Archives For October 2017

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.”

As the Atlanta Hawks attempted to an ultimately futile comeback in the third and fourth quarter of Sunday’s 117-106 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, a new, slightly unfamiliar face was among the familiar ones.

Isaiah Taylor, a second-year player out of the University of Texas found himself running with the starters late as incumbent backup point guard Malcolm Delaney sat, not seeing a minute in the second half. Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer was pleased with Taylor’s speed, energy, passing, shooting ability and ability to create for himself and his teammates while starter Dennis Schroder was out of the game as well as high energy on the defensive end.

“When he’s been on the court I think just his speed, his ability to get to the paint and really his willingness to pass kind of collapses defenses and he finds guys,” Budenholzer said. “He’s made shots too. I don’t think he’s shot a lot of 3s, but he made one early tonight. He’s made a couple in other games and getting to the free throw line. I think just giving him a chance, he’s a young guy. Like I said when we first got him, I think we’re excited about having him and seeing him grow.”

Taylor, who signed with the Hawks one day before the season-opener against the Dallas Mavericks, logged what was tied for his season-high 16 minutes Sunday in the loss and put in seven points for the Hawks.

Taylor has spent the first six games of the 2017 season acclimating to a new team and a new philosophy. Sunday, Taylor felt as comfortable as he’s been in a Hawks’ uniform and it all started with a three-pointer early in the first half. Taylor feels the shot allowed him to bring the energy that Budenholzer covets and ultimately led to him seeing extended minutes late.

“Whenever you come in and hit a bucket, it’s just like ‘let’s go,’ that’s everybody’s moment, I don’t care if you have no energy at all, you get in the game and you get a bucket, you’re automatically going 100 percent,” Taylor said.

Taylor only played in four games last season for the Houston Rockets, but the experience of learning from James Harden and the coaching staff of the Rockets and the coaching staff of the Rockets’ G League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers has helped Taylor prepare for the minutes that he is seeing so far in 2017.

“It helped me a lot going down to the D League last year with RGV,” Taylor said. “That coaching staff down there was amazing. I think they helped me a lot during my progress in the NBA. They got me ready for this moment.”

Taylor could be a big part of the Hawks’ rotation moving forward as they search for combinations that work after losing six games in a row. Taylor has finally gained his footing in Atlanta, a process that was aided by the fact that Taylor played against John Collins in summer league and has watched all of the Hawks from afar the past few seasons. Gaining the consistent minutes and the trust of his teammates is the next step for Taylor.

“I’m doing all right,” Taylor said. “I played against John (Collins) in summer league. I know what ‘TP’ (Taurean Prince) can do. Before I got here I watched a lot of these dudes on T.V. before. It’s just gaining trust in them and them gaining trust in me so that I can put them in position to be successful on the court. I think that’s the next step for me to feel even more comfortable.”

The Hawks fell to 1-2 on Sunday afternoon, losing 116-104 to the Nets in Brooklyn. The biggest loss in that game might not be in the box score, though, as starting point guard Dennis Schroder went down with an ankle injury.

With that in mind, HawksHoop’s Jeremy Johnson and Eric Yeboah share their observations on the game.


Jeremy Johnson

Dennis Schroder’s Ankle

Schroder went down in the 4th quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Losing Schroder for an extended period of time could be catastrophic. As of now, Schroder is the team’s leading scorer and only focal point and one of the only players that can create his own offense outside of Malcolm Delaney and Marco Belinelli. Both will need to do more on the offensive end. We will also probably see more of Isaiah Taylor, who joined the team just before the season opener.

Postgame, Budenholzer was asked about Schroder’s injury and said, “We hope its just a sprained ankle and nothing more. He will start to rehab and we will update when appropriate.”

Dedmon more than a center

Last season, the Hawks featured one of the final “true centers” in the NBA with Dwight Howard on the roster. Howard has been one of, if not the best centers in the league for the past decade-plus. With him moved on, the Hawks brought in Dewayne Dedmon from San Antonio. So far, Dedmon has been a better fit in the Hawks’ system. When I first got word of the Hawks adding Dedmon, I had similar concerns of fit. I envisioned Dedmon giving the Hawks put backs, blocked shots, and I expected him to act essentially as a less expensive clone of Howard. That hasn’t happened. Dedmon looked more like former Spurs’ teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. With the Hawks going to the five out system, Dedmon put his entire arsenal on display. He attempted a few 3-pointers early and hit one. He hit a couple nice mid-range shots that I had no idea he could shoot. Though he only played 21 minutes and scored seven points, Dedmon has made it easier for the Hawks to run their system with the starting unit.

