Archives For Game Notes
What a year it was covering this year’s Atlanta Hawks team. The acquisition of Dwight Howard jump started the summer with a jolt of excitement. The Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy alum came aboard with hopes to bring a championship to his hometown.
Instead, he ended the season sitting on the bench as his teammates clawed back from a 19 point deficit, only to come up short in game 6 versus the Wizards. That wasn’t the first time this season he sat during a crucial run, and the first year of the Howard experiment can be deemed a failure.
“ It doesn’t matter about matchups, said Howard in his exit interview. “ I want to play. I don’t care who is out there. I want to give the best for my team and the city. That is why I came here. So it is upsetting when you want to get out there and play. You work hard for something and you watch it being taken from you, not the coach taking it — but Washington taking the opportunity of us moving to the next round.”
First-year starter Dennis Schroder took advantage of his opening round matchup against All-NBA point guard John Wall — as he did against several elite point guards throughout the year — validating that the organization made the right decision when they handed him the keys over Jeff Teague. Paul Millsap’s free agency talk dominated and overshadowed much of his big-time all-star performances, as if his game needed further neglect on the national stage. However, to the credit of head coach and team president Mike Budenholzer, it never seemed to become a distraction.
Whether it was Millsap’s free agency, Schroder and Howard’s argument in the third quarter versus the Warriors during a live possession or Schroder’s late arrival from All-Star break due visa issues — the team remained positive and focused.
In the last four seasons under Budenholzer none of his teams were more inconsistent, erratic and perplexing than this 2016–2017 ballclub. The hot 9–2 start occurred so early it now qualifies as a mirage. By the end of December they were a more realistic 16–16. At that time they had a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers (and would later win the season series 3–1), but suffered losses against the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.
The month of January was very telling in terms of just how unsettled they were. Starting on the 13th until March 6th they never notched a winning streak more than two games. Win one, lose the next, win another, lose the next, identity crises at its finest.
Kent Bazemore expressed the same sentiment to me after asking him about the team’s issues following a 131–120 loss in December to the Orlando Magic that dropped their record to 12–13.
“This is a very deep team and we have a lot of guys who can play so it’s all about finding that rhythm as a unit”, Bazemore said. “We’ve had glimpses of both units doing well. The bench started off the season doing well, then the starters got going, so it’s a lot going on and not enough consistency. But we are not going to get it back all at once and we are still trying to figure out who we are.”
The lows were pretty damn low and can be summed up in a moment I personally witnessed covering the Brooklyn Nets routing on March 26th that handed the Hawks their seventh loss in a row. A fan casually strolled down from his seat into the credentialed media seating, nachos and soda in hand, and took a seat with the rest of us. Clearly he’d come to the conclusion at that time that the Hawks didn’t care, so why should he? Security never approached the gentleman or redirected him back to his original seating. He just sat there, apathetic, disinterested, scarfing down some nachos.
Their identity never seemed to take shape and why a large portion of the season Budenholzer experimented with several lineups during games looking for a spark on a team ranked in the bottom half of the league in scoring. Millsap spent plenty time at the five, Bazemore took over point guard duties at times and even Kyle Korver played power forward occasionally. Compound that with a defense that poorly defended the three-point line in today’s NBA and well you’ve put yourself in a tough spot.
Those spots ranged from out of playoff contention momentarily midway through the season to losing 9 out of 11 games (with Millsap and Bazemore missing games due to injury) down the stretch that put their playoff hopes in jeopardy and having to wait until the 79th game to breath a sigh of relief.
Schroder struggled limiting turnovers, Howard hurt the defense by staying in the paint during pick-and-roll situations and Bazemore’s $70 million contract seemed to cause him to press. The list goes on and on, but nuzzled in it all were some of the most thrilling moments in Hawks history. The 26 point deficient at the start of the fourth quarter comeback victory versus Cleveland on April 9th, the overtime upset over the San Antonio Spurs and of course who can forget what took place on January 29th — the quadruple overtime victory over the New York Knicks — just the 11th time in NBA history.
The game lasted four hours as people stood by the exit doors with one foot in the arena one foot out not able to tear themselves away from what was taken place.
Rookie Taurean Prince and pending restricted free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. also provided optimism and excitement throughout a treacherous seven months. Prince took advantage of Bazemore and Sefolosha’s injuries by showcasing his versatility and therefore cementing his spot in the starting lineup. Hardaway deserved Most Improved Player consideration after turning his 2015–2016 woes into a distant memory by becoming the team’s scoring spark they severely needed especially after Kyle Korver was dealt.
In the end this team surpassed many preseason predictions that slotted them for a low seeding at best. Another franchise-alternating free agency awaits them in the coming months, but as far as 2016–2017 went they were willing to fight no matter how steep the odds — despite being ill-equipped with the necessary firepower.
