The Hawks clinched the 1-seed in the East on Friday night after beating the Miami Heat and after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Brooklyn Nets. On Saturday night with a back-to-back, Coach Budenholzer decided to rest a guy or two.
…Or three. Or four… or the entire starting lineup.
Dennis Schröder, John Jenkins, Kent Bazemore, Elton Brand, and Mike Muscala comprised the Hawks’ starting lineup on Saturday night as they fell to the Charlotte Hornets by a score of 115-100. Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, and Mo Williams all scored at least 17 points to lead the Hornets to their 31th victory on the season.
The mindset among some Hawks fans while this game was taking place was questioning why the Hawks would essentially just throwaway a game like this by resting all five starters at once, even with the 1-seed clinched. However, there are plenty of reasons why this made sense, with the most subtle reason being that the Hornets are one of the teams behind the Brooklyn Nets in the standings. Since the Hawks have the right to swap picks with the Nets, it definitely did not hurt that the Hawks let this game go.
It also did not hurt to give guys like Mike Muscala some playing time. Muscala, who is held in high regard by members of the front office, capitalized on his extended playing time by notching his first career double double: 18 points and 10 rebounds with four assists and two blocks in 34 minutes. He also hit two 3-pointers to up his season total to 4-for-11 from behind the arc.
Muscala’s case is interesting because while he likely will not play in the playoffs this season, the team is high on him, it looks like he plays well on offense and defense when he gets a chance, and the advanced metrics approve of his play. It is too early to say that he could be Elton Brand’s and Pero Antic’s replacement in the future, but at 23, Muscala definitely has a lot of room to grow into whichever role the Hawks desire from him.
Muscala sits in a completely different situation than John Jenkins, who actually had a decent shooting performance on Saturday night with 16 points and three 3-pointers. However, Jenkins still has a lot of problems on defense, which is why his playing time has been so sparse this season. Another issue for Jenkins is his long release on his shot; while Jenkins can hit open shots, a lot of time they are more sparse for him than other players because defenders can recover in the time that Jenkins takes to wind up on his form. His accuracy will probably land him a roster spot somewhere next season, but it likely will not be with the Hawks.
Speaking of guys out of the regular rotation, Shelvin Mack showed why he has been in that spot for most of the year. Mack has always been decent in controlling the ball and preventing turnovers, but his offensive play and decision making in this game was atrocious. In one possession, Mack was dribbling the ball down the court in transition and instead of trying to hit an open Kent Bazemore in the corner, he shot an extremely awkward floater in the lane while defended by three Charlotte Hornets. If Mack gets any playing time in the playoffs, he will have to do a lot better than 2-for-10 from the field down the stretch.
The Hawks suffered their first loss in a game Schröder started this season, which of course, was not any fault of Schröder. The young German recorded his fifth double-double on the season with 17 points and 11 assists. Like Jenkins, Schröder hit three 3s in the game, which raised his season average to 35%; that’s a long way from a player that looked like he had no shooting touch at all in his rookie season.
The Hawks will play the Bucks in Atlanta on Monday. It will be interesting to see who is sitting out for the Hawks in that game, as Jeff Teague is still nursing an ankle injury he suffered in Wednesday’s game against Orlando. I doubt the Hawks will choose to sit all five starters again, as the team will want to have a certain rhythm heading into the playoffs.