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It’s time. After a whole summer of talking and a little bit of action in the preseason, it’s time for Atlanta Hawks basketball — proper. This Thursday, at Philips Arena, the Hawks tip off their season against the Washington Wizards. And let’s be honest, we have no idea how this Hawks team is going to fare this season in the Eastern Conference. We’ll get to why that is in a bit, but first let’s go over what the Hawks did this summer and we’ll take it from there.
In: Dwight Howard, Malcolm Delaney
Out: Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kirk Hinrich,
Drafted: Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry
For better or for worse?
Al Horford is gone — gone because the Hawks didn’t want to max him (and not even the max as it turned out) for five years and gone because he wasn’t the front office’s top priority. It’s as simple as that. Jeff Teague requested a trade, that was granted and now he resides in Indiana. The two most important positions on the court are, arguably, the point guard and center positions and now the Hawks have to plug in new players into those respective positions. That’s always a concern heading into a new season, especially for a team that preached continuity at the end of the season.
To replace Horford and Teague the Hawks added Dwight Howard and gave the point guard reigns to Dennis Schröder.
I still believe that Schröder is not ready to be a starting point guard in this league. I feel he’s still too erratic and one of those players where he’ll do something and you’ll sit there and think “What the flip was that, Dennis???”. And that happens often too. I also worry about his shooting. One of the better things Teague did last year was shoot 40 % from behind the arc — a team best. Schröder shot 32% from behind the arc. Offensively, Jeff just makes better decisions and is a better offensive player than Dennis. But the one thing Dennis does have going for him is his defense — his defense is absolutely ready for a starting role and he should improve the team at the point guard position from a defensive point of view. I still think it’s too soon though…
The Atlanta Hawks, historically, have had trouble acquiring star power via free agency. And in a summer where Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors shook the NBA to its core, Dwight Howard hardly seems to qualify.
But Howard’s return to his hometown—where were first introduced to the 6-foot-10 slender teenage with a Hollywood smile in a no. 12 Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy jersey—couldn’t have come at a better time.
The front office was unable or unwilling to come to terms with Al Horford on a long term deal, and Howard’s signing a three-year deal was good insurance for their franchise cornerstone’s eventual departure to the Boston Celtics. The move lets Atlanta remain competitive now without tying up the cap over a longer period of time.
Now, the Hawks job isn’t done. Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver still remain from the All-star foursome selected to represent Atlanta in New York a year ago. Kent Bazemore played the best basketball of his career this season and will return after signing a four-year $70 million dollar deal, and a confident Dennis Schroder steps into the starting point guard spot. But Atlanta still has a dearth of elite shot creation, and, even if Schroder takes a leap as the starting point guard, there’s still a lack of depth behind him. But perhaps Howard diving hard in pick and rolls can generate more gravity than Horford or Millsap were able to muster working from the elbows.
And though Atlanta already had a quality defense, maybe Howard’s different defensive skill set allows the team to shore up some weaknesses that appeared in the playoffs the past two seasons.
As the 2nd best defensive team in the league, you would be hard pressed to find a glaring weakness. Dwight’s biggest impact defensively will be providing rim protection for a team that ranked 2nd in rim protection field goal percentage holding a opponents to 44.9%. Atlanta also ranked first in blocks, defensive rebounds and field goal percentage defending 2 pointers. However, what we found out against bigger, longer, athletic teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers (swept) and Milwaukee Bucks (1-2 regular season series record) is that Atlanta doesn’t have the athletes to match.
Lebron is unstoppable when he has a full head of steam headed towards the basket, but the lack of size and shot blocking ability is apparent
Frye gets to the pain and because of his length there is no shot any Hawk has to contest.
As an individual, Dwight’s presence on the defensive end is far more imposing than Horford’s or Millsap; so opposing players are certainly more careful attempting a shot around the basket. Last season, when facing the champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwight’s defensive field goal percentage contesting shots less than 6 feet was 33.33%(2 games), compared to Al Horford’s 66.7%( 3 games). Watching Tristan Thompson gather several offensive rebounds for 2nd chance points throughout the semifinals was a reminder that Atlanta ranked 18th in that department, another area Howard’s 8.4 defensive rebounds per game will come in handy as opposed to Horford’s 5.5.