Too much pick-and-roll?

The Hawks lack of a super star level focal point on offense forces them into the ball movement style offense which the pick-and-roll happens to be a big part of. The Hawks have some athletes that make teams respect the roll off picks such as John Collins. Every time Collins sets a pick, you can almost hear the crowd and bench inhale and hold their collective breath as Collins can embarrass any backside defender sliding over or any guard switched off because of the pick-and-roll. But there are stages in the game where is seems every possession is pick-and-roll. The offense goes stagnant with so much being run based off the pick and roll. In the second half Sunday, there was more typical ball movement and off ball screens, but as the season progresses the Hawks may want to find different ways to get Collins involved. Dennis Schroder also benefits from pick-and-roll but when teams defend it like the Nets did in the first half, Schroder is ineffective.

DeMarre Carroll Vs. Taurean Prince

Former Hawk and current Brooklyn Nets forward DeMarre Carroll and Hawks’ forward Taurean Prince look alike and play alike. Are we sure they’re not brothers?


Eric Yeboah

Offensively Hawks still working the kinks out

Through three quarters, the Hawks looked out of sorts shooting around 30-percent from the field. Fortunately a 23-8 run in the fourth quarter brought them back from the dead and tied the game at 99. It wasn’t enough to overcome their offensive struggles, which ended up being the deciding factor as it was Friday night in Charlotte. Budenholzer and staff wisely instructed the team to attack the open seams often, which resulted in 36 trips to the free throw line (converted 91.7-percent) — they had 29 total through the first two games of the season.

Atlanta lost control of this game due to many sloppy possessions from their guards/wings — that simply can’t happen for a team that relies so heavily on those positions. Careless passes and poor ball control from Schroder, Prince, and Bazemore turned into fastbreak opportunities for a Brooklyn team that thrives in uptempo scenarios. The best way in limiting fastbreak points from a team like Brooklyn is not only limiting turnovers, but retreating back on defense is easily just as important. However, in order to retreat properly and with enough defenders to stop the fastbreak, the offense must also do their part by taking better shots in a flow that doesn’t throw players out of position to contain the fastbreak. Atlanta did none of that on Sunday and it proved to be a key to Brooklyn’s success.

The Hawks do everything as a team offensively, but there is no secret so far that Schroder and Belinilli are the most reliable options. This loss to Brooklyn showed they are still in search of a reliable third option along those two to counter an opposing teams offensive run, or just when their own offense starts to stick. Prince would be the obvious choice, but he will need to improve in his decision-making department in order to make a significant impact.

More touches for Dedmon please

Dedmon scored just seven points in Sunday’s lost to Brooklyn, but when he touched the ball he was efficient shooting 60-percent from the field. The pick-and-pop situations with Schroder have a ton of potential if they continue to find the right angles to exploit the defense. The new system now creates more spacing for cleaner looks at the basket in a pick-and-pop scenario. Last season, Schroder and Paul Millsap were not able to create much of a bond in that department due to teams packing in the paint on Dwight Howard. As we’ve seen so far this season, that won’t be the case with Dedmon who looks very comfortable shooting both a 15-footer and a 3-pointer. Additionally, the onus doesn’t just fall on Schroder, as guys like Bazemore and Prince should make a conscious effort creating for Dedmon when they drive to the basket and the defense collapses. There were times in Sunday’s game either one could of kicked it out to Dedmon for a jumper or shoveled a pass to him on the baseline near the basket for an easy 2. Once again, it’s very early in the season, but Dedmon has the skillset to become a bigger contributor for the Hawks.

The Atlanta Hawks opened the 2017-18 NBA season with a big win on Wednesday, as the Hawks defeated the Dallas Mavericks 117-111 on the road.

What were the major keys in getting victory No. 1 up in the win column? HawksHoop’s Jeremy Johnson and Eric Yeboah share their observations on the contest.


Jeremy Johnson

Dennis Schroder has the keys

Point guard Dennis Schroder is fully in control, as he now has the offense running through him all of the time. Yes, he was the point guard last season and showed flashes. The light shined it’s brightest in the playoff series against the Washington Wizards, but we wondered if it would carry over into 2017.

