The Atlanta Hawks finished up their preseason on Wednesday night in the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Although a 1-6 record for the exhibition games is about as far from ideal as you can get results wise, a month from now it may well be looked back upon as a necessary evil. For the Hawks roster, jam packed with new faces, this was the ideal time for the players to get to know each others strengths and weaknesses, while laying the groundwork of new coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. The Hawks opened the week at home to the Grizzlies on Sunday evening. On Tuesday night, it was the Indiana Pacers who were the visitors at Philips Arena. Then the following day, with the trip to Texas to the scene of next week’s season opener, the practice schedule concluded.
The Week That Was
Memphis Grizzlies – Sunday, Oct. 20 (Philips Arena, Atlanta)
Slow starts have defined the Hawks preseason and it was no different on Sunday in Atlanta. The Hawks offense was misfiring early, as the Grizzlies threatened to tear off into the distance. The Grizzlies, virtually full strength with the exception of Jerryd Bayless starting in place of Mike Conley, got off to a lightning fast start, shooting lights out from early on. Throughout the preseason the Hawks have shown a lot of strong interior defensive work but have at times seemed a little reluctant to push out and cover the perimeter. Sunday night was a prime example of that exact deficiency.
Bayless seized his opportunity to start and show what he’s capable of, scoring 22 points off 8-of-9 shooting. Yet it was his shooting from deep that really did the damage to Atlanta. The former Arizona Wildcat shot a perfect 6-for-6 from behind the arc to punish the Hawks slow cover. Ed Davis also played a significant role off the bench for the Grizzlies. Davis had 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes.
For Atlanta, despite being as much as 17 points down during the first half, and 13 down at the half, they fought their way back into the game down the stretch. The Hawks’ slow start followed by a display off grit and resilience is a hallmark of this preseason and the game would have felt wrong without it. Teague had a solid night as his form continued to improve after poor numbers in the last couple of weeks. The Indianapolis native finished up with 15 points and five assists from an efficient shooting night. Undoubtedly the biggest positive for the Hawks though was Millsap’s best performance to date in an Atlanta uniform. He had 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals, in the type of stat stuffing game he is more than capable of regularly producing. Unfortunately, a late knock to his achilles, which would result in him sitting out the final 2 exhibition games, took a little bit of the shine off his play. The game finished 90-82 in favor of the Grizzlies.
Indiana Pacers – Tuesday, Oct. 22 (Philips Arena, Atlanta)
As the Pacers came to Philips Arena, the Hawks managed to buck the trend that had dominated their preseason. With a starting five of Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Al Horford and Elton Brand, it was Atlanta that got the fast start for a change. In a quarter that coach Budenholzer described as the best of preseason, the Hawks moved the ball and shared the scoring load with numerous players chipping in.
The first quarter was just as good on the defensive end too. Roy Hibbert opened the scoring with a turnaround sky hook, but they were to be his last points of the night as Elton Brand put on a defensive masterclass, holding the Pacers center to 1-for-7 from the field. Unfortunately the Hawks took their foot off the gas running into the second quarter and despite a strong 24-15 lead after the first, the Pacers led by five at the half.
Jeff Teague had the type of game that we will likely see a lot more of from him over the coming months. Teague had 17 points and eight assists, comfortably outplaying his opposite number, George Hill, who could only manage eight points and one assist. The manner in which Teague’s form has picked up will leave the former Wake Forest man brimming with confidence entering the season. Mike Scott was revelatory once again also. Scott entered the break with just two points, before going off for an impressive haul of 15 points in the second half. Despite Teague and Scott’s best efforts though, the Pacers won the final three quarters to cruise to a 107-89 victory.
Dallas Mavericks – Wednesday, Oct. 23 (American Airlines Center, Dallas)
With what’s expected to be the starting five on opening night left out, this was an opportunity for the reserves to show what they’re capable of. What the Hawks staff will have learned is that there is good depth and variety to their roster, and that their younger players aren’t fazed by facing off against veteran players on the road. Once again, the Hawks had a refreshingly strong start early on.
It was star of the preseason Mike Scott who was doing much of the heavy lifting early for Atlanta. Scott had eight points in the first quarter, before finishing up with another impressive scoring game of 19 points. Jared Cunningham also featured off the bench for the Hawks. The former Maverick demonstrated his explosiveness, his shooting touch and perhaps most importantly his ability and willingness to get himself to the free throw line, on a night where he accumulated 14 points.
The star of the show was rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder, though. Unfazed by the prospect of facing up against a talented backcourt and the greatest German basketball player ever, Schroeder posted a game-high 21 points. The Mavericks spread their scoring well though with six of their players reaching double-digit point tallies. In the end, particularly strong performances from Dirk Nowitzki (17 points) and Monta Ellis (15 points) were enough to help Dallas over the line to a 98-88 win.
