Archives For Eric Yeboah

Atlanta has suffered through several blowouts so far this season that should give pause to whether or not this team is capable of making a deep playoff run.

In every single one of those blowouts, they looked unequipped and unenthusiastic facing opponents with several shooters and playmakers. Washington, Detroit, and Utah all showed just that this year’s defense, allowing the most points per game under Coach Budenholzer’s tenure, does not seem to be imposing their will on teams as in seasons past.

The reason that may be? Those aggressive teams mentioned above have figured out the weaknesses of the Hawks’ defense, and they are well-equipped to attack it.

“We know that they are a team that likes to have their bigs play back in pick and roll coverage,” said Washington’s Bradley Beal. “So we took full advantage of it and were able to come off screens for jumpers or get in the lane and create for someone else.”

Beal’s teammate — star point guard John Wall — added on to that assessment.

“They are a type of team that closes out the paint first, then closes out on shooters, so with me and Bradley being aggressive in pick and rolls, guys just have to be ready to shoot.” said Wall. “More teams are just going to give me the shot in pick and rolls by allowing me and Gortat to play two-on-tow or take us away and let the weak side score.”

In Washington and Atlanta’s Jan. 27 meeting that the Wizards won 112-86, the box score said the Wizards posted a 42% 3-point field goal percentage, but witnessing it felt more like 52%, as many of them were taken without much contest from defenders. More alarming than some of those other blowouts was that the Hawks were fully aware stepping onto this court that they were facing a Top 10 3-point shooting squad in Washington and apparently made no adjustments from their usual scheme.

The pick and roll scheme, along with electing to pack the paint, seems works well when you face teams like the Bulls or Nets that lack floor spacers. Honestly, it was very apparent last season when Cleveland swept Atlanta for a second straight time that eventually talents trumps scheme; we see that every year during march Madness when a Cinderella run ends once they face an overwhelming gifted roster.

Some believed heading into the season that Dwight Howard could take this Hawks defense to a level that Al Horford could not. Although Howard thrives in rim protection, teams have steadily tried to force him into defending the pick and rolls more frequently, an area he may not be completely comfortable in. Combined with that, the farther Howard is away from the rim, the less of a rebounding presence he becomes. This then results in more offensive opportunities for opponents, as evidence by the Hawks’ currently ranking 26th in opponent second chance points and 23rd in opponent offensive rebounds. While many put a lot of stock in Howard’s pure rebounding numbers, replacing Horford — who excelled in reading coverages and moving his feet well enough to disrupt ballhandlers — is not a skill you can find just anywhere in this league.

The focus in this series of clips is to watch how Howard and Mike Muscala have been instructed to sag back into the paint.

Now when Budenholzer chooses to blitz the ballhandler off the pick and roll by forcing him to one side of the floor, there are only two reactions from opponents: panic or patience. Teams like Washington and Cleveland play with a certain level of patience because they have multiple sources of offense. Those secondary options can make the right pass or drift to the right spot on the backside of the defense for higher percentage looks from downtown. Utah is another team this season who has proven that with length, shooting and playmaking, this Top 5 ranked defense can look discombobulated.

While the Hawks often excel at trapping, this series shows just how vulnerable the weakside is whenever the Hawks trap one side. Not every team can take advantage of that, but Utah’s Gordon Hayward explains why some of the top teams in the league are able to do so.

“They do a good job of coming over, shifting early and shutting down rolls,” said Hayward. “We are unique because we have a lot of playmakers and taller guys so we can see over the defense, which helps make that extra skip pass.”

Hayward’s teammate and point guard George Hill echoed similar sentiments.

“You have to be fundamentally sound when you play these guys,” said George Hill. “Coach Bud is a great coach and they have a lot of great players that are active. So you have to strategically pick them apart as far as attacking the bigs getting them in two-on-one options, where we can get the ball out of the trap and try to play two-on-one on the backside.”

For the last couple seasons, it always felt as though no matter how poorly the Hawks struggled to score the ball that the defense would always be there to keep the game close. They could buckle down in any moment and jumpstart some type of offense, but not so much this season. Yes, the defense enabled them to comeback from 20-point deficits in Milwaukee and Houston, but in order to think like a champion, you must think pessimistically. In the Hawks’ case, it’s not just about blown leads and lost games, but wins too; even in victories in which they had a substantial lead, they closed out the game rather poorly from a defensive standpoint.