Tristan Thompson out hustles entire Hawks frontcourt using his instincts and leaping ability. Two attributes Dwight uses when rebounding the ball.
Dwight howard rebounding activity
Budenholzer will have to tweak the scheme just a tad bit in order to fully capitalize off of Dwight’s strengths by not allowing him too far away from the basket as Horford might off been at times. Now not saying Howard doesn’t have the capability to cover a guard off a pick n roll for a couple seconds, but it’s not exactly his comfort zone. Luckily for him he will be playing with a supporting cast that is instructed to wreak havoc on the perimeter in order to reduce easy driving lanes to the rim. Nevertheless, Howard is one of the best erasers in this league and has been for quiet some time.
Howard protecting the rim
The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year leaves an offense first, second, and then defense third mentality in Houston for one of the best defensive coaches in the league.
The Hawks finished in the top three in defensive rating over the past two seasons. What Budenholzer has done is highly impressive, given the lack of size and rebounding capabilities on the roster, and now he has a game-changing player with the ability to shore up both of those deficiencies. Atlanta has sorely missed that imposing presence anchoring the defense, sort of similar to what Tyson Chandler meant to those Dallas Maverick teams.
Al Horford and Paul Millsap did all they could in conjunction with a perimeter group who swarmed ball handlers with pressure defense to speed offenses up and out of their comfort zone, but they still lacked great size on the frontline. Howard is a rim protecting presence who should allow defenders to scramble less, maintain the integrity of their rotations, and clean the glass.
Another important note is that due to Budenholzer’s all hands on deck philosophy, he should be able to keep Howard’s minutes in check.
Over the past couple seasons Dwight has not looked like the Superman we saw in Orlando, and much of that can be attributed to injuries (knees and back) and poor coaching philosophies he was forced to endure. However, he is not absolved of blame. Defense is all about effort and he looked disengaged at times last season. The injuries are something Atlanta is taking a risk on, but the mental stability is much more concerning. Howard discussed the situation in Houston on Inside the NBA on TNT during the playoffs.
“As a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what’s going on,” Howard said on TNT. “If I could bring the ball up the court, shoot threes, go between the legs and do all that stuff, that would be great. But I have to rely on my teammates to get the ball. Now, there have been times where I’ve been upset and I’ve taken myself out of games in situations, and that’s on me. I have to grow to be a better player at that.”
Howard played 71 games and the entire first round, so the issue as much a mental block as physical. He averaged just 13.7 points per game, the second lowest of his career, on just 8.5 field goals a game, on a team that took 7,392 regular season threes during his tenure.
He now joins a philosophy that believes in ball movement and has shown they don’t mind playing through their bigs as Atlanta averaged the most post touches last season with 19.8 a game—two factors I’m sure played a large part in his decision. Howard will certainly find much more comfort playing with a willing passer in Dennis Schroder, especially in pick and roll situations, which will force defenses into a tough circumstance with shooters like Korver and Bazemore spotting up.
Howard in Pick and Roll
Howard rolling to rim
Schroder is much more prone to use picks to create better looks for his own scoring options. Last year he ranked third in frequency of using the pick and roll with a 54% rating, two spots above Chris Paul, and having five of his 11 points per game come from that play type. At this point in his career he is not threat to defenses shooting the ball and typically uses the likes of Millsap and Horford’s offensive prowess to his advantage. During Wednesday’s press conference Howard stated that Dennis reminds him “of a bigger Rondo.” And said that the pick and roll game with both of them will be hard to defend.