“This group was a fighting group,” said Paul Millsap after game 6 loss. “With the ups and downs we had, we found a way to fight and compete. We shut down a lot of naysayers. We had a lot of people that said we weren’t going to make the playoffs. We just ran into a team that was hot, the Wizards were hot. I like this team and the fight in this team.”
What didn’t go well
For the second game in a row, Atlanta beat Washington in several categories, which may leave little to nit pick. However, Dennis Schroder and Jose Calderón did fall into foul trouble with three apiece before the first half ended. John Wall and Brandon Jennings attacked and had their aggressiveness used against them the same way Paul Millsap has done with Markieff Morris over the last three games. Budenholzer opted to stick with Calderon rather than going to Malcolm Delaney, but the amount of ball pressure they are instructed to heap on the Wizard’s backcourt is necessary yet dangerous. However, tonight Jose’s impact was far greater than normal.
“Jose most nights will probably not play enough minutes to foul out,” said Coach Budenholzer. “With Dennis with three fouls it may have been a little risky, but I just thought the way he and the team were playing I wanted to roll with that group.”
What went well
Dwight Howard made his proverbial entrance into this series in the 2nd quarter, scoring 10 of his 16 points. The first three games, the Wizards were exceptional at denying any lob opportunities, and Budenholzer was forced to limit Howard’s minutes in search of more shooting in small ball lineups. But the offense moved the ball well in game 4, shifting the Wizards’ defense off of Howard and allowing him to run much more freely to the basket without bodies draped all over him. Kent Bazemore connected with Howard for a couple highlight reel lob sequences that ignited the team and encompassed the do it all game his box score showed.
“I’ve continued to work, watch film and pick my spots,” Kent Bazemore said. “The pace was amazing tonight, the ball was moving and when you get touches your comfort level goes up a little bit. When you got guys on your team that really believe in you everyday is a new day. This is just another product of believing and staying the course.”
The team answered Coach Budenholzer’s transition defense demands to limit John Wall and his ability to find trailing shooters by allowing just 12 points, as opposed to the 21 points the Wizards averaged throughout the first three games. They struggled with controlling the pace and turnovers in the first two games, but on Monday they cleaned up both areas giving them a shot to slow Washington’s fast-break opportunities.
Suggested change for next game in series for the Hawks
The Wizards will be looking to force the Hawks backcourt into committing turnovers, as they did so successfully in games 1 and 2. There will need to be a continued emphasis on setting solid screens and moving the ball with a certain level of speed to counteract the Wizards length. Budenholzer should also stick to keeping at least one ball-handler on the floor at all times to help keep the turnover totals to a minimum, as they accomplished in games 3 and 4.
From a 9–2 start to out of playoff contention, from a streaking team to now stumbling into the postseason, the Hawks have seemingly endured it all this season. Sunday afternoon’s loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets completed their second seven-game losing streak of the season. Thabo Sefolosha was a late game scratch and, with the Hawks already without Kent Bazemore, Tauren Prince was tapped for his first career start. And, if you’ve noticed the flashes that he’s shown throughout the year, the start went exactly as expected.
“He did what he normally does,” DeAndre Bembry said. “He was aggressive offensively, got a few steals, created fast-breaks and of course the good defense. That’s what Coach likes about us as rookies — we play on both sides of the ball.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. has been the surprise spark for the Hawks this, but Taurean is giving him a run for his money. Taurean has accomplished what very few rookies under Head Coach Mike Budenholzer have ever done — gain his undeniable trust. At the wing, where the Hawks have a logjam of veterans, Prince has emerged post-all star break shooting 40 percent from three while showcasing his ability to guard all positions except centers all while also playing with a spirit this team desperately needed.
“I’ve just come into the second half of the season with a different mindset of how I approach things, how I approach practice and different preparation,” Prince said. “It’s helped me out this far and I think it’s helped the team out as well and I plan to keep doing what I’m doing, but turn it up a little more. Especially since it’s coming to the end of the season.”
Currently, he sits as the team’s fifth-best defensive player according to defensive Box Plus/Minus. Especially given the troubles that Dwight Howard has faced in this particular defensive scheme during pick and roll situations and given Bazemore’s increased role as a ball handler throughout this season, there was an opportunity for Prince to earn his keep.
He’s done so in so many ways, displaying his ability to chase-down blocks, rotate over from the weak side, contest shots at the rim, anticipate steals and utilize his length in passing lanes. Prince has brought another dimension to this Hawks team that they desperately needed.
The bravado that Prince carries onto the floor isn’t always prevalent within many rookies, but it’s something Bazemore noticed earlier in the season. He spoke about it with me in November following Prince’s 19 minutes outing in a 107–100 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Just another testament to the Atlanta Hawks player development system,” Bazemore said. “A guy works hard every day and when he gets his name called he’s ready. That’s one of his [Taurean’s] greatest attributes — 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.”
