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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.

The second night of a back-to-back game usually requires much more production from a bench. The Hawks bench, currently ranked fifth in bench scoring, has been one of the league’s best thus far. In their sixth straight victory they defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 107-100 without the services of Dwight Howard (quad) and Thabo Sefolosha (knee). The starters appeared sluggish and out of sync in the first quarter, shooting just 35 percent from the field, prompting Coach Budenholzer to quickly turn to his backups.

The Hawks began the second quarter trailing 26-21 until a SportsCenter top-10 dunk along the baseline by rookie Taurean Prince jumpstarted a 19-0 run.

“I thought Tauren was great,” Budenholzer said postgame. “Just the physicality he plays with, the aggressiveness he plays with, really gave us a big boost on both ends of the court.”

“That was really nice,” said Mike Muscala of Prince’s dunk. “I was pretty surprised, I did not see that coming. He’s going to be a really good player.”

Picked 12th in this year’s draft, many may have been expecting more appearances this season from Prince. However, with a veteran like Sefolosha that Bud can trust and the sharp shooting Tim Hardaway Jr has displayed, Prince has been forced to remain patient, but ready. He was just that on Wednesday night, logging eight points, five rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes of action.

“In my opinion the best teacher is experience,” Prince said. ” For me to get out there with the guys. We put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes that people don’t see. I am ready for the opportunity, whatever opportunity I can continue to get, I will continue to take advantage of it.”

The opportunities will be fed to Prince gradually as the season progresses under a Budenholzer that has a tendency to keep young wings on a short leash. Tim Hardaway Jr and Kent Bazemore both are examples of what happens when a organization takes time in laying out a program that makes a concerted effort to truly deduce — to a science — a player’s strengths and weaknesses, along with what steps need to be taken in order for him to maximize his talent.

“Just another testament of the Atlanta Hawks player development system,” said Bazemore on Prince’s play on Wednesday night. “A guy works hard every day and when he gets his name called he’s ready. That’s one of his [Taurean] greatest attributes is he’s fearless, he’s out there chirping, hitting people, finishing above the rim and that’s his game. It’s good when you can get a young fella this early in his career and be that confident.”

Confidence is what got him to the league — it’s part of what drew the Hawks to him and it’s also how he will gain minutes going further. The untapped potential he possesses, along with his high tenacity level, is a coach’s dream, especially to a true teacher of the game like Budenholzer. Prince, like any other rookie, is still grasping schemes, counters and what making the right play at this level entails, but if Wednesday night is any indication, his ascension has only just hit its genesis.

His dunk is a must see, a show stopper and one of the most exciting plays the Hawks have executed this year. But that alone won’t keep him on the floor — playing the Hawks’ brand of basketball will.

“Anybody that comes into our team you kind of have to learn how we play, said Korver. Its not about just having talent and attacking the basket, there’s a method to the madness. He’s got a lot of natural ability and talent. For him, I told him at half time his best play was when he drove to the basket and whipped it to Tim for the shot. I told him that was your best play, not the big awesome dunk that you had, which was incredible. He’s just got to keep feeling how we play and I think that is a great play to go back and review.”

 

Post-election discussions have been rampent all over the NBA following Tuesday’s presidential race outcome. Athletes and coaches of all races and backgrounds voiced their support and displeasure on what looks to be one of the most divisive political campaigns this country has ever seen.

The Atlanta Hawks are a part of a city so densely cosmopolitan that to avoid the outcry of protesters would be as hard as Donald Trump not using the word huge.  After facing the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night, they faced questions about the commander-in-chief-to-be.

“I think everybody was surprised by it because a lot of the polls didn’t show that,” Ryan Kelly said. “But for me personally, I look at it and say he’s going to be the President and that is a position I think we should respect. People aren’t perfect and hopefully he can be a better man now that he’s in office”

The hope for a large portion of the country that voted against Trump is for just some sort of rehabilitation will take place. His message resonated with enough individuals that were begging for some sort of drastic change, no matter the messenger and how the message offended several minority groups.

But even then, it seems that the league has taken a binary stance. In a league of such diversity of background — a league that employs six women in team vice presidential roles, two women as assistant coaches and, of course, its bevy of black and international players — there is no doubt how the NBA sees the results of the election. In fact, Commissioner Adam Silver has already sent a league-wide email reinforcing the NBA’s commitment to equality and diversity.

Thabo Sefolosha, born in Switzerland, seemed puzzled by the final result that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election.

“I cannot vote, but It was very entertaining nonetheless to watch.” Sefolosha said. “Of course I had an opinion, it’s the votes of the American people that have been heard, but it was just weird to see Hillary Clinton received more votes than Donald Trump [and lose].”

The results of the popular vote are contributing to the anger that some feel towards a democracy system our leaders boast is the most fair to live under.  So when Americans deem a political or social issue to be un-American, they take to the streets to display just how disgusted they are.  American history is flooded with protest for all sorts of causes, whether police conduct, civil, gay or immigration rights. However, never have we seen protest permeate across the country in response to the outcome of Presidential election like we have seen in these past few days. These protests have spawn an excitement for activism and at the same time brought into the question  the efficacy of the same very protests.

“I don’t think those protesters should be happening,” Sefolosha said.. “You have the right to vote and if you didn’t vote and the person you wanted to get elected didn’t get elected, well that’s too bad. The results are a reflection of the country, it’s a democracy, the way the country is run; so if everybody has the right to vote they should have been more vocal before instead of rioting afterwards.”