Schroder to Horford
Howard may not be the midrange shooter that Horford was for Atlanta, but he certainly is just as effective rolling to the rim awaiting a pass from a point guard. Even with the lack of touches he this past season, Howard still shot 60% as a roll man during it all. If you have watched him long enough you understand that he’s quiet comfortable in pick and rolls, but the real questions lie in the post. We were all optimistic when he walked into los Angeles to work with all time leading scorer Kareem Abdul Jabaar, but that soon faded after he battled a bad back all season long and never quiet got in sync with Mike Dantoni. He then heads to Houston where 3-time NBA champion Kevin Mchale and the masterful footwork teachings of Hakeem Olajuwon’s awaited him, but that too never manifested.
So for Atlanta, barring any vast improvement in his low post scoring ability, Dwight is already one of the top offensive rebounders in the league, which can be a source for points, but he will be most successful in Atlanta’s offense stationed closer to the basket (he shot 69.6% from less than 5 feet last season) feeding off the playmaking ability from his teammates, rather if it’s a drive and dish or off a pick and roll. Budenholzer will still need to call his number for post ups, but idea is not to exhaust him too much by demanding he create his own offense majority of the time. Although the playing style was not in his favor last year, just 244 of his 976 points came from post ups.
Another luxury Howard now has is that this scheme also encourages interior passing between its bigs to create easier scoring opportunities—a similar scheme is currently ran on the Los Angles Clippers between Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan whenever they play two-man game from a hi-low or pick and roll setting. Millsap is a better floor spacer than Griffin, and close enough of as a passer.
Here we see a series of clips showing Blake Griffins passing abilities in the Hi-Lo situations.
Dwight did share time on the floor with a passing forward in Josh Smith; and Hi-Lo situations is something he’s shown no problem excelling in like Deandre Jordan.
Millsap to Horford
Howard is now 30 years old with a history of injuries and enough drama to fill a Netflix series. The Hawks, on the court, have been a stable franchise in recent years in search of a catalyst to hit a higher ceiling. Beginning a new chapter, Howard will now wear #8 in hopes that a return to his Atlanta roots will be just what his career needed. Recently, Howard spoke with the Atlanta Journal–Constitution about the ultimate goal in Atlanta and his motivation preparing for next season.
“I want to do whatever I can to bring a championship home,” Howard said Tuesday, “I know it’s not going to be easy. I’ve worked extremely hard this summer, every summer. I’m very motivated. I’m really ticked off about last season. I’m looking forward to coming back with a different mentality.”
Feature Image: Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
There’s one thing I love about the NBA: when the action on the court finally ends, the NBA keeps going. And it comes thick and fast too. Game 7 of The Finals took place on June 19th, the NBA Draft just took place last Thursday (June 23rd) and now we’re about to head into the free agency period, beginning July 1st.
In free agency, you’re always treading in murky waters, but more so than ever this summer. Why? The salary cap is set to rise from $70 million to a whopping $94 million, with the salary floor (the figure of expenditure that teams have to reach) reportedly believed to be $84 million. Most teams are set to have at least $20 million in cap space, so teams are going to be throwing money left, right, and center.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how it all plays out, but what about for the Hawks? What’s their situation heading into free agency?
“What we have, we hold”?
The Hawks’ summer — just as it was last year — is set to be a very busy one. Franchise cornerstone Al Horford is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, while Kent Bazemore is also hitting the market off the heels of his best season in the NBA. We’ll get to the Hawks’ other free agents later, but it’s all about Horford and Bazemore.
Let’s start with Horford, Atlanta’s cornerstone, and I have some things to say to his naysayers.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Al is not the greatest rebounding center out there. And I get it, Hassan Whiteside is a better rebounder, but if you think Hassan Whiteside is a better player — more so the idea that the Hawks are better off with Whiteside than they are with Horford — then you’re out of your mind.
