Archives For Atlanta Hawks

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Have you ever known a thing — or a person — to be present in your life for nine years, only for them to walk out/exist no more after one June night? Well, that’s the reality of what happened to Hawks fans with Al Horford this summer — the All-Star center who left the only professional team he has ever known to join the Boston Celtics.

Horford was a constant in Atlanta ever since the day he was selected by the Hawks with the third overall pick in 2007, and the thought of him not being a part of the pre game player announcements (and part of the Hawks as a whole, of course) is certainly an odd thing to think about now, let alone actually seeing (or not seeing him in this case) the reality of situation on opening night.

Normally the thought of Al Horford leaving Atlanta would have been near catastrophic as the Hawks aren’t normally known for attracting the top free agents, thus filling the void Horford left (who certainly ranks among the better centers in the league) would’ve proved very difficult. But the Hawks did not leave anything to chance in an unpredictable free agency and decided to bring a center on board, even before Horford announced his intentions to sign with the Celtics.

But the Hawks didn’t just acquire any center, they acquired a high profile center — at least in terms of his name — in Dwight Howard. While the Hawks aren’t getting the best version of Dwight Howard, he was a very big fish for the Hawks to catch — the Hawks don’t normally sign players with a name as big as Dwight Howard’s. But what his signature provided the Hawks with was a very decent safety net in the event Horford did choose to leave, which he ultimately did. With Dwight’s signature agreed upon, losing Horford was not as catastrophic as it could’ve been.

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(Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

(Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Normally I’d begin a column with some sort of introductory paragraph, loosely relating to the general topic of the column — in some sort of way — before getting on with the topic itself. Today I don’t feel like doing that, so we’re going to just jump straight into it — no foreplay today…

Last night the Atlanta Hawks’ regular season schedule was released, and there’s much to dissect and discuss.

The Hawks will have the benefit of beginning their season at home on October 27th against a division rival, the Washington Wizards — one of three games the Hawks will contest in October before the season shifts into gear in November.

We’re going to go through each month individually, but before we do there are some significant dates and items to mention:

  • The oh-so awaited return of Al Horford (and the Boston Celtics) to Atlanta is January 13th, which is way too long to wait, in my opinion. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN and it should be a fantastic game. Jeff Teague will make his Atlanta return on March 15th, but the Hawks and Pacers will meet in Indiana before that on November 27th. Atlanta’s marquee signing, Dwight Howard, will make his return to Houston on February 2nd, and I can’t imagine he’ll receive a video tribute or a warm reception from Houston and their fans respectively. The Rockets roll into Atlanta early enough in the season though, November 5th.
  • Very controversially, the Hawks will not host a game on Martin Luther King Day. Instead the Hawks will travel to New York where they’ll face the Knicks on MLK Day. This has left fans incensed and very upset at this scheduling decision made by the NBA. Since I’m not from the United States, I don’t fully understand or feel the same range of emotions that a lot of Hawks fans are feeling about this decision, but I understand that this is a big deal. The guys over at Peachtree Hoops shed some light on why the Hawks not hosting an MLK is a strange occurrence.

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Feature Image: Marina Kobzeva/Getty Images

A lot can happen in 12 months — those possessing any meaningful life experience can attest to that. And it’s a statement that’s going to ring very true when the Hawks tip off again in October.

Last year, fans watched Dennis Schröder head to the scorers table in the latter stages of the first quarter, kneel down, and prepare to replace starting point guard, Jeff Teague. This year — instead — they’re going to watch Dennis Schröder head to the bench to check out, as Hawks PA Announcer Ryan Cameron announces to the crowd Dennis’ replacement “In for the Hawks, number five, Malcolm Delaney!”

And for the uninformed/average fan (heck, maybe even the slightly above average Hawks fan) the next word that will be on the tip of many fans’ tongues will be “Who???”. And perhaps other fans may ask, in addition,  “Who is this dude, and why does he kind of look like Mike Scott??”.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees the resemblance…)

On the left, Malcolm Delaney, and on the right, Mike Scott

On the left, Malcolm Delaney, and on the right, Mike Scott

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Delaney looking to take his talents to Atlanta.


 

When the Hawks signed point guard Malcolm Delaney, who had last played stateside five years ago as a senior member of the Virginia Tech Hokies, it was the culmination of nine years of official and unofficial scouting. The current Atlanta Hawks assistant general manager, Jeff Peterson, got a firsthand look at his talent and almost a decade later Peterson is finally employing Delaney’s services.

After going undrafted in 2011, Delaney bounced around overseas on a journey that took him across two continents. The list of teams he has played for is almost indecipherable for those unfamiliar with the Euroleague. His first three years playing internationally were season-long stops as a member of Elan Chalon of the top-tier French LNB Pro A, then the Budivelnyk Kyiv of the Ukrainian SuperLeague, then a year with a sporting club you may have actually heard of in Bayern Munich.

The last two years, Delaney spent with PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban, which based in Krasnodar, Russia and a part of a newly formed top-tier league in Russia. Their league, VTB United League, is mostly comprised of Russian teams but essentially covers a large swath of Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, from Kazakhstan to the Czech Republic.