According to electproject.org, just 56.9 percent of eligible voters actually casted a ballot, a decrease from 58.6 percent in 2012. This election, like all elections, felt more pivotal than the last; but that still wasn’t enough to garner the attention of those who feel that their vote wouldn’t make a difference or that whoever takes office won’t uphold promises. Colin Kaepernick, who is protesting the system in which the United States governs under, has spoken out extensively on his decision not to vote and received much backlash.  Many are choosing to eradicate his previous efforts because of his decision, while others like Ryan Kelly and Thabo Sefolosha believe it falls right in line with his stance.

“I think his message is still relevant, in a sense that he wants to see change and that’s part of the change,” Kelly said.  “This has been in the media for a while, something we saw publicly and it’s a huge part of our lives. There is no problem with showing that you feel that where we are as a country isn’t where we need to be and Regardless of whose president most people can say that.”

“I think that not voting is pretty much in line with what he believes,” Sefolosha said. “He is making a stand by taking a knee during the anthem. He is trying to keep people aware of a problem that has been happening in America.”

Now, whether or not you agree with Kaepernick and the many others decision to sit out, the outcome still remains — Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States. Discussions about putting personal feelings to the side during his presidency are just as prominent across the country and all of the media. Charles Barkley and Oprah Winfrey, who some feel represent a small portion of how majority of minorities truly feel, each have conveyed optimism for Trump.

Add the Hawks’ starting small forward, Kent Bazemore, to that list.

“I am excited man,” Bazemore said. “Something new, obviously the rest of society hasn’t taken it well with all of the protest and riots. “But I think people all across the country are sick and tired of how things have always been and that’s why you get a guy like him in office to shake things up a bit.  Make America great again is his slogan and as a President we should stand behind him. I am all for change, never been afraid of change — Barack Obama said he has a shifting confidence in Trump. Like Oprah said, I think everybody can take a deep breathe now.

“You know I was reading a post the other day, talking about how Trump is what America is. I think that we should all come together during a time like this. Some people are scared of change, but I am not, let’s do it, let’s see what he’s got because that’s all you can do is stand behind him. For a man like him to be talked about as negatively as he has all his life and still assume position of power says a lot about him and his resilience and as a leader that’s what you want.”

There is no need to further analyze how and why we arrived here, now at this time this country must remain steadfast in stressing the importance of acceptance of all the groups that currently feel that they will receive harsh treatment under his regime. Hate groups all throughout the country feel emboldened to act out in ways that reek of yesteryear. The only way to combat that is every individual take on the responsibility to do so, that’s the way it is and has always been.

LeBron James, one of the most socially outspoken athletes in today’s sports world, expressed a message of hope, positivity and faith to women, youth and minorities on Instagram. A message to uplift those who felt as though they would have no say in their aspirations and dreams. Those who strongly believe the character of an elected political official is a reflection of the environment they will have to endure each and every day.

Kent Bazemore, and Lebron James don’t buy into that, they both believe the power that each individual possess is far greater than any President.

“The President doesn’t really dictate a lot for individuals,” Bazemore said. “I feel like you can make whatever out of your life you want if you get up and work hard everyday, the world is yours.There is nothing he (Trump) can do to hold you back as an individual, so us as citizens need to be more consciousness of the impact we have as individuals and strive for greatness every day.”

Kent Bazemore hasn’t gotten off to the start he would like to so far this season offensively, but knocked off the rust just in time for one of his biggest free agency suitors this summer — the Houston Rockets. Bazemore finished the game with 20 points, shooting 7-12 from the field and 75 percent from beyond the arc. Last season he showed improvement all around, but especially from downtown, shooting 50 percent in the first six games as opposed to just 15 percent this season. It’s far too early to begin to panic, but after agreeing to a 4-year, $70 million contract in the offseason, more eyes are observing Bazemore than ever before.

“I don’t think it’s about the contract,” Bazemore said. “It’s about me having another year in the NBA, this is my fifth year. I have very high expectations for myself. I’m trying to exceed them for myself and I may be pressing a little, but that’s human nature, you want to be great.

Bazemore has mostly been known as a defender in this league, so his offensive production has rarely been his sole focus. He has always guarded the opposing team’s best wing player — like a James Harden or Lebron James — but now he’s also being asked to handle the ball a little bit more this season with the departure of Jeff Teague and insertion of a young Dennis Schroder, which may take some time to adjust. However, more responsibility offers a chance to reach his own offensive goals and aspirations. Guys like Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler can serve as an inspiration for someone like Bazemore — both dominant defensive wings who were able to work their way into being dominant two-way players.

“Being a two way player is what I want to be known for,” Bazemore said. “Defense is what got me here and is probably 10 percent physical attributes and the rest is mental. But I want to continue to expand my game as a player and don’t want to be a guy teams don’t have to guard because I’ve been that guy so much in my life.”

 

However, for Bazemore, his optimism stems from his play last year that resulted in career highs in several categories. Houston took notice of Kent’s improvement and aimed much of their offseason energy in his direction, hoping to add more versatility alongside Harden and Ariza. In a league obsessed with the long ball more than ever before, his services were in high demand. Bazemore’s. The decision between the two organizations was far from easy as his relationship with Coach Mike D’Antoni was strong enough to pique his interest.

 

Listen to Bazemore below as to what ultimately kept him in Atlanta.

 

 

At the moment he’s happy and secure in Atlanta under a Budenholzer system that puts him in the best positions to make an impact on the offensive end. The biggest task for him this season is finding a comfort zone off the dribble in midrange territory. Good defenses will force him off the three-point line and into circumstances when a pull up jumper is necessary. Coming into tonight’s game he was just 6-28 from 16 feet to the three point line

His bank account may have changed but the gleeful kid from Kelford, NC remains positive and grounded in what got him this far.

 

“It’s all about timing and putting in the rhythm. Still putting in the work,still showing up, still lifting weights and still playing defense. The shot will come, there is no need to panic”, said Bazemore.

 

Watch Bazemore’s first 20 point game of the season below!