Archives For Atlanta Hawks
It’s the little things.
Atlanta Hawks’ point guard Malcolm Delaney dives on the floor to tip a loose ball away from a Boston Celtics’ guard as Dennis Schroder sprints full speed after the loose ball. Schroder gathers the ball just before it goes out of bounds and finds center DeWayne Dedmon streaking down the middle of the paint for a dunk. Two points, all based on a few small, extra efforts.
The Hawks’ energy was evidenced throughout Monday’s game on a couple of occasions. Late in the fourth quarter, a Kent Bazemore pass was intercepted by Marcus Smart, Schroder did not pout or hesitate, it was a dead sprint back to get into position to where Schroder ultimately earned a charge. Next possession, Schroder hit a mid-range jumper to put the Hawks ahead by one.
“For every team, it’s (hustle) is going to give energy into the game when somebody hustles or dives on the floor like Malcolm (Delaney) did, that’s why I chased the ball down,” Schroder said. “Those kinds of plays give the team energy. We competed for 48 minutes, we did a great job sticking with them, but they hit some tough shots, we’ve got to give them credit.”
Prior to the 2017-2018 NBA season the chatter league-wide stated that the Hawks weren’t supposed to be good. They were a lottery-bound team with slim hopes of many winning nights.
Well, they don’t seem to know nor care what they are ‘supposed’ to be. The Hawks knocked off the presumed top-dogs in the Eastern Conference Sunday evening in a 117-115 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Monday, they battled the team that was considered the next best thing in the Boston Celtics to a 110-107 loss. The Hawks had their chances and with a little over a minute left in the game the Hawks looked up and saw themselves in the lead.
“We don’t have a superstar or whatever, so we’ve got to do all the little things like competing on the defensive end, dive on the floor whatever it takes to win some games,” Schroder said. “I think we got better tonight competing for 48 minutes and they hit some tough shots and you’ve got to give them credit.”
The Hawks’ loss Monday night dropped them to 2-9 on the season, a record that was expected but deceiving. The Hawks have been in most of their losses with only three coming by a margin of 12 or more. Bazemore feels that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that has been the first 11 games of the season and thinks the energy and effort of the last few games have brought the team closer together.
“Our record doesn’t show, but it’s not as bad as it looks,” Bazemore said. “We’ve been in pretty much every game. I thought the Houston game and probably the Milwaukee game out of the 11 we’ve played were the only two that we kind of didn’t show up. Going into the last three games actually brought us closer together. If you’d have told someone we’d split these games at this point of time in the season, they’d probably laugh. To get one of the two is big for us. We actually had chances to win two, so it’s early in the season and we still got 71 to go so anything can happen.”
John Collins, standing at an undersized 6’10”, has matched up with some of the biggest bodies this league has to offer—like Dwight Howard, Timofey Mozgov, Dirk Nowitzi and Timofey Mozgov—in the first few games of his career. Collins received his first heavy dose on October 9th, when he was tasked with boxing out 7’1″, 255-pound bruiser Marc Gasol. Good luck with that, right? Despite the disadvantage, he snagged eight boards. Shocking to some, but not to those fully aware of his rebounding prowess.
Collins doesn’t just feel as if its his responsibility to rebound—he takes pride in it.
“Of course I take pride in it,” Collins said. “Part of being a great defending team is getting stops and finishing the play with a rebound. It is really important to me. Using my athletic ability regardless of the matchup on the offensive or defensive glass.”
Take a look his draft reports and you’ll find scouts raving about his motor, low post scoring ability and, most importantly, his rebounding. Atlanta has finished in the bottom half of the league in rebounding twice over the last three years—they placed ninth last season primarily due to Dwight Howard’s expertise.
Obviously Howard is gone, but Collins is demonstrating, in his mere 19 minutes per game, that Atlanta has acquired yet another force on the boards.
Last Friday night’s home opener was no different, as he found himself battling with Denver’s 6’10”, 255-pound Nikola Jokic and 6’11”, 255-pound Mason Plumlee on several occasions. Collins scrapped and scrapped all night long until he was able grab eight rebounds. On a night when he shared the floor with Kenneth Faried, another relentless worker on the glass, Collins showed in many instances that he has the same motor.
The rookie grinds on the glass and understands matchups—which explains why he currently sits fourth among rookies with 7.3 rebounds per game and first in offensive rebounds.
“On the offensive end I’m just trying to use my athleticism and quickness to get around,” Collins said. “Either by tip backs or whatever I can force. On the defensive glass its really about boxing out and trying to find a body—or just attacking the ball.”
The most important aspects of rebounding are positioning and anticipation—especially for someone of Collins’ size.
