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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.”

The Hawks fell to 1-2 on Sunday afternoon, losing 116-104 to the Nets in Brooklyn. The biggest loss in that game might not be in the box score, though, as starting point guard Dennis Schroder went down with an ankle injury.

With that in mind, HawksHoop’s Jeremy Johnson and Eric Yeboah share their observations on the game.


Jeremy Johnson

Dennis Schroder’s Ankle

Schroder went down in the 4th quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Losing Schroder for an extended period of time could be catastrophic. As of now, Schroder is the team’s leading scorer and only focal point and one of the only players that can create his own offense outside of Malcolm Delaney and Marco Belinelli. Both will need to do more on the offensive end. We will also probably see more of Isaiah Taylor, who joined the team just before the season opener.

Postgame, Budenholzer was asked about Schroder’s injury and said, “We hope its just a sprained ankle and nothing more. He will start to rehab and we will update when appropriate.”

Dedmon more than a center

Last season, the Hawks featured one of the final “true centers” in the NBA with Dwight Howard on the roster. Howard has been one of, if not the best centers in the league for the past decade-plus. With him moved on, the Hawks brought in Dewayne Dedmon from San Antonio. So far, Dedmon has been a better fit in the Hawks’ system. When I first got word of the Hawks adding Dedmon, I had similar concerns of fit. I envisioned Dedmon giving the Hawks put backs, blocked shots, and I expected him to act essentially as a less expensive clone of Howard. That hasn’t happened. Dedmon looked more like former Spurs’ teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. With the Hawks going to the five out system, Dedmon put his entire arsenal on display. He attempted a few 3-pointers early and hit one. He hit a couple nice mid-range shots that I had no idea he could shoot. Though he only played 21 minutes and scored seven points, Dedmon has made it easier for the Hawks to run their system with the starting unit.

Too much pick-and-roll?

The Hawks lack of a super star level focal point on offense forces them into the ball movement style offense which the pick-and-roll happens to be a big part of. The Hawks have some athletes that make teams respect the roll off picks such as John Collins. Every time Collins sets a pick, you can almost hear the crowd and bench inhale and hold their collective breath as Collins can embarrass any backside defender sliding over or any guard switched off because of the pick-and-roll. But there are stages in the game where is seems every possession is pick-and-roll. The offense goes stagnant with so much being run based off the pick and roll. In the second half Sunday, there was more typical ball movement and off ball screens, but as the season progresses the Hawks may want to find different ways to get Collins involved. Dennis Schroder also benefits from pick-and-roll but when teams defend it like the Nets did in the first half, Schroder is ineffective.

DeMarre Carroll Vs. Taurean Prince

Former Hawk and current Brooklyn Nets forward DeMarre Carroll and Hawks’ forward Taurean Prince look alike and play alike. Are we sure they’re not brothers?


Eric Yeboah

Offensively Hawks still working the kinks out

Through three quarters, the Hawks looked out of sorts shooting around 30-percent from the field. Fortunately a 23-8 run in the fourth quarter brought them back from the dead and tied the game at 99. It wasn’t enough to overcome their offensive struggles, which ended up being the deciding factor as it was Friday night in Charlotte. Budenholzer and staff wisely instructed the team to attack the open seams often, which resulted in 36 trips to the free throw line (converted 91.7-percent) — they had 29 total through the first two games of the season.

Atlanta lost control of this game due to many sloppy possessions from their guards/wings — that simply can’t happen for a team that relies so heavily on those positions. Careless passes and poor ball control from Schroder, Prince, and Bazemore turned into fastbreak opportunities for a Brooklyn team that thrives in uptempo scenarios. The best way in limiting fastbreak points from a team like Brooklyn is not only limiting turnovers, but retreating back on defense is easily just as important. However, in order to retreat properly and with enough defenders to stop the fastbreak, the offense must also do their part by taking better shots in a flow that doesn’t throw players out of position to contain the fastbreak. Atlanta did none of that on Sunday and it proved to be a key to Brooklyn’s success.

The Hawks do everything as a team offensively, but there is no secret so far that Schroder and Belinilli are the most reliable options. This loss to Brooklyn showed they are still in search of a reliable third option along those two to counter an opposing teams offensive run, or just when their own offense starts to stick. Prince would be the obvious choice, but he will need to improve in his decision-making department in order to make a significant impact.

