Archives For Wes Morton

Delaney looking to take his talents to Atlanta.


 

When the Hawks signed point guard Malcolm Delaney, who had last played stateside five years ago as a senior member of the Virginia Tech Hokies, it was the culmination of nine years of official and unofficial scouting. The current Atlanta Hawks assistant general manager, Jeff Peterson, got a firsthand look at his talent and almost a decade later Peterson is finally employing Delaney’s services.

After going undrafted in 2011, Delaney bounced around overseas on a journey that took him across two continents. The list of teams he has played for is almost indecipherable for those unfamiliar with the Euroleague. His first three years playing internationally were season-long stops as a member of Elan Chalon of the top-tier French LNB Pro A, then the Budivelnyk Kyiv of the Ukrainian SuperLeague, then a year with a sporting club you may have actually heard of in Bayern Munich.

The last two years, Delaney spent with PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban, which based in Krasnodar, Russia and a part of a newly formed top-tier league in Russia. Their league, VTB United League, is mostly comprised of Russian teams but essentially covers a large swath of Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, from Kazakhstan to the Czech Republic.

In all, it’s a remarkable journey for a player who could have laid his NBA dreams to rest after going undrafted. Similarly, for the Hawks, this contract is the culmination of much more travel, note-taking and deliberation than the casual fan would realize. Continue Reading…

The hopes that Al Horford would retire a Hawk are dashed. The long term future of the franchise is not, however.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Hawks have agreed to sign Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million contract and will retain Kent Bazemore for $70 million over four years. Such was not the same fate, sadly, for the most tenured Hawk.

Remove the emotional aspect of the tumultuous past couple of days and come to realize this is by no means a disaster for the Atlanta Hawks. The team rebuilt the wing corps through the draft and were able to retain breakout star Kent Bazemore. They landed the much maligned but still effective Dwight Howard without having to commit to a fourth year.

Sure, their hopes of winning a championship are very slim this season, especially so if Durant lands on an Eastern team like Boston or Miami, but all you can hope is to be a top four seed in the conference and maybe a path towards the Finals opens up. There are 30 teams competing for one trophy and it’s unrealistic to have half of the teams contending and half rebuilding; there’s always going to be middle ground.

Besides, a Millsap-Horford core proved to be in the same non-contending boat. That duo had two true opportunities to dethrone Lebron’s reign on the Eastern Conference and failed woefully each time. Subsequently, the Boss received a nice severance package and headed to greener, shamrock-filled pastures and we went to Plan B. That’s just how the business goes sometimes.

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Motion. Passing. Selflessness.

These are just a few tenets by which Hawks management have instilled into the team since a changing of guards in the summer of 2012.

Over the past few seasons, as the coverage of the NBA has permeated different international markets and national TV deals have accelerated both the salary cap (projected to be $94 million or greater in 2016-17, a 30% jump from this year) and league revenues, the business has become even more scrutinized.

Teams are valuing floor spacing and shooting from all five positions on the floor. Copycat franchises snatch up coaches and executives from successful regimes in an attempt to emulate the former organization’s glory. Even the short Mike Budenholzer reign has been a raided a bit by teams looking to turn Hawks assistants into a culture change for their own club, like the Jazz and the Nets.

We all saw in 2014-15 that when mastered, the whirling offense can cause headaches for opponents. Atlanta had the sixth best offense by ORtg (108.9) while shooting a blistering 38.0% from beyond the arc, second in the association.

This past year, the story was very different. The calendar flipping from 2015 to 2016 saw the Hawks play elite defense, lowering their season mark to an impressive 101.4 DRtg, second in the league per the NBA’s stats, from a 60 win team that posted a 103.1 DRtg. Unfortunately, the team stumbled badly on the other side of the floor.

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The Hawks (38-29) might be peaking at just the right time, and there’s an obvious springboard for this late surge. Only 1.5 games separate the Hawks from a top three seed in the East, despite several hot Eastern Conference teams, and there’s a growing sense the team can get there by mid-April.

How is this possible? In a season that has seen a lot of regression from last year’s soaring highs, there has been one area that Atlanta has exceeded all expectations.

Maybe you’ve heard now, but the Atlanta Hawks defense has been good. Really really good. As of writing this, the Hawks are second in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) at 98.6 per the NBA’s stats, behind only the historically great San Antonio Spurs defense. They have maintained this level of play even as their offense struggles to regain last season’s identity and injuries have forced mid-season transactions, hitting the reset button on some of the continuity the team had built up.

Coming off a fresh 104-75 beatdown of a Pacers team that had been on a three game winning streak, the Hawks have helped cement their identity as a meticulous defensive stonewall less than a month before the ultimate test.

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The Atlanta Hawks (30-23) fell to the Orlando Magic (22-28) behind yet another buzzer beater. It was their tenth in a row in this situation, per Jaryd Wilson of the Atlanta Hawks. The last second shot from Nikola Vucevic quelled a furious comeback attempt for the Hawks in a game in which the team was fighting uphill almost the entire way.

The Magic came in reeling, having lost 15 of their last 17 games and 11 of their last 12. The Hawks were riding high off of three straight victories and have chance to go into the All-Star break with some confidence.

Tobias Harris and C.J. Watson sat out with a mild ankle sprain and a sore calf respectively. On the other side, Tiago Splitter missed his fourth straight game with a hip injury for the Hawks and has been ruled out until after the All-Star break. It left the team with one less big body to bang with Vucevic, the talented big man from Montenegro. As a result, Nikola finished with 22 points and eight rebounds to go along with the victory.