“For me its almost like the more outmatched I am, weight or height, I think for me to just get a body on him will help my teammates get the rebound,” Collins said. If its a guy I know I can box out pretty well, then I’m pretty comfortably, I try to attack it. If its a guy stronger than me or more experienced than me, I try to hit him first. Make sure my guy doesn’t get the rebound.”
As the Atlanta Hawks attempted to an ultimately futile comeback in the third and fourth quarter of Sunday’s 117-106 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, a new, slightly unfamiliar face was among the familiar ones.
Isaiah Taylor, a second-year player out of the University of Texas found himself running with the starters late as incumbent backup point guard Malcolm Delaney sat, not seeing a minute in the second half. Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer was pleased with Taylor’s speed, energy, passing, shooting ability and ability to create for himself and his teammates while starter Dennis Schroder was out of the game as well as high energy on the defensive end.
“When he’s been on the court I think just his speed, his ability to get to the paint and really his willingness to pass kind of collapses defenses and he finds guys,” Budenholzer said. “He’s made shots too. I don’t think he’s shot a lot of 3s, but he made one early tonight. He’s made a couple in other games and getting to the free throw line. I think just giving him a chance, he’s a young guy. Like I said when we first got him, I think we’re excited about having him and seeing him grow.”
Taylor, who signed with the Hawks one day before the season-opener against the Dallas Mavericks, logged what was tied for his season-high 16 minutes Sunday in the loss and put in seven points for the Hawks.
Taylor has spent the first six games of the 2017 season acclimating to a new team and a new philosophy. Sunday, Taylor felt as comfortable as he’s been in a Hawks’ uniform and it all started with a three-pointer early in the first half. Taylor feels the shot allowed him to bring the energy that Budenholzer covets and ultimately led to him seeing extended minutes late.
“Whenever you come in and hit a bucket, it’s just like ‘let’s go,’ that’s everybody’s moment, I don’t care if you have no energy at all, you get in the game and you get a bucket, you’re automatically going 100 percent,” Taylor said.
Taylor only played in four games last season for the Houston Rockets, but the experience of learning from James Harden and the coaching staff of the Rockets and the coaching staff of the Rockets’ G League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers has helped Taylor prepare for the minutes that he is seeing so far in 2017.
“It helped me a lot going down to the D League last year with RGV,” Taylor said. “That coaching staff down there was amazing. I think they helped me a lot during my progress in the NBA. They got me ready for this moment.”
Taylor could be a big part of the Hawks’ rotation moving forward as they search for combinations that work after losing six games in a row. Taylor has finally gained his footing in Atlanta, a process that was aided by the fact that Taylor played against John Collins in summer league and has watched all of the Hawks from afar the past few seasons. Gaining the consistent minutes and the trust of his teammates is the next step for Taylor.
“I’m doing all right,” Taylor said. “I played against John (Collins) in summer league. I know what ‘TP’ (Taurean Prince) can do. Before I got here I watched a lot of these dudes on T.V. before. It’s just gaining trust in them and them gaining trust in me so that I can put them in position to be successful on the court. I think that’s the next step for me to feel even more comfortable.”
It’s no secret that that this is a transitional period for Atlanta.
Travis Schlenk steps in as the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, replacing the reassigned Wesley Wilcox and Mike Budenholzer stepped down from his role as president to solely coach the team.
While it’s not quite a full-fledged youth movement, the young guns will certainly be featured.
Team success will take a backseat to individual player improvement so let’s look at one aspect of every Hawk’s game that they need to take to another level to have the franchise trending up by next summer.
Dennis Schröder: Be a leader
The speedy German has trekked a long path to arrive as de facto face of the franchise. A first round pick in 2013, he was buried on the bench as a rookie, but slowly became a more integral part of the team over the years. His minutes per game has risen every season, topping out at 31.5 in 2016-17, his first season as a starter.
Still, it hasn’t always been a smooth ascent. Dennis has been involved in a few on-court squabbles like a recent one with John Wall. In addition, he was arrested outside a hookah bar this offseason for his involvement in a fight. He has subsequently been disciplined for those actions.
Dennis has a flair for being flashy on and off the court, but on this youth-filled roster, he needs to be a cool-headed veteran and provide steady leadership. He’ll have plenty of rope to work through slumps on the court, unlike in season’s past, but after butting heads with Dwight Howard helping to lead to his unceremonious departure, Schröder will need to help others on the team break out of funks.
Preseason to some may seem boring and meaningless. However, within it lies bits and pieces of winning basketball that originates from chemistry and cohesiveness. Atlanta is one of the younger teams in the league — these games carry plenty of value towards starting the year off playing quality basketball.
As always, defense is the priority under Coach Budenholzer, but breeding fruitful offensive habits are far from an afterthought.
