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For the most part, day 1 of NBA free agency frenzy was thought to have been won by Mike Conley’s 5-year $153 million dollar deal with the Grizzlies (largest deal in NBA history), only to be outdid by the Atlanta Hawks signing Dwight Howard to a 3-year $70.5 million dollar deal shortly after. The hometown kid returns to his roots where we were first introduced to the 6”10 slender teenager with the Hollywood smile, as he dawned a #12 for Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy. Fast-forward 3 teams in 12 years later and his presence couldn’t come at a better time.

 

 

The Hawks have a history of having trouble acquiring star power, especially through free agency, and the low attendance numbers over the years are a direct result. Dwight’s signing doesn’t mean sold out games every night, automatic championship contenders, but what it means is the organization’s unwillingness to hunt big names is a narrative of the past. Owner Tony Ressler, GM Wes Wilcox and Coach Mike Budenholzer have decided that in order to every cross the bridge towards relevancy and appeal to the rest of the league, it will first need to establish a precedent and that’s what this acquisition does. Now the Hawks job isn’t done, they will need to surround Dwight with the pieces to legitimately contend for a championship. Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver still remain from the All-star foursome selected to represent in New York a year ago. Bazemore played the best basketball of his career this season and will return after signing a 4-year $70 million dollar deal and a confident Dennis Schroder steps into the starting point guard spot.

 

The 3- time defensive player of the year leaves an offense first, offense second, oh, and then defense third mentality in Houston; and now joins one of the best defensive coaches in the league. The Hawks have finished in the top three of 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; he now he has a game-changing player with the ability to secure both of those deficiencies. Atlanta has sorely missed that imposing defensive presence anchoring, sort of similar to what Tyson Chandler meant to those Dallas Maverick teams, an already outstanding group of perimeter defenders who do a terrific job of swarming ballhandlers and speeding up offenses Al Horford and Paul Millsap did all they could, playing much bigger than their listed size. However, now with Howard, Hawks are in a great spot frontcourt wise, because either Millsap stays at his designed position or Horford finally slides to the power forward spot where many believe he can be most productive in.

 

Another important note is that due to Budenholzer’s all hands on deck philosophy; he has been able to keep the minutes of his two cherished big men to a minimum, Horford logging in 31.9 minutes and Millsap logging in 33 minutes per game over the past 3 seasons, another refreshing sign for Howard.

 

Over the past couple seasons Dwight has not looked like the Superman we saw in Orlando, 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 his effort was questioned much of the season as he looked disengaged at time. The injuries is one thing Atlanta is taking a risk on, but the mental stability is much more riskier. 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’s played 71 games and the entire first round, so the issue wasn’t physical, but much more a mental block. 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 that they don’t mind playing through their bigs, two factors that 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 n roll situations forcing defenses into a tough circumstance with shooters on the perimeter. This scheme also promotes lower post passing between its big to create easier scoring opportunities as he would likely post and catch or catch and go closer to the rim. A similar scheme is currently ran on the clippers between Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan whenever they play two-man game from a Hi-lo setting; Millsap is just as much, if not more, of a floor stretcher as Griffin and an excellent passer too.

 

The possibilities with this team, under this coach are limitless for Howard as long as he stays healthy and engaged. He is now 30 years old with an injurious history and has been apart of enough drama to launch a Netflix series. More than ever before, Dwight’s legacy will be impacted, in his hometown, as an Atlanta Hawk.

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…

The Atlanta Hawks drew first blood in their round one matchup against the Boston Celtics, 101-102, to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The Hawks were led by Jeff Teague and Al Horford, who both registered  double-doubles, while the Celtics were led by Isaiah Thomas’ 27 points and eight assists.

Kent Bazemore also had a great game for the Hawks, scoring 23 points and was a constant menace to the Celtics’ defense with his cutting action.

A tale of two halves

The Celtics were pretty poor on the offensive end in the first half — 12-of-52 (23.1%) shooting and 2-of-16 (12.5%) from behind the arc made for a very disappointing first half for the Celtics. Bad shots, settling for jump shots, and some great defense displayed by the Hawks limited the Celtics to 34 first half points. However, sometimes words simply aren’t enough, and with that I present you the Celtics’ first half shot chart.

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With the Hawks crossing the halfway point of their 82 game regular season, it is time to look back at some of the successes and failures of the team.

The team’s record sits at 24-17 prior to Monday’s match against the Orlando Magic, on pace for 48 wins for you math majors. This would be a 12-win drop off from last year despite only a couple of roster changes during the offseason. It was common thought that the Hawks wouldn’t be able to match their performance from a season ago given natural regression. The first half of the season has only proved that line of thinking correct. Still, the team has a real shot at a top two seed in the Eastern Conference and will look to enter the playoffs in better shape this time around.