Playoff time is just around the corner and no considerable changes to the roster seem forthcoming. The scheme can be and has been very effective obviously, but its weaknesses could very well be the reason they won’t make it very far in this year’s postseason.

Dennis Schroder: The Finisher

Eric Yeboah —  January 27, 2017

Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, and Steph Curry maybe some of names blurted out when asked to name some of the best finishers at the point guard position. Rightfully so, as those individuals have each carved out their own niche whether it’s Irving’s ambidextrous finishes, Parker’s floater, Curry’s high layups off the glass or Rose’s body bending layups through contact.

Dennis Schroder’s name still remains mostly forgotten in this category, which may change by the end of his first year as a full-time starter. Tuning into a Hawks game, you may be drawn to four time All Star Paul Millsap’s scoring prowess, but this motion offense doesn’t work without Schroder’s penetration and finishing ability.His teammates have consistently echoed that sentiment all throughout this year that this team is much more dangerous when he’s attacking putting pressure on both the defense and the rim. The numbers don’t lie, when Schroder scores 23 points or more the Hawks are 10-2. In those twelve games he went for 31 against Westbrook, 27 against Derrick Rose, 28 against the Golden State killer that is Kyrie Irving and 24 a piece facing Steph Curry and Kyle Lowry.

In every one of those elite matchups he showed not only the ability to go toe to toe with some of the best, not only did he show improvement in his midrange jump shot; but sent a message that he can get to the rim with ease at the same level as those big names.

“I don’t really care what people say,” said Schroder when referring to being an overlooked finisher. “I am just trying to prove to my teammates every time we go out there and win games. Everything else will come, people will then talk about it, when we keep winning, people will keep watching us then everything will profit off of that.”

Coming out of the NBA Draft, the Rondo comparisons appeared valid due to his pass first mentality, defensive presence and lack of shooting; but more than anything was the way he found creases in the defense to slither his way through for a finish as quick as lightning. He’s not an elite athlete by any stretch, but what he does possess is a lethal first step, long arms and big hands. Those attributes have assisted in his current 55.3-percent conversion rate on layups, by far the highest of his career. Hidden in that number is his exceptional ability at understanding the amount of time he has in certain situations to release his shot given the type of defender attempting to contest his tries, and all of that came with time and practice.

“My first year I had to figure out how I would finish because there are so many big guys blocking my shots,” said Schroder. “So I had to adjust and see how I could finish without people blocking my shots. I started working more with the coaches, watching little guards in the league like Tony Parker and Rondo really taught me a lot.”

These series of plays highlight Schroder’s ability to use that quickness to create an opening to the lane then use his IQ to gauge just how much or how little time he has to release his shot. You will also notice how he extends his body as he attempts the layup to create enough separation between him and his defender.

Understanding his defender seems to come natural to Schroder, and when you comprehend given scenarios, you then produce plethora of finishes. Particularly someone of his stature with long arms should use the scoop layups and high floating bankers to his advantage, because defenders have no choice but to either foul trying to contest or give up an easy bucket.

All of the best finishers in the league use it, but what I think sets Schroder apart is his ability to consistently convert off either foot or hand, meaning he he can finish taking off on his right leg with his left hand or finish using one side of the body on either side of the rim. In other words, he’s uncanny, unpredictable; but that’s what makes a great finisher great. That is what made Nate Archibald, Rod Strickland, Kevin Johnson and Allen Iverson special and worth the ticket. Those guys played the glass so well and Schroder does the same whether he is on balance or not.

These series of plays highlight Schroder’s ability to score off balance as well as properly place the ball on the glass at all sorts of angles using either hand. Additionally, you can see how effective his misdirection dribble move is and how it helps accelerate him into the paint.

This season, Schroder’s three ball has improved and he’s taking the mid range pull up more confidently than he ever has. Nuzzled in all of this progress, we may have forgotten how lethal he is at getting to the basket. His finishes may or may not wow you like the rest of the bunch that I named earlier, but what they will do is force you to respect his craft, his style, his way.

“I don’t think he is overlooked compared to those other big names because those guys are really good,” said teammate Kent Bazemore on where Schroder ranks among the best finishers at his position. “But I do think in time he will be regarded as one of the best.”