It appears that it has. Schroder put up 28 points in the season opening win; not a career-high by any means, but the way he did it was a little unique to what we’re used to seeing. The Hawks allowed Schroder freedom. The freedom allowed Schroder to take 26 shots, and he made 13 of them. The aggression is promising and leads me to believe Schroder is primed to be a fringe All-Star this season.

Collins has a special motor

Rookie John Collins didn’t take long to acclimate to the NBA. The 20-year-old put in 14 points and five rebounds in his debut in 22 minutes. Collins came in the game playing at a speed higher than most on the court and converted a putback dunk and ran off picks in attack mode from the word “go”. Collins’ motor is the reason for the early playing time, and because of that, he didn’t seem too out of place on either end of the court. Impressive for a player in his first regular season game.

The Hawks don’t read predictions

The Atlanta Hawks don’t seem to know that they’re not supposed to be good this year. From the tip, the Hawks played with an attitude and an expectation that they were supposed to win, despite the changes to the roster and despite the preseason talk of a restructure or rebuild. The defense was solid, but there were a lot of open shots the Mavericks left on the floor or just flat out missed, which is a concern. The Mavericks ended the first half 5-for-23 from 3 and finished the game 17-for-45. Time will tell if the defense will cut off those open shots or if the preseason prognoses will hold true.

Either way, the defense will be at the core of which way it titters.


Eric Yeboah

Marco Belinelli shines in debut

Belinelli didn’t play much of the preseason, but that didn’t stop him from scoring 20 points off the bench. He finished with a plus-13 and it was apparent. The Hawks offense flowed with ease when the ball was in his hands. There were times he ran the point in the halfcourt set and times he orchestrated a fastbreak — either way, he created easier scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Dallas never could pin point how to control Belinelli because his attacks came in many ways like: a hand off from a big man, as a cutter, and of course off the dribble. The times he was paired with Dennis Schroder were beneficial to both as it afforded Schroder another spacer and playmaker.

Hawks need work in defending corner 3s

The defense was extremely scrappy Wednesday night and will have to be throughout this season. When Budenholzer opted for a small ball lineup they were able to speed up Dallas’s offense and force long rebounds (50) in their favor. The obvious downside was that once Dallas broke that first line of Atlanta’s defense, it forced the defense to collapse and opened up the good looks from the corner 3-ball. Dallas didn’t shoot the well from downtown when you look at the final numbers of this game –just 38-percent, but it was the open attempts from the corners that stood out, especially in the second half. Whether it was Wesley Matthews or Yogi Ferrell, Dallas understood when to shift towards the corner once the Hawks wings committed to defending the basket.

 

By Jeremy Johnson

With less than a week before his regular season NBA debut, Hawks’ rookie John Collins took a step back into the past as he again found himself in a high school gym.

It wasn’t Cardinal Newman High School, where Collins gained the attention that attracted the Wake Forest coaching staff. Collins entertained a crowd of basketball players, students and parents at Athens Academy in Athens, Ga. Collins partnered with the BMW of Athens to get the opportunity to show his face in his community.

“It’s cool when I came to Atlanta, I partnered with Athens BMW,” Collins said. “For me to come out here and do this is pretty cool to see so many kids out here. I know it’s not the Atlanta Metro or greater Atlanta area, but it’s definitely cool to get out here and get my face out here with the kids in the community.”

Smiles and laughs were abundant as Collins played 5 on 1 scrimmages with students, signed autographs and even threw down a thunderous dunk in which Collins leaped over three youngsters and snagged an alley-oop from another.

Being back in a high school gym brought back some memories for Collins and he admits he misses the old high school days.

“It was really about two years ago, I was graduating high school and I moved on to college and now I’m actually in the pros,” Collins said. “I get the feeling whenever I come to a high school gym. It’s really familiar, that smell, that atmosphere. I kind of miss it, but aye I’m on to bigger and better things.”

By Jeremy Johnson

Growing up Collins doesn’t remember getting an experience like the one he provided the youngsters of Athens Academy with Sunday evening. For that reason, Collins prides himself in getting out and being seen by the younger generation. He knows the type of impact meeting professional athletes can have on young people and it’s something he wants to continue.

“That was really the big part of it, I didn’t have a lot of pro players that stuck out in my memory, that came out to visit me” Collins said. “I know how big of an impact that would have had on me when I was younger to see one or be around one, even if it was only for a couple of minutes. I understand the impact it has, especially for the kids that want to play basketball.”

Collins realizes his NBA dreams for real as the Hawks tip off the 2017 season in Dallas against the Mavericks.

