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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.”

 

ATLANTA — Despite James Harden’s 30 point and 12 assist effort — his fourth game, out of six total games played this season, of recording 30 or more points and 10 or more assists in a game — the Hawks were able to play cohesively on both ends of the floor to defeat the Rockets 112-97 on Saturday night.

Though buoyed by an all-encompassing performance from the Hawks’ starting lineup — all five starters finished the game with double-digit points — the Hawks’ play on the defensive side of the ball was the true catalyst for the victory. The Rockets finished with a season high 25 turnovers and littered each quarter with poorly weighted lead passes down low and along the perimeter. The amalgamation of poor execution on the part of Houston and the steady defensive intensity of Atlanta coalesced into an effective defensive performance.

“The discipline to keep Harden off the free throw line and the activity to still create turnovers probably puts us in a position to have a great defensive game,” Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Dwight Howard put together his fourth straight double-double of the season with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Howard had four rolls to the rim that resulted in alley-oop dunks, and his presence in the paint served as a defensive anchor throughout.

In what was one of the signature plays of the game, Howard leapt up to meet the Rockets’ KJ McDaniels at the rim after the latter attempted a dunk over Howard. As Howard extended upwards, it looked, on video review, as if he got all-ball on his extension, but to no avail — it was called a foul by the referee. The crowd groaned in disapproval, finally awakening from a slumber that permeated the peanut gallery until just about this point in the match.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” said Howard on the referee’s second quarter missed call. “We miss plays, you guys misspell a word sometimes.”

Paul Millsap toyed with Nene and Ryan Anderson in the post. Millsap scored a bulk of his baskets on drives to the hoop set up by the Hawks’ selfless offense, but three baskets in particular against Nene displayed Millsap’s refined offensive post game. In an ideal coupling of hesitation moves and quick feet, Millsap knocked in three easy shots within six feet in a span of minutes against a confused and disenchanted Nene. One play in particular left Nene several feet to Millsap’s left as Millsap let his shot go, despite the fact that Millsap started his possession posted up by the elbow. Millsap finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds, a customary night for a man who is not customarily recognized for his abilities.

Kent Bazemore, after a tough first five games from the field, came into this game looking to fire up shots despite the fact that his gun hasn’t been quite as accurate as it once was. Through his first five games, Bazemore shot 27.7 percent from the field — he shot seven for 12 on Saturday night, increasing his overall field goal percentage by more than six points.

“I’m very happy with Baze,” Budenholzer said. “The shots are going to go. The offense is going to come. It’s great for him to see a bucket go.”

Bazemore utilized the corner three against the Rockets in order to get back into his shooting groove. During a minute stretch in the third quarter, Bazemore knocked down two of his three 3-pointers on the night by slyly drifting to the corner and smoothly knocking down two open threes from virtually the same spot.

“[The corner three] is a comfort zone for me,” Bazemore said. “A lot of threes I took early this season were wing threes, top of the key threes — so when you’re trying to find your rhythm you always got to go back to what you know and what feels comfortable.”

Bazemore finished the game with 20 points, four assists and four rebounds to go along with one of his signature post-game Baze gazes that interrupted Dwight Howard’s interview. Howard later described the gesture somewhat facetiously as: “the ugliest face ever.” Kyle Korver (10 points, four for six from the field) and Dennis Schroder (17 points, 12 assists) rounded out the double-digit scoring quintet.

As has stayed rather constant throughout the year, dependable defensive intensity took a plurality of the responsibility for the Hawks’ win. Even if specific players struggle, like Bazemore had been up until tonight, the team is able to combat a potential dearth in offensive production with hard work on the defensive side of the ball. Look for that mantra to hold true as the team continues to mesh, fully, into Budenholzer’s defensive philosophy.

The Hawks play next at the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, November 8.

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!

 

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks began their new season with a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards at Philips Arena. Let’s dive right in.

Fourth quarter burst led by Tim Hardaway Jr.

Wow, those are words I didn’t think I’d type this season…

The Hawks led this game by one point (81-80) heading into the fourth quarter but a 20-4 run — with a lineup Paul Millsap and the second unit — in the first 6 minutes of the fourth quickly turned this game from a tight one to a near blowout. But it was Tim Hardaway Jr. who absolutely exploded in the fourth, scoring 12 of those 20 points during that decisive run. He shot 5-for-6 from the field and 2-for-2 from behind the arc in the fourth, it was so good to see Tim have a game like this. He had a bad, very bad, beginning to the preseason but started to turn it around near the end of preseason and he showed up last night when the Hawks really needed some offense because it wasn’t looking pretty at time with Dennis Schröder running the point.

