Archives For Coach Bud Mike Budenholzer

 Friday morning the Atlanta Hawks formally introduced Travis Schlenk as both their general manager and head of basketball operations. Schlenk, the 41-year old from Selden, Kansas is the 17th general manager in Hawks history and arrives after playing a key role as assistant general manager over the last five years in shaping what is now the most dominant team in the NBA — the Golden State Warriors.
 “Where Golden State is right now taking seven years, said Schlenk. “It is not a quick process and it takes time. The way you get there is by maintaining your flexibility, accumulating assets and developing your own talent. We have, in Coach Bud and his staff, a great group of coaches who’ve have done a great job historically of developing talents. So we are in great shape there. We have 11 draft picks coming up in the future, so we have flexibility and assets there. We are actually in a better place right now than Golden State was when I started there.”

With just eight players under contract set to return next season, there is either optimism or pessimism permeating down Peachtree Street and all throughout Atlanta. The decision to keep Paul Millsap during this past season sparked déjà vu for some after the front office tandem of Mike Budenholzer and GM Wes Wilcox elected to take a gamble and hold on to Al Horford after the trade deadline last year. Ultimately it cost Atlanta as they lost him to eastern conference rivals the Boston Celtics.

Fast-forward to now and Atlanta has yet again another big offseason decision to make. Their top scoring leader over the past three seasons and one of the most versatile forwards the league has to offer is set for free agency.

“Paul is a 4-time All-star and arguably the best player on this team, probably is the best player on this team, so that is going to be a priority, said Schlenk. For me right now I’ve got to get with Coach Budenholzer and his staff and my front office staff. Over the next three weeks, we have to hammer out a plan for the future. Paul is certainly going to be a priority.”

 

Millsap arrived in Atlanta along with Mike Budenholzer four years ago. The pair has successfully made the playoffs each season. During this time frame, they notched a #1 Eastern Conference seed in 2015 as well as a top-six defensive rating over the last three seasons. All this, and yet sustained success without a trophy to show for it doesn’t mean anything in the end.

Schlenk on the other hand values the consistency the organization has maintained over the years and space they now have to make possibilities a reality.

“For 10 years in a row, this franchise has been in the playoffs. Most of the time when guys take a job at my level their inheriting a bad team. I am inheriting a good team with a nice foundation that has some flexibility and that’s what we will look to maintain. As we get to a position where a trade or acquisition comes available for a superstar we will be in position to do that.”


“Superstar” — the response hastily and repeatedly heard with regards to what it will take for the Hawks to finally sip champagne. It is a rhetorical question to ask in all honesty. Aside from Dennis Schroder, and the developing Taurean Prince there aren’t many hybrid roster assets. Moreover, Atlanta’s draft choices have not panned out over the years — and without the ability to attract big free agents the team struggles to become a legitimate threat to the King from Akron.

In order for a drastic shift in expectations and trajectory, Atlanta will have to become much more aggressive making moves to acquire big talent. They have done well-shedding contracts over the past two seasons despite signing the hometown kid Dwight Howard to a three-year $70 million deal last summer. They currently have just $62,399,872 in team payrolls on their books — fifth lowest in the league.

Schlenk enters into an organization that has stayed clear of paying the NBA’s tax luxury since the 2002–2003 season — Jason Terry was just a third-year player. Yes, different ownership at the time, but nothing has changed in their efforts when it comes to watching the bottom line. Maybe it has cost them championships, maybe it hasn’t — even though the 2004 Pistons did win a title with just the 17th highest payroll — times have changed and biting the bullet may not seem so bad as the Cleveland Cavaliers did for their 2016 championship that cost them $54 million in luxury taxes.

Championships cost money.

“I don’t think it makes sense for a franchise to go into the tax unless you are competing for a championship, said Schlenk. “Being fiscally responsible with these gentleman’s money that’s not right. But if we are where we make a move its going to put us in tax by a few million dollars, but give us a better chance to win a championship. That’s when I will go to bat and knock on Tony’s door and say this is something we need to do because it will get us to where we want to go.”

