Archives For October 2017

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 3and 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.”

A great defense adapts to any and every sort of offensive attack. Coach Budenholzer and staff will keep their foot on the necks of this young team all season long on giving a strong effort defensively. Guys like Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon are in the starting lineup for that very reason. However, even as disciplined as those pieces are, how do you counter point guards with an athletic gene we all wish we possessed like Russell Westbrook and John Wall? Now add Dennis Smith to that list.

In Thursday night’s108-94 preseason finale loss to the Dallas Mavericks they were reminded what problems it can cause.

“It really changes the dynamic of the game when you have a scoring point guard, an aggressive point guard,” said Kent Bazemore. “Because you have to be honest. They have a good team. A well coached team and they execute to a T. He picked us apart early and picked his spots on when to attack in transition. He found guys out of the pick and roll. He made some really good passes from what I saw. He is ahead of his time. He is an under amour guy so I definitely have a little love for him.”

Dynamic point guards like Smith have a knack for not only forcing you to adjust, but wearing you down mentally. The amount of attention to detail they require is a tall task. Relentlessly demanding all five defenders to account for their talents. It’s almost unfair… matter of fact, it is unfair and downright brutal.

John Wall was a force in last years playoffs when he torched the Hawks for 29 points and 10 assists a game. The Hawks did everything to load up the defense to whatever side of the court he had the ball on. They gave him different looks each game. Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore all took a shot at him — but to no avail. Dennis Schröder even began to guard him full court to disrupt Wall’s flow–didn’t change the outcome.

Dennis Smth Jr has those exact capabilities to force a team to completely shuffle their deck. He throws a wrench into the works and then some. But, better for the Hawks to get a glimpse of him now before next Wednesday’s season opener in Dallas.

“He’s an impressive athlete,” said Coach Budenholzer. “The way he can get to the paint. His overall command of the game. Haven’t seen a ton of him but the little that I saw of him tonight was impressive. They have a good young point guard and he should continue to grow and improve under coach Carlisle.”

Athletic point guards are a pain to deal with. For a Hawks team that will rely a ton on their effort and chemistry — now more than ever before — these type of guards will be a tough, if not the toughest task to face this season.

However, if defense is Atlanta’s calling, then they will need to figure it out, because the era of the athletic point guard is in and it’s not going to stop in order to help the Hawks.

Preseason to some may seem boring and meaningless. However, within it lies bits and pieces of winning basketball that originates from chemistry and cohesiveness. Atlanta is one of the younger teams in the league — these games carry plenty of value towards starting the year off playing quality basketball.

As always, defense is the priority under Coach Budenholzer, but breeding fruitful offensive habits are far from an afterthought.

“I feel like we are getting a little bit more into our offense,” said Taurean Prince. “We realize the multiple options we can get out of a lot of sets in a lot of things that we do. I feel like in the first few games we were keeping it simple and trying to get used to each other. But now we are starting to get into the spring of things and how deep we can get. I think we can be hard to guard.”

In Monday’s 100-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, they showed improvement offensively, and it didn’t have to appear in the box score. Yes, they finished shooting 45-percent from the field, but that’s not the sole purpose of this discussion Setting good hard picks and sound ball movement tends to facilitate positive energy that finds good shots. Doing things like trusting a teammate will shift towards his designated area at the right time for an open shot or keep the floor balanced demonstrates reliance and helps sustain fluidity.

When players don’t trust in one another is when the offense tends to stagnate. But, once guys begin to find comfort in their role is when good things begin to happen. These Hawks are headed in that direction and only time will tell if they reach their aspired destination. For the meantime, acknowledge the small victories along the way veteran Kent Bazemore knows all to well and has recognized the progress in just a few games.

“So the first game we played there was a ton of standing and too much thinking,” said Kent Bazemore. “Now I think we are starting to get players moving into the right spot. As you saw tonight with so many assists, we had. We did a good job of passing the ball and making plays for each other. Now we are starting to be a little more fluid offensively and getting shots out of it.”