That lineup that led the fourth quarter charge — Delaney, THJ, Sefolosha, Millsap and Moose — had astronomical offensive ratings (points per 100 possessions). Malcolm Delaney, 121. Tim Hardaway Jr., 135. Thabos Sefolosha, 126. Paul Millsap, 115. And Mike Muscala, 116. And all of these guys played over 20 minutes too, not garbage time. Well, except for Malcolm Delaney, he played 19 minutes and 58 seconds…

Regardless, THJ provided the Hawks with the spark they needed in the fourth, he was fantastic. More of this, please!

Continue Reading…

ATLANTA — Two thirds of the Hawks’ newly minted $70 million trio — Dwight Howard (11 points, 19 rebounds), Dennis Schroder (14 points) and Kent Bazemore (7 points, one for seven shooting) — played admirably on Thursday night, but it was the play of two bench players — quintessential Hawks basketball — that triggered a 24-4 run in the fourth quarter that sealed, then sent, the proverbial letter to give Atlanta a 114-99 opening night victory over the Washington Wizards.

The game was close throughout — neither side held a lead larger than eight — until the fourth quarter. The aforementioned bench players, Tim Hardaway Jr. (21 points, eight for 13 shooting) and Thabo Sefolosha (13 points, six for eight shooting), wreaked havoc on defense along the perimeter, relentlessly pressuring the Wizards into a series of bad passes and poor shot selections in a fourth quarter that the Hawks entered with a mere one point lead.

“Even I could figure out [Sefolosha and Hardaway Jr.] were playing pretty decent,” Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “There would have been like 18 hands and arms pulling me back if I tried to take them out.”

Dwight Howard’s regular season homecoming debut proved to be a fruitful showing. Besides grabbing his customary double-digit rebounds, he navigated the post with some nimble back-to-the-basket moves — but it was his presence on defense that proved to be his greatest contribution. Howard’s defensive presence in the paint was palpable, contesting shots to a tune of only three fouls in 30 minutes of play, proving to be every bit the interior threat that the Hawks wanted him to be when they signed him to a three-year, $70.5 million deal in the offseason.

But, evidently it was the amount of rebounds Howard notched that impressed him the most.

“I got boards in Atlanta,” exclaimed Howard to no one in particular, in the tune of Desiigner’s “Panda,” as he readied for a shower post-game.

The steady hand of Paul Millsap proved, as he always does, why he may be the most underrated player in the NBA. Millsap aptly exploited the poor defense of Markieff Morris to the tune of an easy 28 points to go along with seven rebounds on 55 percent shooting. Morris was no match for Millsap’s potpourri of spin and hesitation moves, which were often started on the perimeter, where Millsap was able to bait Morris too close with pump fakes from three, giving Millsap ample time to drive past and directly towards the hoop.

Ultimately, there were a few signs of the early-season rust that can be easily rinsed away — if all goes right — as the season progresses.

“This was our first game [but] our spacing wasn’t great tonight on the break,” Korver said. “I think we executed pretty well, but we’ve seen practices where outlets are getting further out there — they’re getting up the floor faster.”

If Thursday’s night triumph served as any indication, there isn’t much rust for the Hawks to scrub off as they adjust to the beginning of another arduous season. But, even a small amount of rust on a metal pipe requires the time, the tools and the persistence to remove it completely.

The Hawks play next at Philadelphia on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 12:00 p.m.

The recent police killings of Keith Scott and Terrence Crutcher have rocked this nation once again giving credence to the actions of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s intentions are to challenge the sacred American flag that is supposed to represent equality and liberty. As an athlete he’s chosen not to take the easy route by counting his millions and staying silent like so many of his opposers would like for him to do. On one of the most exciting days in franchise history for basketball reasons, the Atlanta Hawks team chose not to remain silent on the current state of America.

“Hopefully we’ve started a conversation with our players, not just what’s going on with the national anthem but what’s happening in our country, said a thoughtful Coach Budenholzer Monday. We will be incredibly in support of our players. I think the more thoughtful– the more respectful we can be, if we are those two things our country can will be better.”

If anyone on the team ever needed to speak with a victim of police brutality face to face then Thabo Sefolosha would have plenty to talk about after his 2015 nightclub incident with the NYPD. Thabo was falsely accused, attacked (which led to a broken fibula and ligament damage to his ankle) and arrested outside 1 Oak’s nightclub where former Pacer Chris Copeland had been stabbed. So when Sefolosha saw the video footage of Terence Crtucher being gunned down, it immediately brought him back to that night in New York and caused him to feel fortunate.

“I think it’s been a problem and keeps happening and its sad to see. To be honest looking at some of the footage we see with the guy in Tulsa and charlotte I feel lucky to be here and be able to talk about what happened to me.”

Like Thabo, when veteran Jarrett jack first saw the shooting of Terrence Crutcher a sense of “oh not again” accompanied his other initial emotions.

“Man it’s a combination of things like confusion, anger and sadness Its hard to understand when you apply logic to the situation and try to understand where it causes for that type of force to be applied in these instances. You look at it and understand that it was wrong but then it becomes a constant situation where it’s becoming repetitive and we end up getting the same result. We get causality and someone that doesn’t seem to want to take the responsibility for the actions that were taken.