A successful style of basketball arrived in Atlanta along with Mike Budenhozer in 2013. However, taking on the president of basketball operations position after Danny Ferry’s departure in 2015 appeared to be one job too many for Budenholzer. The team has taken a step back the last two seasons (eliminated in the semi-finals in 2016 and the first round this season) and ownership ultimately felt an individual with Schlenk’s team building knowledge and vigor was needed.

“We have tried to win every year, said Owner Tony Ressler. “There is no doubt that over the past two years what we’ve seen, and what I’ve said, is the goal is how do we make better decisions and how do we have more firepower in the front office. With a comfort level that we can get to the next level. We feel that Travis absolutely has that understanding and has seen it firsthand. As we learned in our reference checks, Travis understands every part and does the work. Understanding players, recruiting players and understanding what makes a franchise player-friendly. All of these are critically important for us.”

Friday marked the beginning of a new era in Atlanta Hawks basketball with hopes Schlenk can provide an innovative process towards becoming a powerhouse for a organization that has not reached an NBA Finals since 1961. Not only a powerhouse, but an attractive destination for years to come in a city desperately waiting for prosperity. Not an easy task, but he’s seen this before and played a pivotal role in the turnaround.

P

The roller coaster ride for the Hawks so far this season cannot be resolved in a few adjustments, the roster is what it is and therefore instead of asking what they’re missing, ask who needs to step up. Out of all the lineup changes and injuries this team has endured so far, they will need more production out of their first year starting point guard Dennis Schroder to be that stable force.

Now that may seem unfair for a guy playing at the deepest position in the league with a team lacking shooters and a real on-court identity. Preseason polls predicted the Hawks would finish in the bottom half of the East, but this team believes they have all the right pieces to finish well beyond that prognosis and in order for them to meet those goals they need Schroder at his best. Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard may draw the most attention from opposing defenses, but make no mistake Schroder is the most important component and this team follows his lead.

“When he’s playing downhill it opens everything up, not too many people can stay in front of him,” said Kent Bazemore on Schroder. “He does such a great job putting pressure on the rim. I think he is a very underrated passer. Some of the passes he makes can shock you. When he is balling like that it gives us a very good chance of winning. But it is an adjustment for him playing starter minutes and us demanding so much from him.”

Three-time Hawks All-Star Paul Millsap gave Schroder similar praise.

“He puts a lot of pressure on the defense, especially when he’s attacking downhill,” said Millsap. You have to respect it and when he doesn’t have it he’s good at making the pass to get another guy a shot.”

 

Here you can see Schroder’s knack of finding the open man and not only finding the open man. He not only finds the man but uses his penetrating ability to draw defenders and create easier scoring opportunites for guys like Sefolosha, Bazemore and Millsap. These plays also show his development in reading defenses properly and making the correct pass.

The numbers don’t lie, when Schroder scores 24 points or more the Hawks are 6-2. In those eight games he went for 31 against Westbrook, 27 against Derrick Rose, 28 against the Golden State killer that is Kyrie Irving and 24 a piece facing Steph Curry and Kyle Lowry. Majority of those games have two things in common: matchups with elite point guards that were on the road.

That brings forth another task within this quandary to solve, because it is apparent he’s carrying a little extra motivation away from Philips Arena than in it. Schroder admitted postgame after falling to the Timberwolves for a third consecutive home loss that he has a bigger appetite for away games. Now that may be due to the lack of home court advantage offered to him in Atlanta, but regardless, admitting is one thing; actually dissecting as to why there is such a vast difference in production is another. Along with his home-away dilemma, Schroder’s ability to dissect the way defenses are choosing to guard him is still a work in progress, but his level of aggressiveness can’t be, it must be there every night for this Hawks team.