Let’s dive right into what has gone right early in the 2015-16 season.

The Positives:

Kent Bazemore

By now you’ve heard Baze’s story. A four year player at Old Dominion, Kent went undrafted in 2012 and has had to fight for playing time in the Association. James Herbert of CBS Sports recently detailed his early struggles and his improvement since becoming a Hawk in 2014. 

Kent shot 32.7% from three in sporadic time over his first two seasons in the NBA with the Warriors and Lakers. Last season, he shot 36.4% from long range. This year? A brilliant 41.9%. Kent credits a revamped shooting stroke and it has showed in his results. But he has also elevated his game in other ways.

Kent is playing the most minutes of his career at over 28 a game and has responded with double digit scoring for the first time as well. He is fourth on the team in points per game (12.8) and third in True Shooting Percentage (59.2%). In addition, he has turned into a real pesky defender with a 0.4 Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DPM) and over a steal per game.

Long regarded as just a slasher with monster hops, the man from Kelford, North Carolina has refined his game into a well-rounder contributor. Baze was once only known for his bench celebrations, but now his electrifying play between the baselines is causing others to go wild from the sideline. It was only a few months ago when questions surfaced about the team’s ability to replace DeMarre Carroll. Well, I’d say the Hawks have found their replacement plus some.

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Paul Millsap scored his 10,000th career point and finished with 21 points, six rebounds, three assist as Atlanta defeated the Brooklyn Nets 114-86.  Dennis Schroder recorded his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 assist leading the bench that outscored Brooklyn’s 53-31. Thaddeus Young was Brooklyn’s leading scorer with 18 points shooting 8-12 from the field. On the second game of a back to back it is important to spread out minutes and Coach Budenholzer was able to do so in a winning effort.

“Good effort by our group. I think a lot of guys played well. The bench was really good for us, said Coach Budenholzer. The first half was a little bit back and forth. We got some cushion. They threw a punch to start the third quarter. It was good to see us take that and extend the lead. A lot of different guys played well. A little different combinations tonight, so it was good to see different guys in a little bit different situations play well”

Atlanta shot the ball well in the first half, shooting 50% in the first quarter and 60% in the second quarter. Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap led the Hawks with 10 points apiece, while Georgia Tech’s Thaddeus Young led Brooklyn with 14 followed by Wayne Ellington with nine. Once Thabo Sefolosha, Dennis Schroder and the rest of the bench were inserted into the game late in the first quarter and to start the second, the defense picked up and the Hawks were able to pull away to a 44-32 lead with 7:12 remaining in the 2nd quarter. However, a couple fouls by Atlanta, threes from Joe Johnson and Brooklyn were able to cut the lead to just seven as the half ended. Continue Reading…

Over the past decade, the power forward position has been in a constant state of flux; evolving from bruising rebounders with the hint of a midrange jumper, to floor spacing 3-point threats, and on to today’s playmaking variety.

Paul Millsap, through different points in his career, has fit each description — adapting to meet the position’s demands:

With the proliferation of specialized 3-and-D wings, the power forward position has become an important source of secondary playmaking — attacking the brief 4-on-3 advantages created by defensive reactions to a pick and roll.

Once limited behind Carlos Boozer on the bench in Utah, Millsap has worked himself into one of the most notable playmaking power forwards in the NBA. He has developed similar ability to pass and make plays in open space to counterparts Draymond Green, Boris Diaw and Blake Griffin. Each is with the right coach, in the right system and surrounded by the right talent to show off their inner point guard.

Millsap’s demeanor is quiet and workman-like, so at times his impact may get lost in the flash of a Jeff Teague crossover or the intricate off-ball choreography that frees Kyle Korver up for an open 30-foot 3-pointer. But make no mistake, Millsap is the concrete, glue and stick that holds this team together.

Continue Reading…

 

The Atlanta Hawks have won six straight after capturing a 117-98 victory over the visiting New York Knicks. Atlanta is now the only Eastern Conference team on the season with 20 victories.

In the first quarter New York came out scorching hot, shooting 14-of-22 overall. Knicks’ superstar Carmelo Anthony led the way with nine points in the opening period. New York outscored Atlanta 33-22 in the stanza, holding a 21-6 lead at one point.

In the second frame, Atlanta showed its resilience, besting New York 38-31 to cut into the Knicks’ 10-point lead. Jeff Teague led all Hawks scorers with nine points, on a perfect 2-of-2 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. Atlanta entered the half down 63-60.

The Hawks owned the third period, outscoring the Knicks 27-12. Paul Millsap added 11 points and five rebounds for Atlanta as the Hawks took a 12 point lead into the final period of play.

