The Atlanta Hawks were greeted with more bad news on Thursday afternoon, as they continued to have considerable injury problems. DeMarre Carroll, who had a monster game on Wednesday night with 17 points and eight boards before being forced to withdraw after only 23 minutes of play, is struggling with his hamstring and therefore listed as day to day. Much more significant though, was the news that Pero Antic has been ruled out for 2-4 weeks with a stress fracture in his ankle. With Al Horford out for the season, the Hawks have already faced their fair share of problems at the center spot this year. Antic had stepped up of late to make the starting spot his own though, so the news came as a particular blow to Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer and his squad.
Antic first injured his ankle against the Brooklyn Nets during the Hawks trip to London last week. Having rolled over on it during play, a sprain was suspected, but scans showed no damage. Feeling healthy enough to keep playing, Antic played with no restrictions, and put in big performances in Atlanta’s wins against Miami and Orlando. Following the game in Amway Center on Wednesday night, the Macedonian was once again troubled by pain, and after a second scan the stress fracture was revealed.
Antic, who joined the Hawks from the defending EuroLeague champions, Greek side Olympiacos, has proven to be a more than capable player in his short time in the NBA to date. When Al Horford was ruled out for the season due to a torn pectoral muscle, Budenholzer promoted Antic to the starting spot, not league veterans Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon. With every game Antic has looked more and more comfortable in his surroundings, so much so that he had been talked of as a top five contender for the Rookie of the Year award, and was almost certainly going to find himself selected for the rookie/sophomore, Rising Stars game as part of the All-Star weekend festivities. With that game only three weeks away though, there is now every chance that even if selected, the Macedonian won’t be fit to compete.
In his first full month as a starter, Antic had been quietly putting up impressive numbers that were making him an increasingly important piece of an effective Hawks offense. The 31-year-old has averaged 11.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in January, while shooting an impressive 49.2 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from beyond the arc. These numbers have led the Hawks to be 1.1 points better than the opposition when Antic was on the floor.
In his last game before being ruled out by injury, Antic had probably his most impressive contribution of his NBA season so far. On a night when he struggled shooting the ball from the field, only making two of his nine attempts, the rookie showed his sheer determination and competitiveness in helping his team get the win. Antic crashed the boards, picking up 12 rebounds in total, before holding his nerve at the free throw line late in the game. Atlanta trailed by one with less than 30 seconds remaining, when Antic made four out of four free throws to close the contest out. With the news emerging of his injury later, this performance grew even more impressive.
With Antic sidelined, Atlanta is now left with Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon as its only fit and available centers. With Budenholzer having previously spoken of being wary of moving Brand from his spot in the second unit for fear of a drop off in his productivity, Ayon will likely get the nod as a starter. Although a solid role player with plenty of experience, the Mexican’s game is very limited in comparison to Antic who has shown his ability to space the floor with his shooting.
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Hawks, as before the All-Star break they will face up against imposing physical centers like Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Larry Sanders, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan. For a team that has proven adept at taking blows in stride, losing Antic is another big challenge they will have to try and conquer.