The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up their four game road trip with a 119-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets. Having missed the Hawks’ last game in Phoenix, Paul Millsap rejoined the team in the Mile High City as the Hawks finished the road trip on a positive note. Millsap led the charge with 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block, illustrating (if it wasn’t obvious already) why he is arguably the most important player on the Hawks’ roster. This was an important win for the Hawks after the desperately disappointing loss to the 13-31 Phoenix Suns. What were the takeaways from this fixture?
Teague’s improved outing
A lot of people have been quick to criticise Jeff Teague for his inconsistency recently (which, to be fair, has been warranted), but let’s give him credit when he does have a good game. He bounced back from his disappointing outing in Phoenix with a 12 points, 10 assists display against the Nuggets.
One of Teague’s better qualities is his ability to penetrate and draw the attention of the defense. Time and time again last night Teague drew the attention of defense. When the defense began to commit/fully committed to help, Teague would just hand over the ball to the open big man, whether it was Splitter, Horford, Millsap or Mike Scott, who would finish the play. This was one of the contributing reasons as to why the Hawks scored 56 points in the paint. And for the occasions when the ball wasn’t dumped off to a big in the paint, it found its way to the three-point line. On two separate occasions in the second half, in the same corner, Teague connected with Kyle Korver for open three-pointers after Teague drew the attention of Korver’s man.
The Hawks need more of this type of performance from Teague. His ability to create shot opportunities (either for himself or his teammates) is critical to the success of the Hawks in the long term.
Coach Bud’s rotation experimentation
For almost the entire season Al Horford and Kyle Korver are the first members of the starting lineup to be substituted. Thabo Sefolosha and Tiago Splitter are the first subs off the bench to take their places. Coach Bud has stuck to this particular rotation for most of the season, although on a couple of occasions during this road trip (including last night) Bud has taken out Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore first, instead of Horford and Korver.
Perhaps Bud wanted to see a little more front court and back court combinations that he hasn’t so far, or perhaps he wants to take a closer look at Al Horford at power forward. It’s not an game changing rotation change, nor is it even a permanent rotation change, but it’s interesting that Bud is experimenting with this particular rotation after 46 games played.
Denver’s free throws
This game never really felt close once the Hawks’ 35 point second quarter frenzy put clear daylight between the two sides. The lead quickly stretched to 22 in the third quarter, and at no stage did it seem like the Nuggets could mount any sort of comeback. You might take a glance at the scoreline, see the 14 point margin of victory and think that the game wasn’t a complete blowout. But, in one sense, it was. The only reason the Nuggets were even that close to the Hawks in the end can be attributed to the Nuggets attempting 37 free throws, converting 33 of them. Considering that the Nuggets average 24 free throw attempts per game, 37 free throw attempts is a very high number of free throw attempts to allow.
One Nugget who was aggressive in attacking the rim was Danilo Gallinari. Although he only shot 3-of-10 on the night, he did attempt 10 free throws. The 6’10 Gallinari gave the Hawks all sorts of issues, his size proving difficult to deal with. His opposite number, Kent Bazemore, found it difficult to stop Gallinari near the rim without fouling him. The help/switch defense in Millsap, Horford, and Splitter also struggled with Gallinari’s combination of speed and size driving toward the rim, and sent him to the line often.
In the future, the Bazemore needs to do a better job staying in front of bigger opponents, as he often will since he is listed at 6’5.
Dennis’ rack attack
Dennis Schröder enjoyed a fruitful outing against the Nuggets last night, scoring 15 points (on 4-of-8 shooting), five rebounds and five assists in 19 minutes off the bench. However there was something that Dennis did last night that he needs to do so much more often — he attacked the rim and got himself to the free throw line on multiple occasions. Anyone who has watched Dennis play knows that he possess electrical pace, quickness capable of collapsing the defense and causing havoc. And yet for someone possessing such quickness, he doesn’t utilise it as often as he should, averaging just two free throw attempts per game. And even when he does go toward the rim his percentages are poor, as you can see by looking at his shotchart.
However in last night’s game six of Dennis’ eight shot attempts came near the rim and he converted three of those attempts, including this beautiful Eurostep move.
When Dennis is faced with a switch on offense and is guarded by a big, he tends to jack up a three-point attempt rather than attempting to blow by the slower moving defender with his speed. Part of the reason for this tendency is because the big who has switched onto Dennis sags off of him, daring him to shoot the three rather than close out, as Dennis will blow by if the defender comes too close.
In the fourth quarter of this game, a Mike Scott “pick” creates a switch, leaving Darrell Arthur to guard Dennis. Instead of attempting a three-pointer, Dennis decides to turn on the jets, and blows by Arthur for the easy layup.
This is something that he needs to do much more often. He has the pace to collapse the defense (which can result in easy points for a teammate) and earn foul shots for himself. There is no good reason why Dennis only attempts two free throws per game. Hopefully last night was a sign of things to come.