It’s no secret that that this is a transitional period for Atlanta.

Travis Schlenk steps in as the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, replacing the reassigned Wesley Wilcox and Mike Budenholzer stepped down from his role as president to solely coach the team.

While it’s not quite a full-fledged youth movement, the young guns will certainly be featured.

Team success will take a backseat to individual player improvement so let’s look at one aspect of every Hawk’s game that they need to take to another level to have the franchise trending up by next summer.

Dennis Schröder: Be a leader

The speedy German has trekked a long path to arrive as de facto face of the franchise. A first round pick in 2013, he was buried on the bench as a rookie, but slowly became a more integral part of the team over the years. His minutes per game has risen every season, topping out at 31.5 in 2016-17, his first season as a starter.

He is the only Hawk on both ESPN’s and the Washington Post’s lists of the top 100 NBA players. He figures to have the ball in his hands as much as he wants.

Still, it hasn’t always been a smooth ascent. Dennis has been involved in a few on-court squabbles like a recent one with John Wall. In addition, he was arrested outside a hookah bar this offseason for his involvement in a fight. He has subsequently been disciplined for those actions.

Dennis has a flair for being flashy on and off the court, but on this youth-filled roster, he needs to be a cool-headed veteran and provide steady leadership. He’ll have plenty of rope to work through slumps on the court, unlike in season’s past, but after butting heads with Dwight Howard helping to lead to his unceremonious departure, Schröder will need to help others on the team break out of funks.

Continue Reading…

By Jeremy Johnson

The world changed forever on September 11, 2001. As the world watched as the events of that day unfolded, a young John Collins too pondered the impact that the world’s deadliest terrorist attack would have on his life.

For Collins, 9/11 was 12 days away from his 4th birthday, and he had a hard time understanding just what the events meant. He does remember the results of that day as they shifted Collins from his address from Turkey to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Collins’ mother was in the Air Force and was stationed in Turkey at the time of the attacks. As the country prepared for war, Collins’ mother sent him to live with his grandparents in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands after the base in Turkey was evacuated.

“It’s kind of crazy and stuff happens, my mom’s a trouper,” Collins said. “I think I was really too young to understand what was going on at the time. It really didn’t hit me as hard as other people, which is kind of crazy to think about.”

Throughout the time in between then all the way until the Hawks selected Collins with the 19th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Collins has moved around with his mother and as other rookie players adjust to living far from home for the first time while also making the social adjustment that comes with changing cities, Collins has already dealt with many types of people and socially feels he can get along with anyone.

Adjusting to the different personalities and connecting with people isn’t the only thing that Collins learned from growing up in a military atmosphere at home.

“At a young age I got used to [moving and traveling] and I actually kind of like it,” Collins said. “I don’t know why going to different places gives me different perspectives in mind. It also helped me socially, not having a group of friends and having to be able to talk and moving my way through people constantly. It’s helped me a lot.”

The professionalism and discipline Collins now carries himself with began with a strict upbringing at home. Collins admits his mother was strict, but he now appreciates where that learned discipline has carried him.

“My mom and my dad actually split up really early so it was a single parent household and my mom, it was really strict, a little different living in a military household, traveling all around the world at a young age,” Collins said. “It definitely gave me perspective as a little kid… It’s something that molds right together is that discipline and tolerance that comes with being a military kid and growing up in that military lifestyle and turning that into professionalism. I’ve become a true pro, though I’m trying to learn my way, I’m still a rookie and I’ve got things to learn. It’s part of the process. Becoming a true professional and a true one day in and day out.”

Today, the world goes through another set of changes with the world of sports caught in the middle of a bit of a revolution as teams, athletes and the media outlets that cover them go back and forth on how to protest the police brutality and social injustices that plague the country. The country appears divided on standing or kneeling for the national anthem. The form of protest has been a dividing factor the past few weeks after President Donald Trump’s comments.

As Collins enters his rookie season in the NBA the debate hits home, but he thinks the correct response and form of protest is based on the individual. Collins thinks everyone has a right to voice their opinion in the manner they find fit.

“I think it really just varies from person to person and how they feel about the topic,” Collins said. “That person can have a difference in opinion when it comes to how they feel if it respects the flag or doesn’t respect the flag and I think it’s all about finding your way to correctly do it and express it the way you want to express it. I think once that’s found out and fulfilled it up to them how they express their opinion. For me, I’m a military kid, so it’s always close to home when you start talking about stuff like that.”