In all, it’s a remarkable journey for a player who could have laid his NBA dreams to rest after going undrafted. Similarly, for the Hawks, this contract is the culmination of much more travel, note-taking and deliberation than the casual fan would realize. Continue Reading…

Feature Image: Bart Young/NBAE/Getty Images

With an 89-79 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies last night, the Atlanta Hawks wrapped their Summer League adventure. Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Isaia Cordinier were all rested but the Hawks still managed to get the job done, and wrapped up their Las Vegas trip with a 4-2 record.

This seems like a good opportunity to go over how well Atlanta’s draft selections got on in their first taste of NBA basketball. Well, NBA-ish basketball, there’s an awful lot of guys who (sadly) won’t be on rosters, but anyways… Oh, we’ll also talk about Edy too.

Before we get cracking, I’d be remiss to mention Lamar Patterson at this point, who I thought played very well in the three games he played before he was waived. He has been claimed off of the waiver wire by the Sacramento Kings, so that’s good news for LP. Ha-ha, well, good that a team claimed him, maybe not good that it’s Sacramento. Anyways, all the best, Lamar.

If you’re interested in how players like Brandon Ashley, Kevin Pangos etc. got on for the Hawks during Summer League, you can check out the team’s stats here. Also, I know Lamar Patterson got cut during Summer League, but there’s no need to not type his name out. He exists, you know. Ah, forget it…

(Just one more piece of housekeeping, just a heads up there’s a lot of footage to be shown today. Not so much analysing/breaking down footage, but more so just showing it, but just a heads up)

Taurean Prince

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Feature Image: David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images

Behind an awful second half, the Atlanta Hawks were defeated 60-71 by the Washington Wizards in Las Vegas Summer League. The Hawks, who led by at least 17 points in the third quarter, were outscored 46-23 in the second half (which included a 30-8 Washington run) and 26-12 in the fourth quarter.

The loss means the Hawks will not advance to the quarter finals of the tournament phase, but their run in Vegas is not over yet. They will now duke it out with Memphis in the consolation bracket later today, 8 p.m ET.

Although the final result is a disappointing one, there were plenty of positives to be had. Specifically, the performances of Edy Tavares and Taurean Prince.

The Edy Tavares Show

Edy Tavares put on a shot blocking clinic yesterday with five blocked shots, four of which came in the first half. Apparently the Wizards didn’t get the 7″3 warning not to come into Atlanta’s paint…

Check out Edy’s highlight reel from this game, oh my goodness, there were some absolute gems…

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Feature Image: Bart Young/NBAE/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks advanced to the round of 16 of the Las Vegas Summer League as they dispatched the Sacramento Kings 81-61. The win sets up a meeting with the Washington Wizards, a team the Hawks have already beaten in Las Vegas.

Thankfully this was a much more entertaining game than the Nets game was, with a 1000 less fouls called (although, to make up, there were 1000 more turnovers committed), and a number of players bounced back with strong performances after struggling against Brooklyn.

Taurean Prince recorded a game high 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting and 2-for-2 from behind the arc, while also cashing in on all nine of his free throw attempts. He also collected nine rebounds.

He looked great yesterday, looked really confident when it came to shooting the ball, and was easily the best player on the court. He was super fun to watch yesterday.

DeAndre’ Bembry also had a good bounce back game — 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including this tasty dunk all over Willie Cauley-Stein.

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Feature Image: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

Many fans across the league rejoiced when they heard the news that eight time All-Star, five time First Team All-NBA, and three time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard was coming home. Home to his native Atlanta. But as the city and the fans welcome home own of their, Atlanta cries for the loss its true son, who has left the nest after nine years.

Al Horford is gone, painting his Twitter account in green, indeed showing his intentions to sign with Boston Celtics on July 7th.

I’m still in utter disbelief. Throughout the night I tossed and turned, the Tweet announcing his next chapter embedded in my head. The moment he sent out this Tweet, you knew there was no going back DeAndre Jordan style.

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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.

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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

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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.

https://streamable.com/mfnk

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.

https://streamable.com/6ogm

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.

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

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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.

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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.”

 

The hopes that Al Horford would retire a Hawk are dashed. The long term future of the franchise is not, however.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Hawks have agreed to sign Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million contract and will retain Kent Bazemore for $70 million over four years. Such was not the same fate, sadly, for the most tenured Hawk.

Remove the emotional aspect of the tumultuous past couple of days and come to realize this is by no means a disaster for the Atlanta Hawks. The team rebuilt the wing corps through the draft and were able to retain breakout star Kent Bazemore. They landed the much maligned but still effective Dwight Howard without having to commit to a fourth year.

Sure, their hopes of winning a championship are very slim this season, especially so if Durant lands on an Eastern team like Boston or Miami, but all you can hope is to be a top four seed in the conference and maybe a path towards the Finals opens up. There are 30 teams competing for one trophy and it’s unrealistic to have half of the teams contending and half rebuilding; there’s always going to be middle ground.

Besides, a Millsap-Horford core proved to be in the same non-contending boat. That duo had two true opportunities to dethrone Lebron’s reign on the Eastern Conference and failed woefully each time. Subsequently, the Boss received a nice severance package and headed to greener, shamrock-filled pastures and we went to Plan B. That’s just how the business goes sometimes.

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