Slam Dunks and Air Balls
Here’s a look at the best and worst aspects of the Hawks play from the past week:
- Once again, sophomore Mike Scott had a stellar week, making a case for big minutes in the regular season rotation. Scott featured at some stage in all three games this week posting an average of 12.7 points off 62.5 percent from the field. He continued to highlight his new extended range also, posting 40 percent from behind the arc. Against the Pacers, Scott had 17 points, including 15 in the second half were he received the bulk of his minutes. While against the Mavericks, the Virginia man hit the ground running early on after receiving the start, eventually tallying 19 points matched up against Dirk Nowitzki. Now all that remains is to wait and see how Scott gets rewarded on opening night after being the star of the Hawks preseason.
- When Josh Smith signed with the Pistons, much of the talk was about how the incoming Paul Millsap could well be an upgrade. Many spoke of how Millsap could stuff the stat sheet in the same fashion as Smith while being more efficient offensively. In his foundational games with Atlanta during the preseason, there was no sign of Millsap doing just this, until the Grizzlies came to Philips Arena. As we mentioned above, Millsap was productive in all the major categories, but perhaps most important was his field goal percentage. Millsap shot 8/11 from the field, the stat which will set him apart from Smith if he can sustain it. An exciting prospect for the Hawks.
- Just as the preseason was coming to it’s conclusion, highly rated German rookie, Dennis Schroeder stepped up to have the game we’ve been waiting for. Buoyed by the prospect of facing off against his idol, Dirk Nowitzki, Schroeder seized his starting opportunity and controlled the Hawks play. Chipping in 21 points, 4 assists and 2 steals, the young point guard was the standout performer for Atlanta. Schroeder did turn it over seven times, which is an example of just how raw the rookie is, but his 8/12 shooting will be more important to the Hawks as a man considered to be a poor shooter.
- No matter what way it’s dressed up, losing is not a good habit to get into. The Hawks have definitely learned a lot about how to play together and improved as they went on during this preseason, but in the end 1-6 doesn’t make for good reading. No one is going to make defining judgements based on the outcomes of exhibition games alone, but a couple more wins wouldn’t have necessarily done the Hawks any harm going into a tough opening to their schedule. In the opening eight days, the Hawks face four road games out West, with a home game against the Raptors sandwiched in for good measure. A challenging start for Budenholzer’s regime, who I’m sure would have preferred to start with three home games against the Bobcats, Suns and Sixers!
- One of the real negatives from the preseason was the lack of time logged by John Jenkins. Jenkins, restricted due to a back injury, only figured in the final two of the Hawks seven games. Against the Pacers, the former Vanderbilt man played only 11 minutes, missing his sole field goal attempt. While as a starter against the Mavericks, the outlook was equally grim. Jenkins shot better generally, going 4-for-12 from the field, but he missed all six of his 3-point attempts. Jenkins, a speciality distance shooter for who the Hawks have high hopes this year, was clearly rusty. As a result of that niggling injury it looks like it will take the first couple of weeks or so of the season for Jenkins to get fully up to speed.
- Although still learning the system, and adjusting to a new culture, the start of Pero Antic has been a little disappointing. The Macedonian has shown snippets of being a good on ball defender down low, but his shooting abilities were also a reason as to his signing. Antic, piqued the Hawks interest as he had the capabilities to stretch the floor and step out to shoot either the long 2 or the 3, but he is yet to show any consistency since arriving in these areas. For the week, the rookie big man shot only 25 percent from the field, accompanied by an even more worrying 12.5 percent from deep. Hopefully Antic will find his feet, and his touch, when the competitive level ratchets up a notch.
Schroeder: The German continued to grab people’s attention around the league, and finished his preseason on an upward arc. Coming off his best game to date with the Hawks, the point guard will be more than confident in any time he sees on the floor against the Mavs on Wednesday.
Antic: As stated above, Antic is struggling with his shooting at the moment, but his defense has been a different story. The Macedonian man has proved that he has no qualms with getting physical in the paint. While he has also shown a determination that helps him rebound. Antic got 8 rebounds against Dallas.
Training Camp Cuts
Royal Ivey, James Johnson and Eric Dawson were all cut this week, leaving the Hawks roster currently at 15. It looks almost certain that this will be the group to start the season. With Ivey, gone Shelvin Mack‘s spot seems safe for now. While with the Hawks short on wing players, Cartier Martin will likely make the roster as a backup at the 2 and 3 spots on the floor.
Player of the Week
Teague moved up a level in this final week of preseason and now looks like a man fully ready and confident of taking control of this team.
Weekly Averages: 16 PPG, 6.5 APG, 57.8 FG%
Coming Up Next
Oct 30: Dallas Mavericks (American Airlines Center, Dallas)
Nov 1: Toronto Raptors (Philips Arena, Atlanta)