“I feel like we are getting a little bit more into our offense,” said Taurean Prince. “We realize the multiple options we can get out of a lot of sets in a lot of things that we do. I feel like in the first few games we were keeping it simple and trying to get used to each other. But now we are starting to get into the spring of things and how deep we can get. I think we can be hard to guard.”
In Monday’s 100-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, they showed improvement offensively, and it didn’t have to appear in the box score. Yes, they finished shooting 45-percent from the field, but that’s not the sole purpose of this discussion Setting good hard picks and sound ball movement tends to facilitate positive energy that finds good shots. Doing things like trusting a teammate will shift towards his designated area at the right time for an open shot or keep the floor balanced demonstrates reliance and helps sustain fluidity.
When players don’t trust in one another is when the offense tends to stagnate. But, once guys begin to find comfort in their role is when good things begin to happen. These Hawks are headed in that direction and only time will tell if they reach their aspired destination. For the meantime, acknowledge the small victories along the way veteran Kent Bazemore knows all to well and has recognized the progress in just a few games.
“So the first game we played there was a ton of standing and too much thinking,” said Kent Bazemore. “Now I think we are starting to get players moving into the right spot. As you saw tonight with so many assists, we had. We did a good job of passing the ball and making plays for each other. Now we are starting to be a little more fluid offensively and getting shots out of it.”
The offensive system has proven to be conducive to winning over the years. The players, returning and new, must believe not only in the system but each other. Cliche? Not considering how many new faces fill this year’s locker room. Good news is according to DeAndre Bembry concerning off the court comradery– the new are mixing well with the old like a Bruno Mars record.
For a youthful team like Atlanta that will pay off immensely when the flight gets a little rocky later in the season.
“We have always had the right habits,” said DeAndre Bembry. “Especially the starters like Dewayne Dedmon coming from San Antonio and just playing the right way. Making the right pass. We all get a long with each other. We have no problems off the court. We all know what we need to do in order to be good. But us being cool off the court is where it starts and makes it way towards the court when we play together.”
The 2017-18 NBA GM surveys are out, which means: let the arguments commence. Similar to all-star voting, the survey tends to slight at least one person. This year, that would be Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer. The question posed: Which head coach has the best defensive schemes? Budenholzer received no votes.
It was a surprising omission, to say the least, given what Budenholzer has accomplished in just four years as the head coach. Budenholzer’s Hawks teams have averaged a 104.15 defensive rating and have never finished no lower than seventh in opponent points in the paint per game over the last three seasons. His tactics intertwine with the strengths of his players and that in itself should be a respected capability. Paul Millsap not only logged his best career numbers offensively under Budenholzer, but Bud’s system resulted in a 2.9 defensive box plus/minus average for ‘Sap over his four years—he averaged 1.9 in Utah for seven seasons.
The same can be said for a defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha and sharpshooter Kyle Korver, both of whom recorded their best DBPM in Bud’s system, which involves a heavy dose of ball trapping by the guards/wings. Longtime Hawk Al Horford played six seasons before Budenholzer’s arrival and has always been among the best defensive players at his position. However, he didn’t notch his highest defensive win shares until the 2015-16 season.
The examples are endless, but we can’t ignore how much reputation plays a role in the voting. Gregg Popovich’s mystic is one so strong that it’s plausible his accomplishments are the only reason he came in first over Budenholzer, especially after the two spent 17 years side by side, the former the boss of the latter, on San Antonio’s bench. However, Atlanta’s defensive scheme is as demanding as Popovich’s—or Thibodeau’s, the second place finisher of that GM question—and I can assure you that no player will touch the floor without giving an all-out effort on the defensive side of the ball—just ask any Hawks rookie over the last four years.
Defense comes first and foremost in Atlanta, which has resulted in opponents shooting just 43.8 percent from the field over the last three seasons. Yes, the Hawks did struggle guarding the three-point line last season, but a look at Budenholzer’s entire tenure as Atlanta’s coach and you would see that his average opponent three-point percentage is among the lowest in the league. He’s won at a high level—a 57 percent winning record to be exact—and a lot of that has to do with how attuned his ballclub is on the defensive end. Just nine current coaches have a higher winning percentage than Budenholzer. Out of that group, only two have finished with a top-five defensive rating more than once over the last four seasons—Popovich and Kerr. Only six of those coaches have had longer head coaching experience.
Defense is his staple, and he’s damn good at it. Whenever the Hawks experience a rough stretch of games, I assure you the following practices will be focused on defense, defense, defense—revisiting defensive principles and adjustments, re-examining defensive roles, etc. The lineups may change, but the defensive principles will be the same this season, as it always is—swarming, tricky and suffocating.