Archives For ESPN

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.

The recent police killings of Keith Scott and Terrence Crutcher have rocked this nation once again giving credence to the actions of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s intentions are to challenge the sacred American flag that is supposed to represent equality and liberty. As an athlete he’s chosen not to take the easy route by counting his millions and staying silent like so many of his opposers would like for him to do. On one of the most exciting days in franchise history for basketball reasons, the Atlanta Hawks team chose not to remain silent on the current state of America.

“Hopefully we’ve started a conversation with our players, not just what’s going on with the national anthem but what’s happening in our country, said a thoughtful Coach Budenholzer Monday. We will be incredibly in support of our players. I think the more thoughtful– the more respectful we can be, if we are those two things our country can will be better.”

If anyone on the team ever needed to speak with a victim of police brutality face to face then Thabo Sefolosha would have plenty to talk about after his 2015 nightclub incident with the NYPD. Thabo was falsely accused, attacked (which led to a broken fibula and ligament damage to his ankle) and arrested outside 1 Oak’s nightclub where former Pacer Chris Copeland had been stabbed. So when Sefolosha saw the video footage of Terence Crtucher being gunned down, it immediately brought him back to that night in New York and caused him to feel fortunate.

“I think it’s been a problem and keeps happening and its sad to see. To be honest looking at some of the footage we see with the guy in Tulsa and charlotte I feel lucky to be here and be able to talk about what happened to me.”

Like Thabo, when veteran Jarrett jack first saw the shooting of Terrence Crutcher a sense of “oh not again” accompanied his other initial emotions.

“Man it’s a combination of things like confusion, anger and sadness Its hard to understand when you apply logic to the situation and try to understand where it causes for that type of force to be applied in these instances. You look at it and understand that it was wrong but then it becomes a constant situation where it’s becoming repetitive and we end up getting the same result. We get causality and someone that doesn’t seem to want to take the responsibility for the actions that were taken.

Those like Philando Castile, Alton Sterling,and the remaining 796 victims in 2016 unfortunately weren’t lucky enough to tell their story like Thabo. We will never hear their voices again, which prompts millions of Americans everywhere who feel silenced; to look to professional athletes like Kaepernick, to denounce injustice on a large platform. Three-point specialist Kyle Korver has embraced the responsibility to do just that whether people believe an athlete should or should not.

“It’s a great opportunity for athletes to have a voice in this. I guess some people say that we shouldn’t but there are a lot of people out there that have asked us to be role models. I think that there are problems in this country and that athletes can have a role in this conversation. Its up to us to continue to educate ourselves”

Not every athlete feels its necessary to speak about this particular issue. A stance Michael Jordan was greatly criticized for taking throughout his career until this summer when he ended his silence in a self written piece for ESPN’s undefeated. Charles Barkley’s “I am not a role model” commercial in 1993 sparked many debates around the country on whether or not athletes are unfairly burdened with pressures to always conform to the opinions of the people.

Hawks rookie Taurean Prince has chosen to take this route for the time being not solely because he may feel it’s not an athletes place, but more so a lack of personal experience.

“Man I worry about me and mines, I worry about what I can do to control the things that I can control in my life. Obviously that stuff has affected the people of my culture but at the same time it hasn’t affected me personally so I really don’t get into that stuff. I just shut my mouth and keep it moving until it directly affects me or my family then I’ll decide to speak on it”

Recent signee Will Bynum, a Chicago native, at 33 years old surely has plenty first hand experience of witnessing police conducting themselves inappropriately. But For Bynum he’s looking at all that factors that stricken his cities socioeconomic path towards peace. When your government officials fail the education system, when the culture of policing views you as a number instead of a human being, when family structures are fragile, you end up with a sense of loss hope that becomes contagious. In Bynum’s eyes those who are fortunate enough to leave, secure their families financially and reach a high level of success should make time to return to their neighborhood to instill belief.

“As far as the successful guys that come from the city, they have to come back. A lot of guys get out of it and then they don’t come back, but its what we should do, said a passionate Bynum. We come from there and only we can articulate what’s really going on, because nobody really understands us. Like they are saying we can shut down every single public school, but they do not understand these kids in the radius of five blocks are crossing 5 different gangs so they are not going to go to school. Especially if your mother is working 9-5 everyday, she cant make you be there, so its critical we provide more opportunities for the city and guys like myself come back and give the knowledge that it took to make it out”

 

Full interview with Will Bynum here

 

In a city with one of the highest African-American population in the country, in the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, a community that never hesitates to protest when they sense inequality; this Hawks team has already taken this issue head on a month before the season begins. Media day for Atlanta could of easily been consumed by the acquisition of Dwight, Kent Bazemore deciding to return, Dennis Schroder becoming a starter; but more importantly these players looked eager and prepared to discuss a topic that’s very emotional to those susceptible to it every single day of their lives. Athletes who are socially and outspoken used to be taboo throughout American history,now its imperative.

 

“As athletes we stand for equality and treating everyone fairly. Thats what this hawks organization is about”, said a confident Kris Humphries

This Hawks team has many qualities, their most important one being pride, was called upon in a potential sweep versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. Similar to Game 3 they fought hard, showed their mental toughness, togetherness, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to earn its first playoff victory over LeBron James and company in the past two seasons.