General question I like to ask when it comes to free agency: is there a player available on the market who is better than the player you’re considering letting go? In this case, the answer is no. As an overall package, there is NO CENTER better than Al Horford on the market this summer. None. Continue Reading…
Coming into draft night the Atlanta Hawks had several questions to answer after shipping Jeff Teague to his hometown Pacers just a day earlier for the 12th pick. The move that helps Atlanta sign Horford and possibly bring back Bazemore. Atlanta struggled much of this season rebounding and taking care of the ball, with an undersized frontcourt and unsettling backcourt debate. However, just as detrimental as those deficiencies were, the lack of youth and athleticism were just as apparent.
Free agent Kent Bazemore was that youthful bright spot in the backcourt bringing energy, athleticism, intensity and shooting; but he will surely be sought after this summer and once again put the Hawks back in familiar predicament searching for a multidimensional asset at either the SG or SF position.
Despite how the draft unfolded, Hawks GM Wes Wilcox reassured importance of Kent Bazemore to this team.
Wilcox and Coach Mike Budenholzer elected to address those needs in this draft by selecting Taurean Prince (6’6) and DeAndre Bembry(6’8), Two hard working individuals that possess not only athleticism, but the ability to score in a variety of ways that fit the hawks system, qualities that were glaringly missing as LeBron and company swept their season away once again. As they’ve shown in the past, the possibility of losing their most versatile player (like demarre last summer) prompted their decision to draft these two in hopes they too embrace and flourish within Budenholzers developmental system like Bazemore.
Wilcox talks about the focus of this draft
Prince averaged 15 points (leading scorer) and 6 rebounds per game leading Baylor to the NCAA tournament, where they were upset in the first round by 12th seed Yale. His versatility fits right into the scheme coach Bud employs, he prefers players like Demarre Carroll and Thabo Sefolosha, who are interchangeable between either the 2 or 3 spot. Prince compares mostly to Demarre because of his 6”11 wingspan and lateral quickness that assist in his effectiveness as defender. Offensively, Prince may be limited somewhat as a ballhandler, but the ability to knock down the three point shot, mainly catch n shoot, was apparent in the loss versus Yale as he went 4-7 from beyond. Prince can contribute right away by being that high motor disrupter defensively and floor spreader offensively that we saw at Baylor. Despite his troubles creating opportunities for himself off the dribble right now; Budenholzer’s system doesn’t require that skillset from his wings, it highlights everything Prince is made of.
The A-10 Player of the Year, Deandre Bembry, provides the hawks with more playmaking, more versatility defensively along with a team-oriented mindset that coincides with Atlanta’s concept. Because of his ballhandling skills and quickness, he has a knack of finding the seams in defenses comfortably, thus creating opportunities for himself and others. In his final year as a St. Joseph Hawk, Bembry was only one of three players in the nation to average at least 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4 assist, Ben Simmons and Denzel Valentine were the others two.
“He’s a good Hawks fit. He can handle, he can pass, and he’s unselfish. He is an exceptionally great passer, said Wilcox.
Deandre talks about his versatility
Shooting currently is his biggest obstacle, consisting of his mechanics (slow release and shoots on the way down) shot selection and three point woes(just 26% last season). Luckily for him, Hawks shooting coach Ben Sullivan has done a remarkable job with Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha; but even more notably he played a large part in Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard’s development as shooters during his time in San Antonio. He will surely have his work cut out for him with Bembry as a shooter, but his all around game fits just right.
Lets be honest, neither one of these guys were what many Hawks fans expected. But they are definitely what were needed.
“We are confident in the work we’ve done and the time we put in to this”, said a smiling Wes Wilcox post-draft.
The end of the All-Star break marks the beginning of a hugely significant time of the season — the stretch run. It’s crunch time across the NBA for many teams. You have teams gunning for the number one seed, teams gunning for home court advantage, teams gunning for the playoffs, and you have a few teams gunning for the lottery.
The Atlanta Hawks can be categorised into the second group mentioned — gunning for home court advantage. But they’ve ran into a wall. They’re currently on a three game losing streak and have lost five of their last six games. They currently occupy the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, with the Charlotte Hornets (who have been hot of late) sitting just two games behind the Hawks having played two games less. It goes without saying that the Hawks have to string together W’s down the stretch if they want to obtain home court advantage. What are they key games/road trips/stretches that the Hawks face as the season winds down?
