Bench No Longer Bailing out Starters

Eric Yeboah —  December 3, 2016

Coach Budenholzer hasn’t lost more than five straight games since his first season in Atlanta — until Friday’s 104-88 loss to the Detroit Pistons. The Hawks returned home Friday night in search of not only a win, but to find their mojo they had when they started the season 9-2.  One of — if not the biggest — keys to that run was the bench. A bench that ranked 4th in scoring and averaged 45 points a game in October has now slipped to 32 points per game over the last five games. Both units are struggling in a number of areas, but the offensive possessions are the most glaring.  

“I think we are all just in a bit of a rut right now,” Kyle Korver said post-game Friday night. “It’s the first unit, it’s the second unit. We need to get the ball moving again and get everybody involved.”

“I would say a lot of possessions are not good enough,” said a visibly frustrated Mike Budenhozer. “We are not getting the looks that we need to get and then when you do get a good look it puts a lot of pressure to make those good ones. The game gets hard that way; you want to be free flowing. I don’t think we are getting a lot of good possessions to make those good looks feel right.”

During the winning streak, whenever the starters were in a close contest the bench was there to save them. Whenever the starters had a substantial lead, Muscala, Sefolosha and Hardaway stretched it even further. The road trip called for the bench to step up more than ever, as the Hawks played five games in eight days. Those eight days consisted of a starting unit averaging just 25 points a game and shooting 37 percent from the field.  Once again, the starters struggled, shooting just 34 percent from the field tonight and once again contributing 45 points. The reserves simply weren’t enough to gloss over the troubles hindering the 1st unit.

“Some things we have to get better with, our pick and roll actions,” Kyle Korver said. “Dennis and Dwight are still new to each other in a lot of ways and they’re still figuring it out. We have to do whatever we can to help them, give them better spacing, but I think it’s a lot of parts of the offense that’s a problem, not just the pick and roll.”

The losing streak hurts, yes, but even worse is an absence of fear in opponents when they have to try and stifle this offense. An offense that was once able to wear defenses down until a white flag was waved or break out on a 12-2 run in a blink of an eye to shrink a deficit currently looks like a distant relative.

Defenses are making a stronger effort to close the paint off pick and rolls and, by doing so, throwing off an offense that works best when the inside presence is established first. Before the five game winning streak ended, Atlanta was ranked fourth in points in the paint — averaging 47 points a game — however, over the last three games, they’ve been held to just 38 points a game.

“Teams are sending three or four bodies at me as I’m rolling to the basket to make sure I don’t get any easy baskets,” Dwight Howard said. “They are forcing our guards to make plays, so it’s just a little adjustment that we are going to fix.”

The Hawks don’t  have many off days to rest and watch film to recuperate,m as they face the 2nd seed Toronto Raptors on Saturday night on the back end of a back-to-back, and return home Monday where Russell Westbrook awaits them.

Eric Yeboah

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