Jeff Teague powered the Hawks behind 24 big points on 17 shots in 34 minutes with five assists to boot. Kent Bazemore came alive late with 23 points and eight rebounds. Atlanta had to lean on its long range shooting, as the team shot a paltry 22-of-63 (34.9%) from two point land compared to 13-of-28 (46.4%) from beyond the arc.

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With the Hawks crossing the halfway point of their 82 game regular season, it is time to look back at some of the successes and failures of the team.

The team’s record sits at 24-17 prior to Monday’s match against the Orlando Magic, on pace for 48 wins for you math majors. This would be a 12-win drop off from last year despite only a couple of roster changes during the offseason. It was common thought that the Hawks wouldn’t be able to match their performance from a season ago given natural regression. The first half of the season has only proved that line of thinking correct. Still, the team has a real shot at a top two seed in the Eastern Conference and will look to enter the playoffs in better shape this time around.

Let’s dive right into what has gone right early in the 2015-16 season.

The Positives:

Kent Bazemore

By now you’ve heard Baze’s story. A four year player at Old Dominion, Kent went undrafted in 2012 and has had to fight for playing time in the Association. James Herbert of CBS Sports recently detailed his early struggles and his improvement since becoming a Hawk in 2014. 

Kent shot 32.7% from three in sporadic time over his first two seasons in the NBA with the Warriors and Lakers. Last season, he shot 36.4% from long range. This year? A brilliant 41.9%. Kent credits a revamped shooting stroke and it has showed in his results. But he has also elevated his game in other ways.

Kent is playing the most minutes of his career at over 28 a game and has responded with double digit scoring for the first time as well. He is fourth on the team in points per game (12.8) and third in True Shooting Percentage (59.2%). In addition, he has turned into a real pesky defender with a 0.4 Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DPM) and over a steal per game.

Long regarded as just a slasher with monster hops, the man from Kelford, North Carolina has refined his game into a well-rounder contributor. Baze was once only known for his bench celebrations, but now his electrifying play between the baselines is causing others to go wild from the sideline. It was only a few months ago when questions surfaced about the team’s ability to replace DeMarre Carroll. Well, I’d say the Hawks have found their replacement plus some.

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Christmas season is upon us. It’s a time to reflect back on the year, to spend time with family and to smugly step over people for that last bit of Christmas shopping, like Allen Iverson over Tyronn Lue.

The 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks were a gift to the city and their fans all around the world, as an oft-forgotten team reached dizzying heights never seen before in franchise history. While the current team has yet to soar like the year before, the new ownership and return of the NBA’s coach of the year brings stability to club with a volatile past.

The team knows it is better to give than receive, as evidenced by their 25 assists per game that ranks third in the association. But there are a few items each member could use heading into the meat of the season. And so, I would like to offer each member of the Hawks the perfect Christmas present as they look to turn a corner heading into 2016.

Jeff Teague: A year’s supply of ankle wraps

Jeff Teague has not matched his All-Star level production from a year ago, but a good chunk of that can be attributed to an ankle injury that still plagued him early this season.

In the Hawks’ final game before Christmas, Teague, finally on two ankles he could trust, had a stat-stuffing box score of 23 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals. Or should I say stocking stuffer? Continue Reading…

The devil is in the details, and for the Hawks especially those details make all the difference.

Philips Arena has never been graced by a true superstar, at least not one wearing the home colors. The trade of Dominique Wilkins in 1994 signaled the end of an era and the beginning of two decades of mediocrity for this franchise. Without the benefit of a superstar, the Hawks have tried multiple paths to piecing together a contender with mid-rung players.

The organization never set out to start a revolution by formulating a team without a consistent 25 point scorer, but this has been the reality since the mid-90s. There’s no gained nobility from this pursuit and the team would gladly accept a top-rung player should he chose to make Atlanta his home.

The 2015 Playoffs were a harsh reminder that top-end talent typically trumps all else. Even after Kevin Love had his shoulder displaced at the hands of Kelly Olynyk, and Kyrie was gimpy for the majority of the playoffs, LeBron James backpacked the Cavaliers to within two games of an NBA championship. Few teams could survive losing two of their best three players but an elite player allows for this kind of adaptation. In this sense, the Cavs have a large margin of error for repeating as Eastern Conference champions.

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The Atlanta Hawks (10-7) traveled to Minnesota (7-8) looking to build upon a strong win against Boston and exorcise demons from their earlier loss to the Timberwolves. They failed to do so in a 99-95 loss in Target Arena.

The T’Wolves bench accounted for 58 of their 99 point total. Minnesota was led by 13 points on just five shots from Damjan Rudez and Zach LaVine’s 18 points, six assist and five rebound night.

Reigning rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins was kept in check most of the night with an inefficient line of 15 points on 17 shots, but muscled up a bucket in the lane after taking body contact from Paul Millsap to put the Timberwolves up 98-94 with 1:24 left to go. The Hawks only netted one point in the final two minutes amid turnovers and bad shots, sealing the game for the home team.

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The Atlanta Hawks returned to the place their breakout 2014-15 season ended and suffered a similar fate in a 109-97 loss. In front of a sellout Quicken Loans Arena crowd, Kevin Love led the Cavs with 25 points and 11 rebounds and LeBron James added 19 points and 11 rebounds. The Hawks only had one lead and were never really in the game past the opening minutes.

The big story was the ejection of coach Mike Budenholzer after just one technical foul. Coach Bud was giving Ben Taylor some words after Justin Holiday was hit in the face on a drive without a whistle, and he appeared to make contact with the fifth year referee, which would warrant the immediate ejection. After the game, coach Bud stated that he did not immediately realize he bumped Taylor and that the contact was unintentional.

Kenny Atkinson took over the coaching duties from there but there would be no emotional rally from Atlanta.

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