“Being a point guard is a hard job because you need to score,” said Kyle Korver on Schroder. “Getting into the paint sucks in the defense, but you also need to get everyone involved. I think Dennis has done a good job, especially the last couple weeks of finding a balance of knowing when to score and when you need to get the ball moving, get others involved, get them feeling like they are on their game. It’s a hard thing to do and honestly there aren’t a lot of guys in the NBA that do a great job at it. Its tough to be a real scorer and real playmaker, there’s not many, but I believe Dennis has the talent to do that and he’s been finding his way.”

As Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard have adjusted their games to the individuals surrounding them by accepting more responsibility and being that catalyst, so should Dennis. Even in an offense that believes strongly in sharing the ball, head coach Mike Budenholzer trusts Dennis more than any other guard as he is presently accounting for a 26-percent usage rate. The time is now for him to place more attention on looking for his own shots just a bit more than being a distributor with the team consistently fluctuating in and out of playoff contention.

So far he’s accepted the challenge from the doubters who said he couldn’t shoot the deep ball, he’s currently shooting career best 36-percent. When they said he’s not enough of a mid-range threat, he’s responded by shooting 52-percent from 15-19 feet. The season is still relatively young, but these are big strides for such a young player stepping into a bigger stage.

 

Many were wondering coming into the season how Schroder would fair as a shooter now that he is the starting. He began the year struggling, but since has improved significantly. During the 9-2 start he was shooting just 34% from 20-24 feet and since has upped that to 42%. He looks a lot more confident stepping into those shots and is understanding defenses are playing him for the drive.

Even nine time all-star Chris Paul is plagued with the same dilemma, whether to look for his own early or to defer to his teammates. It’s a tough balance for pass first primary ball handlers who are  surrounded by dependent pieces.

“I like to feel the game out in the first few minutes and see what they [defense] are doing,” said Schroder. “If they are heavily shifting I have to pass the ball more and if they are not then I just try to be aggressive. Coach is letting me know every time that I have to be aggressive for us to be successful, so I am just trying to find the balance.”

Those dependent pieces like Sefolosha, Bazemore and Howard do not thrive strictly on whether or not they take a certain amount of shots per game, but playing alongside a point guard who is looking to annihilate defenses anyway possible can also affect those individuals to play at a level much higher than their ceiling. Jason Kidd accomplished that in 2001 with the likes of Keith Van Horn, Kerry Kittles and Todd MacCulloch. After the departure of Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton stepped up and led his team to a first round appearance in 2000.  Allen Iverson’s MVP season and Finals run is even more remarkable looking at the parts around him. Schroder can relate closely with Derrick Rose’s time in Chicago, who also played alongside few legitimate scoring options for a defensive minded head coach. Those are some of the greatest basketball talents this game has ever seen and comparing Schroder to them may seem unfair, but the focus is the intent, not from whom it came. Each of those guys precisely gauged the hand they were dealt and responded in the only way they knew possible.

“There are times we go in a scoring drought and we just look at him like you can get your shot, get to that pullup, get to the rim, and get us going,” said Bazemore post Hawks victory versus the New York Knicks. “He did that tonight, there was a point there where it was back and forth and we weren’t getting any stops. He came back in and hit some very big pullups for us and that’s what you need out of your point guard. Being that floor general and seeing that his guys aren’t doing well or cant it going, to step in and fill that void is huge for us”-

For the past couple years this team have relied on Al Horford and Paul Millsap for majority of their offense, but this is a different team now that requires a bigger scoring presence from its point guard than ever before.

Defeating the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers and competing step for step with Steph Curry and company seems like a far cry compared to the Hawks’ performances this season against sub .500 ball clubs. Just last Wednesday, they struggled to put away a Heat team that was missing several of its key contributors, then traveled to Milwaukee and barely gritted out a win after trailing by 20 points at halftime. Tonight, they continued their woes against sub .500 teams by trailing as much as 12 in the first half in a 131-120 loss to the 11-16 Orlando Magic.

“We have to find a way,” Tim Hardaway said. “This is not the first loss we’ve had to an under 500 team. It’s the NBA though — everybody at this level is a pro. Anybody can get 20 or 30 on any given night. We can’t look at the record, you have to instead look at the personnel. They are competing just as much as you are.”

