The season is young, but the next four games represent a critical part of the Hawks’ schedule. The Hawks will face two assured playoff teams (Washington and Toronto), another playoff contender who happens to have the best player in basketball so far this season (New Orleans and Anthony Davis), and a divisional rival that the Hawks have already played this season and lost to on fluke circumstances. (Charlotte, a terrible offensive foul call, and a banked-in Lance Stephenson 30-footer)
Luckily for the Hawks, they will host three of these four games in Philips Arena. In short, they need to capitalize on that.
The Hawks have lost some close games this season and could easily be 8-3. But as Buddy Grizzard pointed out, that record wouldn’t really matter; the Hawks have played like a mediocre team so far this season. Has part of that been because of DeMarre Carroll’s injury at the hands of JR Smith? Sure, but if the Hawks want to prove that they are good and not just average, these next four games give them the chance to do that.
Here are some things that I want to see from the Hawks this week that I think will improve the team’s chances against a schedule that is about to toughen up.
- MORE HORFORD (MOREFORD?)
Horford has been solid in his return from his pectoral injury last season. However, his presence within the team’s offense and his minutes have been reflective of a player that suffered a season-ending injury the year before. But I think around now is when Coach Budenholzer and the Hawks should start to ramp up Horford’s involvement in the offense. As of now, 40% of Horford’s shots are long 2s. He is shooting an other-worldly 55% on those shots, but Horford has the ability to operate as a play-maker and scorer off the dribble and in the post. He can give more than what the Hawks’ offense is having him do at this point.
The Hawks’ number one options on offense right now are Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap, and that needs to change to include Horford very soon if the Hawks want to solidify themselves as a better than average team. Even if Teague and Millsap are still in command for a bit longer, Horford should be clearly behind them and not getting out-shot by Pero Antic, Thabo Sefolosha, or Mike Scott.
- BENCH SCORING
Dennis Schröder has been the Hawks’ only consistent scorer off of the bench this season. (Mike Scott is not consistent) As of now, Sefolosha, Antic, and Shelvin Mack all have true-shooting percentages UNDER .500. For those not accustomed to true-shooting, being under .500 is REALLY bad; that’s where Josh Smith has resided for the past couple of seasons.
Hopefully for the Hawks, these three are just in shooting slumps and this is not a potential season-long issue. Sefolosha, Antic, and Mack are a combined 11-for-62 (18%) on 3-pointers this season. Considering that these three are usually open when they take these shots, that percentage should increase soon, and thus, the team’s scoring will benefit.
- QUIT PLAYING SCOTT AND HORFORD TOGETHER
Unless the Hawks plan on putting Scott at the 3 in these lineups, then these two do not need to be playing together at all. Horford’s rebounding is down in the wake of his injury recover and Mike Scott just does not rebound any more. Horford and Scott have played 94 minutes together this season and the Hawks have been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions over that time. Possible cause? The Hawks are only grabbing 41.4% of rebounds when those two are on the court together, which is really, really bad. Of course, the number to strive for with rebound percentage is either close to 50% or better. The Hawks are currently at 48% as a team and the starting lineup is at 48.5%, so lineups with Scott and Horford are where the Hawks can improve. (stats per NBA.com)
This is where Elton Brand and/or Mike Muscala need to be playing. Both players can complement Horford and Scott on both ends of the floor, and they allow the Hawks to maximize rest for the entire frontcourt. The Hawks have great depth at the 4 and 5 positions and it is time for coaching decisions to start reflecting that.
- JEFF TEAGUE AND REBOUNDING
This may seem like a weird thought at first, but Jeff Teague needs to be more involved in rebounding. Coach Budenholzer preaches how his team needs to work the glass as entire unit and how the guards are an important part in that. Carroll, Korver, Sefolosha, and Schröder all do their part in sealing and attacking the defensive glass. Often, Teague does not. I do not know if it is based on instruction from the coaches, but Teague flares out to the sideline and awaits an outlet of the rebound far too much. I know the Hawks want to play with pace, but you can still do that with Teague giving a little more effort on the defensive glass. I am not expecting Teague to starting averaging five boards a game from the point guard spot, but this season represents a career-low rebounding percentage from him. He can do better.
The Eastern Conference has been really bad; so bad that the Hawks could easily survive going 1-3 or even 0-4 over this stretch. However, if the Hawks want to prove that they are a potential contender in this weak East and that they are at least a second round team, then they need to start showing that potential now.