The Atlanta Hawks came away with a victory on Monday night versus the Cleveland Cavaliers’ deep reserve unit in their first televised game of this preseason. There was not a lot to take away from the game in terms of shaping our expectations regarding what to expect when the real season gets underway given the competition, but it did give us a chance to see the offensive scheme the Hawks deployed with Dennis Schroder starting at the point and Dwight Howard at Center. Let’s take a look some of new wrinkles based on what we saw in Monday’s action.
More rolling, less popping
The Hawks are still initiating the offense with their typical weave action in the half court offense after which they transition into their pick and roll techniques. Last season, Al Horford strongly preferred to find space to catch and shoot after setting the ball screen in the pick and roll. Not surprisingly we saw a lot more roll action from Dwight Howard on Monday night; we’ve all heard the phrase “pressure at the rim” enough since July to be prepared for this change. The Hawks had a lot of success with this action and demonstrated some rhythm. Howard was 11 for 15 on field goals attempts with a mix of roll catches and post possessions. It must be noted that for much of the game he was being defended by, at best, a non-rotation combo forward. Never the less, it provided for us an idea of how the new offensive scheme might look. 9 of Howard’s 11 made field goals were at the rim in this game. In comparison Horford averaged only 4.2 made field goals per game last season inside of 5 feet.
Howard got more post touches than I would prefer, but he certainly had size advantages for a majority of the game. It will be critical to see the Howard commit to the pick and roll action, not only because he is significantly more efficient as a roll man as opposed to playing in the post. But Howards turnover rate in the pick and roll last season was 9.9% compared to a turnover rate of 16.8% in the post.
DS-17 at the point
Dennis Schroeder’s night started in encouraging fashion as he converted his first 2 field goal attempts at the rim and assisted on 3 consecutive Howard finishes at the basket through the pick and roll play. But Schroder missed on all 4 of his field goal attempts outside of layup range. With the offensive changes coming into this season I have been hoping that Schroder’s shot distribution would start to look more like what we typically see from Tony Parker in the Spurs system. Both Teague and Schroder averaged more than 3.0 3-point attempts per game last season compared the level Parker has been at during the past 10 or so seasons at about 1.0 3-point attempts per game. And this is not because Parker is a lesser shooter, rather it is because he is extremely committed to initiating the offense through the pick and roll and dribble penetration. Schroder converted 3 of his 4 field goal attempts at the rim last night and will need to emphasize that part of his game, in my opinion, this season for the Hawks to operate at maximum offensive efficiency.
Winging it from the 3-point line
I didn’t expect that the 3-point shooting from the wings could actually be worse than last season considering that Korver is entering this season fully healthy and the reportedly fantastic summer Tim Hardaway Jr. had this past off season. But the Hawks are barely scratching 25% over their first three games as a team in this preseason including an awful 2 of 19 effort from long range in Monday’s game. Korver’s only make from three in this game was a 30-footer he was forced to take after picking up his dribble while Schroder apparently got lost in his assignment off the ball.
It appears to me that Hawks wings are all struggling to adjust to a very different spacing element in the offense this season with Howard drawing attention inside. Last season with the pick and pop action the off ball wings tended to find natural spacing near the baseline to balance the floor with the primary activity taking place at the top of the key. With both Howard and Schroder (hopefully) looking to force play closer to the basket with roll and/or penetration action, the spacing for the off ball wings is getting pushed higher on the floor near or above the 3-point break. Additionally we saw very little “floppy” action in Monday’s game, which is designed to run shooters off of down screens to separate the shooter from his defender for an open 3-point shot. While I would expect to see this action to increase in regular season play (but not to the level we saw last season), these are significant adjustments that appear to be affecting everyone. Tim Hardaway Jr’s shooting has been especially cringe-worthy (0 for 8 from 3-point range in two games and 2 of 20 on field goals overall) including two 3-point attempts in Monday’s game that drew zero iron and barely caught a piece of the backboard. The few plays they did run in Monday’s game to try to free up shooters took above the three point break where last season nearly all of this action originated on baseline “pin down” screens.
The perimeter spacing is significantly different than we have seen in previous seasons. Hopefully all of this is just an adjustment regarding which the players simply need more time to find a collective rhythm. It is certainly something I will be watching closely as the Hawks continue the preseason play on Thursday night versus the Detroit Pistons.
Not surprisingly thus far there has been the good and the bad (and the ugly). Here’s to hoping we see more appreciable play on the offensive end of the floor going forward.