The confidence was always there, but every rookie needs that breakout game or two to reassure themselves they belong. Just a few weeks ago, following a 16 point performance — his career high is 17 — against the Memphis Grizzlies, he acknowledged that that moment had arrived. In addition, his five points, five rebounds, three steals game against Portland on February 13th and again his eight points, 12 rebounds and two steals in Boston on February 27th were a testament to his work ethic and another indication that he belonged, according to Prince.
“I’m a firm believer in if you put in the work then everything will take care of itself,” Prince said. “This summer Deandre and I were here, so credit to him and the coaching staff for putting us in the best position. Just being in the gym — especially at the beginning of the season when I wasn’t playing much — I was in the gym a lot more just trying to get reps. I just always had that confidence because I put in the work and believe in myself.”
Who would have guessed that? As a young player, especially a first round pick, the images of walking in and being a bonafide stud play through your head on several occasions. However, understanding the importance of how to be the best at what your role is on the team takes some time. Once that hill is climbed and embraced there is more room for growth, and Prince has acknowledged that truth.
Now, with the regular season coming to a close, Prince has caught on at the right time. The core players are fully aware of his value to this team and believe he will be a difference maker when they need it the most.
“It means a lot when you have guys like Paul Millsap, Dennis [Schroder] and Dwight [Howard] have that type of confidence in me and it’s another reason why I continue to play with confidence,” Prince said. “For me, it starts on the defensive end. I feel like in the beginning of the season I had a different mindset, but I’ve learned to focus on what’s more important. I just want to continue to get better and that’s the great thing about it is I have a lot of room to improve.”
This game symbolized the best of times and the worst of times. Atlanta for right now is enjoying the best of times these days and Memphis is stuck in the worst. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead in the early frame and it was all she wrote from there. The Atlanta Hawks went to Tennessee and turned the Grindhouse into a vacation spot dominating the Memphis Grizzlies 107-90. The struggling Hawks defense of late, who was without Dwight Howard, being held out for rest held Memphis to 37.8% from the field. For a complete recap of the game, check out Graham Chapple on HawksHoop.com. As always, it is a thorough and informative read.
The Hawks were led by, you guessed it, Dennis Schroder. But not on the offensive end; on this night it was on the defensive end. Schroder locked in on Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley and made him work all night long. The rest of his teammates followed his cues and dominated the game start to finish. It’s the start to my…
Lesson number one: Oh, the Atlanta Hawks have a bench now?
Breaking news to HawksHoop! The Atlanta Hawks have bench scoring for a change. Even more amazing, a bench player led the team in scoring! Hawks rookie Taurean Prince led the team in scoring with 17 points. Not Dennis Schroder, not Paul Millsap, but Taurean Prince. Prince had set his career high by the end of the first quarter with 12 and went on knock down five of his six shots. Prince knocked down three of four three pointers, hit all of his four free throws, grabbed three rebounds, dropped two dimes, had a couple of steals and a block. Quite a mouthful huh? Jose Calderon scored 14 points in 19 minutes (this was a bad night for the Grizzlies folks!) to lead the consistent production from the bench all night. The is not the bench mob, but for one night it’s not Tim Hardaway Jr. show by himself.
Trying to analyze this game will be summed up by a line I remember by Vin Diesel in the very first Fast and Furious movie in the wildly successful franchise. You see he had just beaten Paul Walker’s character for slips on a 10 second car. The line was…
“…It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile… WINNING IS WINNING!”
That is the best way of looking at this game if you are an Atlanta fan… ugh!
After three straight home losses, bad defense and a point guard that has made it clear that he’s not happy with his center or coach, the Hawks pull out a win over the Brooklyn Nets 110-105. Let’s be very clear here Hawks fans. The good news is that the losing streak is over…
The bad news is the losing style of basketball isn’t.
Dennis Schroder led the team in scoring 31 points on 10-21 shooting. Paul Millsap continued his consistent play with 24 points while Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ersan Ilyasova played well enough off the bench. Sometimes learning is hard and so are these…
Lesson number one: The Atlanta Hawks defense is just plain bad right now
I mean really bad. Okay I get it. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the world champs, so I guess we all can turn a blind eye to giving up 135 points in a game. This also included giving up a whopping 77 points in the first half, which is easily the most given up by the Hawks this season. That’s Magic Johnson Showtime Lakers totals people. Okay giving up 119 points to the Golden State Warriors maybe can be over looked. I mean, the Splash Brothers were in town right?