More touches for Dedmon please

Dedmon scored just seven points in Sunday’s lost to Brooklyn, but when he touched the ball he was efficient shooting 60-percent from the field. The pick-and-pop situations with Schroder have a ton of potential if they continue to find the right angles to exploit the defense. The new system now creates more spacing for cleaner looks at the basket in a pick-and-pop scenario. Last season, Schroder and Paul Millsap were not able to create much of a bond in that department due to teams packing in the paint on Dwight Howard. As we’ve seen so far this season, that won’t be the case with Dedmon who looks very comfortable shooting both a 15-footer and a 3-pointer. Additionally, the onus doesn’t just fall on Schroder, as guys like Bazemore and Prince should make a conscious effort creating for Dedmon when they drive to the basket and the defense collapses. There were times in Sunday’s game either one could of kicked it out to Dedmon for a jumper or shoveled a pass to him on the baseline near the basket for an easy 2. Once again, it’s very early in the season, but Dedmon has the skillset to become a bigger contributor for the Hawks.

The Atlanta Hawks opened the 2017-18 NBA season with a big win on Wednesday, as the Hawks defeated the Dallas Mavericks 117-111 on the road.

What were the major keys in getting victory No. 1 up in the win column? HawksHoop’s Jeremy Johnson and Eric Yeboah share their observations on the contest.


Jeremy Johnson

Dennis Schroder has the keys

Point guard Dennis Schroder is fully in control, as he now has the offense running through him all of the time. Yes, he was the point guard last season and showed flashes. The light shined it’s brightest in the playoff series against the Washington Wizards, but we wondered if it would carry over into 2017.

It appears that it has. Schroder put up 28 points in the season opening win; not a career-high by any means, but the way he did it was a little unique to what we’re used to seeing. The Hawks allowed Schroder freedom. The freedom allowed Schroder to take 26 shots, and he made 13 of them. The aggression is promising and leads me to believe Schroder is primed to be a fringe All-Star this season.

Collins has a special motor

Rookie John Collins didn’t take long to acclimate to the NBA. The 20-year-old put in 14 points and five rebounds in his debut in 22 minutes. Collins came in the game playing at a speed higher than most on the court and converted a putback dunk and ran off picks in attack mode from the word “go”. Collins’ motor is the reason for the early playing time, and because of that, he didn’t seem too out of place on either end of the court. Impressive for a player in his first regular season game.

The Hawks don’t read predictions

The Atlanta Hawks don’t seem to know that they’re not supposed to be good this year. From the tip, the Hawks played with an attitude and an expectation that they were supposed to win, despite the changes to the roster and despite the preseason talk of a restructure or rebuild. The defense was solid, but there were a lot of open shots the Mavericks left on the floor or just flat out missed, which is a concern. The Mavericks ended the first half 5-for-23 from 3 and finished the game 17-for-45. Time will tell if the defense will cut off those open shots or if the preseason prognoses will hold true.

Either way, the defense will be at the core of which way it titters.


Eric Yeboah

Marco Belinelli shines in debut

Belinelli didn’t play much of the preseason, but that didn’t stop him from scoring 20 points off the bench. He finished with a plus-13 and it was apparent. The Hawks offense flowed with ease when the ball was in his hands. There were times he ran the point in the halfcourt set and times he orchestrated a fastbreak — either way, he created easier scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Dallas never could pin point how to control Belinelli because his attacks came in many ways like: a hand off from a big man, as a cutter, and of course off the dribble. The times he was paired with Dennis Schroder were beneficial to both as it afforded Schroder another spacer and playmaker.

Hawks need work in defending corner 3s

The defense was extremely scrappy Wednesday night and will have to be throughout this season. When Budenholzer opted for a small ball lineup they were able to speed up Dallas’s offense and force long rebounds (50) in their favor. The obvious downside was that once Dallas broke that first line of Atlanta’s defense, it forced the defense to collapse and opened up the good looks from the corner 3-ball. Dallas didn’t shoot the well from downtown when you look at the final numbers of this game –just 38-percent, but it was the open attempts from the corners that stood out, especially in the second half. Whether it was Wesley Matthews or Yogi Ferrell, Dallas understood when to shift towards the corner once the Hawks wings committed to defending the basket.

