Atlanta Hawks Preseason — Things to Look Out For

Graham Chapple —  October 5, 2016
Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images

Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty Images

Oh my goodness, it’s finally here. Even if it’s only preseason, Atlanta Hawks basketball is back!

Tipping off in Memphis on Thursday, we’ll finally be able to get a look at the Hawks in a — somewhat — competitive environment. This is definitely the most I, and I’m sure many others, have been looking forward to seeing the Hawks in action in a while given the summer they had — letting Al Horford go, trading Jeff Teague, signing Dwight Howard and giving the point guard reigns to Dennis Schröder. I am fascinated to see how the overall jigsaw is going to assemble on the court.

I’m not sure how many preseason games are actually going to be broadcasted (be it from the Hawks’ side or from their opposition’s side), but here are some things to look out for when you are watching them in action.

How Dwight Howard fits into the offense

On the face of it, I would not call Dwight Howard a Hawks-y type of player. He’s not a very diverse player on the offensive end (limited to mostly dunks and post moves, the latter seeing varying levels of success), he’s not the greatest passer of the ball (certainly not as a good of a passer than Al Horford was/is), he can’t stretch the floor like Horford did with his mid-range/three-point shot and he bogs down his team’s offensive flow when he is hacked, due to teams wanting to take advantage of his very poor free throw shooting percentages.

I was shocked when the I heard the Hawks had agreed a deal to sign Dwight and I’ve tried to talk myself into the thought of him as a Hawk and there’s certainly a decent case to make for Dwight Howard as a Hawk. We’ve talked about it to no end but now it’s finally time to see it in action.

I have so many questions:

How will Dwight actually fit into this complex offense that the Hawks run? Is he going to be as willing of a passer as Horford was? Is he going to be invested into the system where it’s about “we” not “I”? Will we see him dip into that expanded mid-range game we’ve seen him practise all summer with his shooting coach, Lethal Shooter? Can he knock down that shot in real game situations? Undoubtedly — not through “hack-a” mind you, unless teams are feeling very mean in preseason — we will see Dwight at the free throw line at some stage. Will he give any indication, any confidence, that his free throw percentage is going to increase this season, enough to the point where teams think twice about hacking him? How will his rim-rolling help the Hawks’ offense? What will it open up for his teammates? Will pick-and-rolls involving him help free up the shooters, like Kyle Korver?

We’re not going have all our Dwight Howard questions answered right now, but the picture should be a little clearer once preseason is over.

Dennis Schröder running the point

Dennis Schröder finally has the opportunity he has always wanted — he is now a starting point guard in the NBA. This is not only what he has wanted but what a lot of the fans wanted too. Well here you go, folks, you got what you wished for, now we’ll get a glimpse of what Dennis might be able to do with starters minutes.

But outside of stats, not a lot is actually going to change for Dennis. He already has plenty of crunch time experience (playoff games included) and he has played many entire fourth quarters as the team’s point guard while Teague sat on the bench. The main difference for him is the type of center he will be playing with — it’s Dwight Howard, a rim-rolling beast, not Al Horford who prefers a pick-and-pop game. Power vs. precision, in many ways.

I’m fascinated to see how Schröder and Dwight gel on the court — can they form a connection like Teague and Horford did? Those two clearly had a connection, an understanding. They just knew each other’s games and knew how to find each other.

This is an example from Game 1 against the Celtics this year.

Even though Horford missed that shot, Teague knew that Horford wasn’t going to dive toward the rim but fall back near the perimeter and passed him the ball accordingly, almost chucking the ball behind himself. After the game Teague said of the chemistry “That is just me and him playing together for a while. That 1-5 pick-and-roll, we were really good at. Throughout the whole game I tried to get things going and feed the big guy.”

Will Dennis and Dwight form a similar connection?

I have been quite adamant about Schröder and his readiness to be a starting point guard. Having watched him play all of last season I really didn’t believe he was ready to be the team’s starting PG. I thought he was too erratic, too inconsistent. So many times last season when watching Dennis play I would think “What the flip are you doing, Dennis??”. There are those who feel the same as I do and others who think he’s greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, we’re going to find out who was right soon enough. Defensively he’s absolutely ready, but I still question his readiness to be a starting point guard.

So, I’m looking forward to seeing how Dennis handles the responsibility of being the team’s starting point guard, whether he’s ready or not, and how he and Dwight Howard gel on the court. The key to the Hawks’ season and their title aspirations lie with those two players. If they aren’t up for it, forget it.

Rookie watch

After impressive displays at Las Vegas Summer League, fans are excited about their rookies, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry. And why shouldn’t they be? The defensive potential of Prince and the playmaking abilities of Bembry are fun to watch and given the nature of preseason, the starters aren’t going to play 30+ minutes per game, leaving the rookies — and other fringe players — the opportunity to see a lot of court time and stake a claim for some early season minutes, kind of like Lamar Patterson did last season (even though that was more to do with Tim Hardaway Jr.’s readiness).

I’m fascinated to see how Prince’s defense stacks up against proper NBA talent (Summer League just isn’t the same) and I’m really interested to see if Bembry will have similar success creating opportunities for his teammates as he did in Summer League. I’m hoping they will both get a decent run with the starters and some of the other rotation players, particularly Bembry — I’m just dying to see if he’s able to create plays for a Paul Millsap, a Tiago Splitter or a Dwight Howard rather than a Matt Costello or an Edy Tavares.

How screwed the Hawks would be without Paul Millsap

Have you ever wondered how the Hawks would look like without Paul Millsap? Well, here is your chance because he, along with Jarrett Jack, are missing — at least — the first two games of preseason, per Chris Vivlamore.

If you didn’t already appreciate the amazing work that Paul Millsap does and all he adds to the Hawks’ cause, these two games (on the road against the Grizzlies and the Spurs) might help you along… But, then again, it’s preseason, so it probably won’t matter…

Graham Chapple

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