The surging Atlanta Hawks meet the slumping New York Knicks this afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Atlanta enters Sunday’s showdown with a 2-0 mark against New York this season.
The last time these teams met, the Hawks used a dominant second-half performance to prevail, 117-98. Paul Millsap was the high man for Atlanta with 22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals. The Hawks outscored the Knicks 27-12 in the third period — and 57-35 in the final 24 minutes — for the team’s 20th win.
Mired in a 1-5 skid, New York dropped its last outing in embarrassing fashion to the streaking Chicago Bulls. Down big early, New York came storming back to make things competitive. However, the Knicks faltered in the fourth-quarter, shooting just 17-of-19 from the field overall whilst being outscored 31-8. Ultimately, Chicago handed New York its 19th loss on the season.
Conversely, Atlanta overcame a 19-point deficit to defeat the Houston Rockets 121-115 on Dec. 29. The Hawks were a second-half team in that performance as well, outscoring Houston 36-23 in the deciding fourth quarter to snap Houston’s modest 3-game winning streak. Four Atlanta Hawks starters scored 20-plus points in that contest with Al Horford registering a season-high 30. Continue Reading…
A night after having their six-game winning streak snapped, the Atlanta Hawks look to get back on track against the home-standing Houston Rockets. Atlanta has defeated the Rockets in the teams’ previous three meetings.
Houston comes in to tonight’s tilt having won four of their last six. However, the Rockets dropped a 110-108 road defeat to the lowly New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. Ranked 26th in the league in points allowed (105) Houston gave up 63 first-half points, while being lit up by the tandem of Anthony Davis (24) and Eric Gordon (26).
The Rockets’ leading scorer, James Harden (28.4), netted 24 on 8-of-21 shooting from the field. The league’s third-leading rebounder Dwight Howard was held to nine boards and seven points in Houston’s two-point loss.
The Rockets are currently seventh in the west at 16-16. Houston’s Christmas day win over mighty San Antonio (27-6) followed by a loss to woeful New Orleans (10-21) has exemplified the team’s streaky season. Continue Reading…
The Atlanta Hawks look to extend an NBA best six-game winning streak while visiting the Indiana Pacers tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana comes into the contest struggling of late, having lost three-of-four.
One of the main catalysts for the Pacers’ recent 1-3 skid has been the slumping performance of All-NBA performer Paul George. This season, the 25 year-old star has averaged an impressive 24.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.6 steals per contest. However, George’s numbers have fallen off considerably in his past four outings. This precipitous drop off includes declined averages of 16.5 points, 5.3 turnovers and 29 percent shooting from the field.
During this 1-3 stretch, Indiana’s team averages have taken a nosedive as well. Overall, the Pacers rank sixth in the NBA in points allowed at 98.7 per contest. The team is seventh in points scored per outing at 102.7. But over their past four, those numbers have declined to 96 points scored and 99.5 yielded.
It’s fair to state that Indiana is struggling as a unit heading into Monday night’s tilt. Continue Reading…
Atlanta will look to extend its winning streak to five when they face the Detroit Pistons from Philips Arena on Wednesday. The Hawks reeled off a season-best seven consecutive victories after being soundly defeated by the Pistons, 106-94, on opening night.
In that contest the Hawks’ starters were dominated by Detroit’s. The Piston’s starting five posted 88 points to Atlanta’s 59. Former UGA standout Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led all scorers with 21. Andre Drummond was unstoppable down low, grabbing 19 rebounds while posting 18 points.
Detroit, (17-12) is currently the Eastern Conference’s sixth best team and in the midst of a 3-game winning streak. Detroit rallied from 18 down last night to defeat Miami 93-92.
Meanwhile, the Hawks have gone from ninth to third place in the Eastern Conference standings over the past seven days. At 18-12, Atlanta is one of only three teams in their conference to currently sport 18 victories. Continue Reading…