 

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.

 

Philips Arena has rightfully earned the nickname “The Highlight Factory” from all the spectacular plays that have echoed from the arena, all the way down Peachtree Street. I remember, when I was a younger man, watching Dikembe Mutombo deny more potential highlights than I could count. However, recently, it dawned on me just how many Hawks have completed a jaw-dropping, otherworldly poster.

So I decided to come up with the list you see below. Enjoy.

10. Jeff Teague over Kevin Durant

Scene: November 5, 2012, at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Two minutes left in the second quarter.

Jeff Teague: “Easy lane to the basket.”

Kevin Durant: “Oh, its just Jeff Teague. I’m blocking this with ease. This finna be a breeze!”

Jeff Teague:

9. Josh Smith mimics Kobe Bryant and Ricky Davis by flushing one on Steve Nash.

Nash has dished out plenty of L’s in his Hall of Fame career, but we shouldn’t forget his blunders. He meant well, but that doesn’t mean it always ended well. Three posters that I can recall and every one of them ended with a Nash receiving a blocking foul. Good Lord.

 

8. Al Horford skies over Kevin Love (Round 2, Game 3 of the 2016 Playoffs).

Al Horford literally sat on Love’s shoulder; take note of how Love’s teammates didn’t even venture near the crime scene. When you get boomed on you are on your own–that’s the code.

 

7. Paul Millsap over John Henson

Trillsap sent Henson back to UNC with this banger. Made the kid re-enroll with a double major and a full-time job just to forget his past life. What a shame.

 

6.  Bradley Beal meet Mike Scott–Mike Scott meet Bradley Beal.

Dominique said it best here: “What are you doing?” And to Beal’s credit, he did the right thing—just at the wrong time.

5. More Mike Scott, this time on Ian Mahinmi’s head.

 

4. Dominique Wilkins over everybody

 

3. Not a poster, but Spud Webb’s dunk against Magic & the Lakers deserves praise. Truly astonishing.

 

2.  Josh Smith dunks on Serge Ibaka

 

1. Dominique double clutched off two feet, while contorting his body mid air and finished with authority. Greatness.

 

 

Pace, pace and more pace would describe the new style Mike Budenholzer wants his ballclub to showcase. A new offense with a young roster also means more mistakes—especially in the early part of preseason. In the first half of their first preseason game with the Miami Heat, the Hawks accumulated 11 ill-advised turnovers, but cleaned up in the second half with just five. Dennis Schroder and Dewayne Dedmon lead the way with 12 points apiece, followed by Marco Belinelli with 10 and the rookie John Collins posting a near double-double with nine points and 15 rebounds.

There is a good chance you may be asking yourself: “What’s new with the offense?” It’s simple—the Hawks have now installed a 5-out motion offense into their system. It is a positionless offense that relies on spacing the floor and a set of rules that determine one’s movements and actions. This offense caters to the strengths of an athletic team like Atlanta by opening up more lanes to the basket for Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and others. Ball movement is essential to the success of this style of offense, but that has always been a part of Budenholzer’s primary teaching since he arrived in Atlanta and therefore his message shouldn’t cause any confusion.

 

 

A first look at this offense on Sunday night yielded a positive result: more urgency and tempo earlier in the shot clock. Budenholzer’s troops have been instructed to scan the defense and attack without hesitation. The responsibilities for the guards have grown substantially this season—especially Schroder—with the departure of Paul Millsap and his reliability, offensively, in the post. It appears that Schroder—and every other ball handler on the team—is instructed to act early in the shot clock, either by penetrating off a pick-and-roll or off a handoff from a big man.

Schroder dominated the ball most of his time on the floor (and will most of the season) and drew the majority of Miami’s focus. Despite the fact that, in theory, the 5-out offense should keep multiple bodies off of Schroder, opening up the floor for shooters, the Hawks didn’t convert with much efficiency.

GM Travis Schlenk has routinely spoken about the merits of flexibility and positionless basketball over the offseason. By installing this offense, Budenholzer shows he’s on board with Schlenk’s vision and willing to cater to the strengths of his players.

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Next Game: October 4th at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7:00PM EST

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