When you trail the New Orleans Pelicans by 35 midway through an eventual 112-94 blowout , there is cause for pause. They’ve struggled against some of the worst defenses — scoring just 94 points against a 24th ranked Knicks defense — and allowing otherwise inadequate offenses to look unstoppable — Orlando averages 95 points a game despite scoring 131 on Atlanta’s defense.

You can point to several reasons as to why this has become an issue, whether it’s the 16.6 turnovers per game, 32 percent three point shooting or Coach Budenholzer’s constant lineup switch in search for reliable offensive production.

Tonight’s 15 turnovers  —resulting in 26 points for the Magic — was the biggest difference in the game and has been in several of their losses to bottom ranked teams. In the Hawks’ loss against the Suns they accumulated 20, they had 18 against the Lakers in Los Angeles and had 15 versus the Pelicans. Every team in the league loves facing a turnover prone bunch like these Hawks, because it buffers their own strengths and hides their weaknesses. Additionally, turnovers will tarnish a team’s best asset — the Hawks defense — by putting it in some tough spots in transition as a result of a lazy pass or a weak dribble-drive..

“Defense is our calling card, but we put so much pressure on our defense when we don’t get a good shot or we turn the ball over,” Kent Bazemore said. “Teams have gotten so much better in transition and it’s underrated how much that can really hurt you, because you have guys then able to get in rhythm, get mismatches, lobs at the rim and it really gets things going. So taking care of the ball is really pivotal.”

The high turnover count was present in Cleveland and the Bay; but it didn’t matter because both units were productive offensively and the defense contested the three-point line better than they have facing teams like the Magic. So who exactly are the Atlanta Hawks? 25 games into the season,Coach Budenholzer and company have yet to figure that out — no team really has frankly — but you would like to start at least begin a building process.

“The turnovers gave them confidence early on, they had some open shots and transition points,” Thabo Sefolosha said. “It definitely affects the way we play and the way they played throughout the whole game.”

For this team, it has been tough to find a balance when the offense is there one night and gone the next, which then places far too much pressure on getting defensive stops. The bench began the year playing as good as any in the league, while the starters were still finding their way. Now that has flipped, and here you have a Hawks group teetering in and out of playoff contention — unfamiliar territory given the past two years.

“This is a very deep team and we have a lot of guys who can play so it’s all about finding that rhythm as a unit”, Bazemore said. “We’ve had glimpses of both units doing well. The bench started off the season doing well, then the starters got going, so it’s a lot going on and not enough consistency. But we are not going to get it back all at once and we are still trying to figure out who we are.”

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks knocked off division rivals, the Miami Heat, 103-95 at Philips Arena last night. The Heat were very shorthanded last night, playing without Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Josh Richardson and Chris Bosh (as they have done all season) but got a significant contribution from Tyler Johnson, who scored a career high 27 points on the second night of a back-to-back.

Losing streak snapped

It’s over! The Hawks’ seven game losing streak is over, it’s only their second win in their last 12 games. How badly did they need this win?

“As bad as we need air.” — Paul Millsap

“He’s right. That’s all we’ve been thinking about since the last game, how we could come in and get this game. I thought our effort and our energy were in the right place and we got a good win.” — Dwight Howard

The Hawks are still below .500 with an 11-12 record, but it’s a start, something to build on. They actually played a very decent game against the shorthanded Heat, playing well on both sides of the floor. Of course, Coach Bud never settles and knows the Hawks can play much better.

“It’s good. I think we can play a lot better. We can get better. The work the guys put in the last couple days….the ball movement, the 27 assists is better. I think we need to keep building and keep getting better, but it’s good to get a win.” — Coach Mike Budenholzer

Bud briefly mentioned the 27 assists the Hawks registered, some of the ball movement last night was exquisite and the Hawks, having struggled with their ball movement of late, have now dished out 53 assists in their last two games. A very positive trend.

Continue Reading…