Those like Philando Castile, Alton Sterling,and the remaining 796 victims in 2016 unfortunately weren’t lucky enough to tell their story like Thabo. We will never hear their voices again, which prompts millions of Americans everywhere who feel silenced; to look to professional athletes like Kaepernick, to denounce injustice on a large platform. Three-point specialist Kyle Korver has embraced the responsibility to do just that whether people believe an athlete should or should not.

“It’s a great opportunity for athletes to have a voice in this. I guess some people say that we shouldn’t but there are a lot of people out there that have asked us to be role models. I think that there are problems in this country and that athletes can have a role in this conversation. Its up to us to continue to educate ourselves”

Not every athlete feels its necessary to speak about this particular issue. A stance Michael Jordan was greatly criticized for taking throughout his career until this summer when he ended his silence in a self written piece for ESPN’s undefeated. Charles Barkley’s “I am not a role model” commercial in 1993 sparked many debates around the country on whether or not athletes are unfairly burdened with pressures to always conform to the opinions of the people.

Hawks rookie Taurean Prince has chosen to take this route for the time being not solely because he may feel it’s not an athletes place, but more so a lack of personal experience.

“Man I worry about me and mines, I worry about what I can do to control the things that I can control in my life. Obviously that stuff has affected the people of my culture but at the same time it hasn’t affected me personally so I really don’t get into that stuff. I just shut my mouth and keep it moving until it directly affects me or my family then I’ll decide to speak on it”

Recent signee Will Bynum, a Chicago native, at 33 years old surely has plenty first hand experience of witnessing police conducting themselves inappropriately. But For Bynum he’s looking at all that factors that stricken his cities socioeconomic path towards peace. When your government officials fail the education system, when the culture of policing views you as a number instead of a human being, when family structures are fragile, you end up with a sense of loss hope that becomes contagious. In Bynum’s eyes those who are fortunate enough to leave, secure their families financially and reach a high level of success should make time to return to their neighborhood to instill belief.

“As far as the successful guys that come from the city, they have to come back. A lot of guys get out of it and then they don’t come back, but its what we should do, said a passionate Bynum. We come from there and only we can articulate what’s really going on, because nobody really understands us. Like they are saying we can shut down every single public school, but they do not understand these kids in the radius of five blocks are crossing 5 different gangs so they are not going to go to school. Especially if your mother is working 9-5 everyday, she cant make you be there, so its critical we provide more opportunities for the city and guys like myself come back and give the knowledge that it took to make it out”

 

Full interview with Will Bynum here

 

In a city with one of the highest African-American population in the country, in the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, a community that never hesitates to protest when they sense inequality; this Hawks team has already taken this issue head on a month before the season begins. Media day for Atlanta could of easily been consumed by the acquisition of Dwight, Kent Bazemore deciding to return, Dennis Schroder becoming a starter; but more importantly these players looked eager and prepared to discuss a topic that’s very emotional to those susceptible to it every single day of their lives. Athletes who are socially and outspoken used to be taboo throughout American history,now its imperative.

 

“As athletes we stand for equality and treating everyone fairly. Thats what this hawks organization is about”, said a confident Kris Humphries

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.

https://streamable.com/zo6w

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

https://streamable.com/hb4u

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.

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Tristan Thompson out hustles entire Hawks frontcourt using his instincts and leaping ability. Two attributes Dwight uses when rebounding the ball.

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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.

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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.

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Howard in Pick and Roll

 

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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.

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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.

https://streamable.com/0moz

Here we see a series of clips showing Blake Griffins passing abilities in the Hi-Lo situations.

https://streamable.com/t227

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.

https://streamable.com/w958

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.”

 

Home is a place of refuge, a place to reset, regroup and re-energize; but for the Hawks, all they received was a 121-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the first two and a half quarters, they returned back to the style of basketball that brings the most success to them as they forced turnovers, played physical and mailed in good looks from 3-point land. This game, Coach Budenholzer decided to shake things up a bit by adding more defense and hustle to the lineup, replacing Kyle Korver with Thabo Sefolosha and giving Kris Humphries more meaningful minutes.

“You have to change. We’re in the playoffs,” said Al Horford, who scored 24 points. “We’re fighting for our playoff lives right now. At this point, we have to do some changes because what we’ve done hasn’t worked. We felt good about tonight, but we had some mistakes that cost us.”

Those mistakes Horford referred to came mostly in the the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, as Cleveland made adjustments that then forced the Hawks into questionable shot selections, wasteful possessions and worst of them all, turnovers. The fourth quarter defense looked much like every quarter in Game 2, as Cleveland’s ball movement found the right shooter at the right time.

Atlanta plays best when their defense initiates their offense, but that was no more, and they were forced into a shootout they had no bullets for. Continue Reading…