The offensive system has proven to be conducive to winning over the years. The players, returning and new, must believe not only in the system but each other. Cliche? Not considering how many new faces fill this year’s locker room. Good news is according to DeAndre Bembry concerning off the court comradery– the new are mixing well with the old like a Bruno Mars record.

For a youthful team like Atlanta that will pay off immensely when the flight gets a little rocky later in the season.

“We have always had the right habits,” said DeAndre Bembry. “Especially the starters like Dewayne Dedmon coming from San Antonio and just playing the right way. Making the right pass. We all get a long with each other. We have no problems off the court. We all know what we need to do in order to be good. But us being cool off the court is where it starts and makes it way towards the court when we play together.”

If there were an experiment to further understand the effects of road weariness, the Atlanta Hawks would be the subject.

The Hawks finally played a ‘home’ preseason game Monday night that was only a home game in the sense that is was played in the city of Atlanta. The Hawks defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 100-88 in the penultimate game of the preseason.

The Hawks will play again Thursday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion before a few days of practice and rest before heading out on the road for five straight road games.

The Hawks are the only team in the NBA with home opener later than Oct.27 as Phillips Arena undergoes its final stages of the first phase of a two-phase renovation.

Travel of the NBA is typical, but even so, starting the season with as much travel as the Hawks have endured have playing having to adjust as veterans like forward Kent Bazemore tries to pass his knowledge down to the many young players the Hawks have. Bazemore admits the road-life gets tough and things as simple as a home cooked meal and bed become a luxury when the team gets time off or plays at home.

“It kind of mimics what we’ve got going on to start the season on that last road trip we had, but you’ve to take it a day at a time,” Bazemore said. “One thing you kind of miss on the road is a home cooked meal and your own bed. It’s good to be back home for a little bit and enjoy that. It comes with the territory, you’ve just got to be smart. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of veterans in front of me how to optimize the rest on the road. I’m trying to share that with some of these young guys.”

For a rookie like John Collins, Monday was the first time he got to hear Ryan Cameron’s ‘Jam’ call whenever a Hawks’ player throws down a dunk. Collins was excited to play in front of his fans for the first time.

“I thought it was cool, we had a nice little road trip in preseason to start off, so it’s been good for us,” Collins said. “It’s always good to see that crowd cheering when you score a bucket. It felt good to get some energy.”

With 11 new players on the roster as of Monday, the Hawks needed to get to acquainted. The time the group has spent together has been a bit of a blessing for players to not only get a feel for what one another can do on the court but also get to know the guys and make some off the floor connections.

“We spent a ton of time together on the road, whether it be at dinner or just hanging out and playing video games,” Bazemore said. “It’s just good to kind of get that bonding time on the road. We had training camp and we came home for like a day and a half, but we’ve kind of been around each other for a little bit and kind of feeling each other out off the court and it’s starting to show on the court as well.”

After Thursday’s final preseason contest against the Dallas Mavericks, the Hawks will have five days before facing the Mavericks again in regular season-opener in Dallas. The Hawks first five games are on the road. Phillips Arena is scheduled to reopen on Friday, Oct. 27 as the Hawks host the Denver Nuggets.

The 2017-18 NBA GM surveys are out, which means: let the arguments commence. Similar to all-star voting, the survey tends to slight at least one person. This year, that would be Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer. The question posed: Which head coach has the best defensive schemes? Budenholzer received no votes.

It was a surprising omission, to say the least, given what Budenholzer has accomplished in just four years as the head coach. Budenholzer’s Hawks teams have averaged a 104.15 defensive rating and have never finished no lower than seventh in opponent points in the paint per game over the last three seasons. His tactics intertwine with the strengths of his players and that in itself should be a respected capability. Paul Millsap not only logged his best career numbers offensively under Budenholzer, but Bud’s system resulted in a 2.9 defensive box plus/minus average for ‘Sap over his four years—he averaged 1.9 in Utah for seven seasons.