The fourth quarter saw Atlanta build a commanding 24-point lead, while outscoring New York 30-20 in the quarter. The Hawks used a balanced effort in the final period, en route to putting New York away 117-98. Continue Reading…

Despite playing in front of a home crowd mostly filled with Laker nation, the Atlanta Hawks found a way to drown out the noise and grab a much needed 100-87 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Al Horford led Atlanta with 16 points and nine rebounds while  finishing with a game-best plus-16 plus/minus. The win involved much more of a balanced effort offensively than the hawks have had in their recent games as three starters finished in double figures and the bench contributed 41 points. Kent Bazemore led the bench with 15 points and shot 50% from the field and 67% from three.

In the first half the Hawks defense made their presence felt as they forced the Lakers into eight turnovers, three coming from rookie D’Angelo Russell who struggled with breaking the half court trap Atlanta constantly threw his way. Many of the Lakers could not find a rhythm, rushing several of their shots leading to 32.5% field goal percentage.  However, the Lakers made it a game in the third quarter as they began the second half on a 7-0 run, followed by an 11-3 run midway through the quarter. Jordan Clarkston stepped up and led all Lakers in the third as he scored 11 of the team’s 30 points.

“I think our defense gave us a cushion in the first half gave us a cushion, but we had a significant lag in the third quarter,” said Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer. “I think two nights in a row in the second half we have not been as good as we need to be. It is really both sides of the court. We need to focus on being a better defensive team, being more solid when we are up.” Continue Reading…

Spurs Rout Hawks 108-88

Eric Yeboah —  November 29, 2015 — Leave a comment

In their fourth game in five nights the Hawks fell to the San Antonio Spurs 108-88 with the largest lead being 30. This win marks the 18th straight home victory against Atlanta. The Hawks struggled from the field shooting just 42% from the field and a season low 23% from three in the game. After the first quarter the Hawks led 25-23 and it seemed that they would fight through the sores and heavy legs.

However, the second quarter began and ended horribly as scored just 12 points shooting just 27% from the field and 12.5% from three, meanwhile Leonard recorded 11 of his game high 22 points. During this quarter the team posted a -19 plus/minus rating while the spurs forced them into 6 turnovers leading to a 17 point lead.

Mike Scott lead Atlanta with 14 points (his 13th time scoring in double figures), five for nine from the field and +6 plus/minus rating during his time on the court. The spurs dominated the frontcourt showdown between the two as Millsap and Horford only accumulated just 16 points and 12 rebounds, meanwhile Duncan and Aldridge posted 23 points and 24 rebounds. The same story goes for Atlanta’s backcourt with just 12 points from Teague and Korver as the length of San Antonio threw their rhythm completely off forcing several contested or adjusted shot attempts.

Hawks return home Monday, but Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder wont be the easiest bounce back game.

Tip off at 8:00pm

In their first of four meetings with this season the Hawks defeated the Charlotte Hornets 97-94 without the services of Kyle Korver. Atlanta fended off the Hornets late run in a game that was tied on seven occasions along with 17 lead changes. Kent Bazemore may not be the sharpshooter Kyle is, but looked pretty close shooting 4-for-5 from 3-point land tying his career high in field goals made. Kent Finished with 19 points (seven coming in the fourth quarter) and nine rebounds. Coach Mike Budenholzer spoke about his confidence.

“You could just feel his confidence from the very beginning of the game, the way he was rising up and shooting with no hesitation. The ball was coming off his hand just really easily and nice. He got a couple of drives and finishes. The drive and the put back late, Kent on his drive forces the help which allows Paul to get the put back.”

This tough defensive matchup is something both became accustomed to last season and again tonight as they struggled to ever find a rhythm. The hornets held the hawks to just 42% from the field and six turnovers in the first half. In the second half the Hawks turned up the pressure in their rotations ,particularly in the third quarter, forcing seven turnovers leading to 10 points and a seven point lead heading into the fourth.

Dennis Schröder got an early Christmas wish and was inserted in the lineup alongside Jeff Teague for the first time in their careers. Schröder and Teague combined to score 28 points along with six assist and showing great effort defensively forcing Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin into three turnovers apiece. Many probably wondered how their styles would mesh offensively, but Coach Bud was more focused on the other side of the floor.

“The key is if we can guard and we can get stops on the other end and we can rebound on the other end, then I think offensively we won’t have too much trouble. For more of the game I thought our defense was pretty good, and that included when Jeff and Dennis were in there. I think overall it was good to see them play so much together.”

Horford and Millsap always play well together and did so again tonight as Horford scored 18 points (seven in the fourth quarter) with six of those points coming from beyond the arc for the second straight game and a RPM of +12. Paul Millsap posted his second double of the season with 19 points, 10 rebounds and also showed his range going 2-for-4 from three.

These two teams have a quick turn around and meet each other again Sunday in Charlotte, tip off at 2:00pm