

As helpful as Schroder’s on the court leadership may be, his off the court struggles—Schroder was arrested for battery and was suspended last season for failure to report—have been road blocks in his progression into a full-time governorship, and is further evidence of the Hawks’ current power vacuum.

Equality in voice can easily breed a power struggle, if manipulated accordingly. So far, through six losses in seven games to start the season, no one’s started to point the finger. There is a blueprint on how to maximize egalitarianism under Budenholzer’s watch, if 2015 is any indication, but whether the Hawks can find it—with entirely different, lower-quality building material—is the question. Liberté, égalité, fraternité: the Hawks way?

“We got multiple guys chatting, feeling like they’re being a part of the conversation,” Bazemore said. “We’re all in a dog fight together—the more the merrier.”

John Collins, standing at an undersized 6’10”, has matched up with some of the biggest bodies this league has to offer—like Dwight Howard, Timofey Mozgov, Dirk Nowitzi and Timofey Mozgov—in the first few games of his career. Collins received his first heavy dose on October 9th, when he was tasked with boxing out 7’1″, 255-pound bruiser Marc Gasol. Good luck with that, right? Despite the disadvantage, he snagged eight boards. Shocking to some, but not to those fully aware of his rebounding prowess.

Collins doesn’t just feel as if its his responsibility to rebound—he takes pride in it.

“Of course I take pride in it,” Collins said. “Part of being a great defending team is getting stops and finishing the play with a rebound. It is really important to me. Using my athletic ability regardless of the matchup on the offensive or defensive glass.”

Take a look his draft reports and you’ll find scouts raving about his motor, low post scoring ability and, most importantly, his rebounding. Atlanta has finished in the bottom half of the league in rebounding twice over the last three years—they placed ninth last season primarily due to Dwight Howard’s expertise.

Obviously Howard is gone, but Collins is demonstrating, in his mere 19 minutes per game, that Atlanta has acquired yet another force on the boards.

Last Friday night’s home opener was no different, as he found himself battling with Denver’s 6’10”, 255-pound Nikola Jokic and 6’11”, 255-pound Mason Plumlee on several occasions. Collins scrapped and scrapped all night long until he was able grab eight rebounds. On a night when he shared the floor with Kenneth Faried, another relentless worker on the glass, Collins showed in many instances that he has the same motor.

The rookie grinds on the glass and understands matchups—which explains why he currently sits fourth among rookies with 7.3 rebounds per game and first in offensive rebounds.

“On the offensive end I’m just trying to use my athleticism and quickness to get around,” Collins said. “Either by tip backs or whatever I can force. On the defensive glass its really about boxing out and trying to find a body—or just attacking the ball.”

The most important aspects of rebounding are positioning and anticipation—especially for someone of Collins’ size.

“For me its almost like the more outmatched I am, weight or height, I think for me to just get a body on him will help my teammates get the rebound,” Collins said. If its a guy I know I can box out pretty well, then I’m pretty comfortably, I try to attack it. If its a guy stronger than me or more experienced than me, I try to hit him first. Make sure my guy doesn’t get the rebound.”