Let’s take a closer look at this shall we? The Cleveland Cavaliers knocked down a NBA record 25 3-pointers last Friday night. Most of the threes were shot in the realm of the Cavaliers offense. This means they got what they wanted, when they wanted it. Sure the game was close at the end, but that was when Tim Hardaway Jr. went nuts in the fourth quarter leading a furious charge. But let’s be clear here. There should be no way a team should allow two players (Kyrie Irving [43 points] and LeBron James [38 points]) combine for 81 points in a single game.
Looking even closer at Kyrie Irving’s 43 points, it seems that he shot an absurd 14-for-21 from the floor. Umm, he’s the point guard right? Who’s got him on defense? Oh yeah. Dennis Schroder. You see, if the point guard can break down the defense, it opens up shots. It looked like a Cavaliers passing drill at times.
The Warriors game was bad, too. The Splash Brothers were off a couple of nights ago and the Hawks still couldn’t stop the Dubs. Ask any current or past players of basketball, if the coach sits you down… FOR THE REST OF THE GAME for a defensive breakdown, things are bad. That’s what happened when Schroder allowed Steph Curry to line it up for three while barking with Dwight Howard.
Here’s the point. The Brooklyn Nets are easily the worst team in the NBA. They lack the talent and assets to even stay competitive even though the effort is there every night. The Hawks should have blown this team back to the Barclay Center so they could watch the ACC tournament. Instead because of lackluster defense, the Hawks allowed this team to stick around.
Lesson number two: The Dennis Schroder dynamic has to addressed
Dennis Schroder had a strong comeback from the fiasco on Monday. His scoring totals seem to bode very well for the Hawks. This game was the ninth time that he scored over 25 points. The Hawks are 8-1 when he accomplishes that feat. For the entire first half, Schroder kept the Hawks afloat with 17 points to keep things close at halftime 50-46.
The offense struggled. Big time. Outside of Schroder’s production of the dribble, the offense was stagnant and Brooklyn was pretty much in control for much of the first half.
Who’s job is it to get the offense started? Yep, Dennis Schroder.
As we learned in the first lesson, the Hawks are not good enough defensively right now to have an offense that depends on offense that showcases one-on-one basketball with Dennis Schroder.
At least the off the court issue was dealt with. Schroder had a meeting with head coach Mike Budenholzer and other teammates. Schroder’s take via ESPN.com:
“Because I’m so competitive that sometimes in the game when it’s heated, everybody is emotional and when you say stuff everybody gets kind of mad,” Schroder said. “So you’ve just got to pick the spots when you do it. Tonight it worked well, and we just try to keep going forward”
Paul Millsap on Schroder from ESPN.com:
“Personally I see some growth, some maturity, a guy that didn’t let what happened last game to get to him,” Millsap said. “I see a guy who came out and busted his butt regardless of what happened. Discipline or not, he didn’t play (much) the last game, but came out with a good attitude today to help us win. I see a lot of maturity and a lot of growth in him.”
What does Budenholzer have to say, again via ESPN:
“I thought he was great,” Budenholzer said. “The way he attacks the basket, the way he gets inside, the way he’s shooting the 3 ball with so much confidence. He’s just going to keep getting better.”
Hawks fans better hope so. Look nobody is denying Dennis Schroder’s talent. The Brooklyn game was a perfect illustration of why Atlanta moved on from Jeff Teague and locked Schroder in for the future with a $70 million dollar contract. When the offense stalls, Schroder is the guy that can make a play for himself and his teammates. But with the playoffs coming around the corner, Schroder is going to have to keep his head and use this rough patch as a learning experience. But if he starts believing his own hype or playing like he did against Brooklyn to prove a point against Howard and Budenholzer, it will come out eventually.
Lesson number three: Outside of Tim Hardaway Jr., where are the bench people?
Tim Hardaway Jr. finished with 16 points, six rebounds and two steals. Ersan Ilyasova had 10 points and seven rebounds. The rest of the Hawks bench combined? Two points by Taurean Prince. That’s not a good look for a Hawks bench. Sure Hardaway Jr. has been great, but Ilyasova has been subpar for the most part since his trade from Philadelphia. Jose Calderon played 12 minutes and scored the same amount of points I did writing this article and you guys reading it. All of this while Mike Muscala, Kris Humphries, DeAndre Bembry and Malcolm Delaney never saw the floor. The Hawks are going to have to figure out a second unit for the playoffs.
Here’s what I learned…now learn from this!
Dwight Howard finished with a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. He knocked down five of his seven shots. Moving forward, the Hawks need to make sure that Howard believes that he is a part of the offense. He doesn’t need to be a number one option (or two for that matter, three could be a stretch!) but he needs to feel a part of the equation on the offensive end. If not, he’ll start sulking and stop doing the work down low the Hawks pay him to do.
Benchmark to the Hawks season is coming up…Raptors on Friday, a tough Memphis team on Saturday and San Antonio on Monday.