“Not sure, it’s something we have to go back and look at,” said Al Horford about what it will take to get over this hump. “Obviously, it’s not enough, it’s not enough of what we have. We fought hard, we gave it all we got, but we will see what happens.”

“Its unfortunate, we wanted to beat this team so bad,” said Paul Millsap. “They left a bad taste in our mouths last year. This year we thought we had them figured out. They did something completely different than last year. That they shot more 3s this year compared to last year and it killed us.”

Tyronne Lue’s implementation of more ball movement and the 3-point shot became the difference maker this year, covering up any difficulties or adjustments the Hawks may have given them. Kevin Love alone scored 12 of his 15 third quarter points from downtown (finishing with a game high 27 points) after Atlanta had out scored them in the paint and out hustled them on the boards in the first half. The team took a total 152 3-point attempts in this series — made 77 — with 45 attempts coming from Game 2’s eruption. Not even the league’s second best defensive team had an answer for that, especially with players like Kyrie Irving and LeBron James penetrating.

“Its a product of [LeBron and Kyrie] guys playing well and downhill,” said Love. “They’re so devastating and tough to stop when they are doing that, they can spray it out to the corner. They draw so much attention. They do it in different ways. But in doing that, Channing is going to be open, JR is going to be open and I’m going to be open.”

Millsap knows the new wave of high volume 3-point shooting team in the NBA isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

“That’s where this league is going. 3-point shots are killer man. They shot the mess out of the ball. When everybody on the basketball court can shoot like that, it puts your defense at a tough spot. We struggled with it all night, all series.”

Not having enough is nothing foreign to Atlanta Hawks fans over the past five to seven years. They have been sitting in limbo, teetering between elite and average for some time now, losing in the either the first or second round eight of the last nine seasons. Dennis Schroder’s last second possession to win the game defines this team’s issue in a nutshell; having to trust a 6-foot-1, 170 pound 22 year old backup point guard to force a Game 5 against a experienced bunch lead by King James.

The 2015-2016 Atlanta Hawks faced several uphill battles throughout the season, whether its a struggling Kyle Korver, a starting point guard conundrum or the loss of Tiago Splitter. Regardless, this team managed to re-invent itself into a defensive juggernaut, which speaks volumes.

The contract discussions of Kent Bazemore, Horford and adding more talent in the off-seeason (with the salary cap rising) will be the main focus for Mike Budenholzer. However, a lot of times for teams looking to get over the hump, hitting reset too soon may set the franchise back tenfold.

There are only two ways to look at it. Either the glass is half full or half empty. The success they shared over the past two years it could be the former and should not be taken for granted; but better yet each individual allow it to be used as fuel knowing how close they have come.

“I think that individually we can get better,” said a reassuring Millsap. “That’s from me on down the line. I think as a collective group we can all be better. I think if we keep everybody here, we will continue to grow. We will get better. We will get to the next level and I think that’s what this teams wants to do. We want to take that next step, get to the that next step in basketball.”

Home is a place of refuge, a place to reset, regroup and re-energize; but for the Hawks, all they received was a 121-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the first two and a half quarters, they returned back to the style of basketball that brings the most success to them as they forced turnovers, played physical and mailed in good looks from 3-point land. This game, Coach Budenholzer decided to shake things up a bit by adding more defense and hustle to the lineup, replacing Kyle Korver with Thabo Sefolosha and giving Kris Humphries more meaningful minutes.

“You have to change. We’re in the playoffs,” said Al Horford, who scored 24 points. “We’re fighting for our playoff lives right now. At this point, we have to do some changes because what we’ve done hasn’t worked. We felt good about tonight, but we had some mistakes that cost us.”

Those mistakes Horford referred to came mostly in the the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, as Cleveland made adjustments that then forced the Hawks into questionable shot selections, wasteful possessions and worst of them all, turnovers. The fourth quarter defense looked much like every quarter in Game 2, as Cleveland’s ball movement found the right shooter at the right time.

Atlanta plays best when their defense initiates their offense, but that was no more, and they were forced into a shootout they had no bullets for. Continue Reading…

Atlanta came into the game as the veteran team and they responded like one lead behind a strong fourth quarter performance from Jeff Teague in a 102-101 Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics.

“Last year was a great run for us, Eastern Conference Finals,” said Kent Bazemore in postgame. “Going that deep it does help, some people think it does not just because it’s a different year. Experience at times does beat talent.”

“I have been in the playoff every year, so I’m used to how it goes,” said Jeff Teague, who scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. “You cant get too high when you win and you cant get too low when you lose. We have a veteran group around here. We have been through some wars.”

Two teams that mirror one another in many ways were easily distinguished by defensive intensity early on. Even with the playoff experience from last season, Boston looked as if that experience had never happened in the first half. For most of it, Isaiah Thomas probed and probed searching for a soft spot in the Hawks defensive shield, but to no avail. The team shot just 23-percent from the field and 12.5-percent from downtown.

Surely, the Hawks were aware of the fight Boston has shown throughout this season, just recently coming behind from a 20 point deficit to defeat the Miami Heat. They trailed by 17 after the first half against Atlanta.

“They are great team coming from behind,” said Bazemore. “You look at the last regular season game, down huge to Miami. They came out in the third quarter to make it interesting. They have some blue collard guys over there that I really respect. They are not going to quit.” Continue Reading…