The same can be said for a defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha and sharpshooter Kyle Korver, both of whom recorded their best DBPM in Bud’s system, which involves a heavy dose of ball trapping by the guards/wings. Longtime Hawk Al Horford played six seasons before Budenholzer’s arrival and has always been among the best defensive players at his position. However, he didn’t notch his highest defensive win shares until the 2015-16 season.

The examples are endless, but we can’t ignore how much reputation plays a role in the voting. Gregg Popovich’s mystic is one so strong that it’s plausible his accomplishments are the only reason he came in first over Budenholzer, especially after the two spent 17 years side by side, the former the boss of the latter, on San Antonio’s bench. However, Atlanta’s defensive scheme is as demanding as Popovich’s—or Thibodeau’s, the second place finisher of that GM question—and I can assure you that no player will touch the floor without giving an all-out effort on the defensive side of the ball—just ask any Hawks rookie over the last four years.

Defense comes first and foremost in Atlanta, which has resulted in opponents shooting just 43.8 percent from the field over the last three seasons. Yes, the Hawks did struggle guarding the three-point line last season, but a look at Budenholzer’s entire tenure as Atlanta’s coach and you would see that his average opponent three-point percentage is among the lowest in the league. He’s won at a high level—a 57 percent winning record to be exact—and a lot of that has to do with how attuned his ballclub is on the defensive end. Just nine current coaches have a higher winning percentage than Budenholzer. Out of that group, only two have finished with a top-five defensive rating more than once over the last four seasons—Popovich and Kerr. Only six of those coaches have had longer head coaching experience.

Defense is his staple, and he’s damn good at it. Whenever the Hawks experience a rough stretch of games, I assure you the following practices will be focused on defense, defense, defense—revisiting defensive principles and adjustments, re-examining defensive roles, etc. The lineups may change, but the defensive principles will be the same this season, as it always is—swarming, tricky and suffocating.

 

Philips Arena has rightfully earned the nickname “The Highlight Factory” from all the spectacular plays that have echoed from the arena, all the way down Peachtree Street. I remember, when I was a younger man, watching Dikembe Mutombo deny more potential highlights than I could count. However, recently, it dawned on me just how many Hawks have completed a jaw-dropping, otherworldly poster.

So I decided to come up with the list you see below. Enjoy.

10. Jeff Teague over Kevin Durant

Scene: November 5, 2012, at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Two minutes left in the second quarter.

Jeff Teague: “Easy lane to the basket.”

Kevin Durant: “Oh, its just Jeff Teague. I’m blocking this with ease. This finna be a breeze!”

Jeff Teague:

9. Josh Smith mimics Kobe Bryant and Ricky Davis by flushing one on Steve Nash.

Nash has dished out plenty of L’s in his Hall of Fame career, but we shouldn’t forget his blunders. He meant well, but that doesn’t mean it always ended well. Three posters that I can recall and every one of them ended with a Nash receiving a blocking foul. Good Lord.

 

8. Al Horford skies over Kevin Love (Round 2, Game 3 of the 2016 Playoffs).

Al Horford literally sat on Love’s shoulder; take note of how Love’s teammates didn’t even venture near the crime scene. When you get boomed on you are on your own–that’s the code.

 

7. Paul Millsap over John Henson

Trillsap sent Henson back to UNC with this banger. Made the kid re-enroll with a double major and a full-time job just to forget his past life. What a shame.

 

6.  Bradley Beal meet Mike Scott–Mike Scott meet Bradley Beal.

Dominique said it best here: “What are you doing?” And to Beal’s credit, he did the right thing—just at the wrong time.

5. More Mike Scott, this time on Ian Mahinmi’s head.

 

4. Dominique Wilkins over everybody

 

3. Not a poster, but Spud Webb’s dunk against Magic & the Lakers deserves praise. Truly astonishing.

 

2.  Josh Smith dunks on Serge Ibaka

 

1. Dominique double clutched off two feet, while contorting his body mid air and finished with authority. Greatness.