The Atlanta Hawks used a dominant performance on Saturday to move to 2-0 on the season with a 104-72 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Two games is not enough of a sample size to draw any concrete conclusions, but there are a lot of things to be excited about.
First the defense has been lights out and that stood out in Saturday’s game. Atlanta clamped down in the fourth quarter against the Wizards in Thursday’s opening night win. They limited Philadelphia to just 35 percent shooting on Saturday while forcing 20 turnovers.
The Hawks have gotten a big lift from their bench as well with guys like Tim Hardaway Jr., Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala giving them good quality minutes.
Health has been the biggest factor in Sefolosha’s good start. He spent the summer training instead of recovering from injury and looks much quicker and much more spry than at any time last season. His numbers through two games are rather remarkable to look at. He is 10 for 12 from the field and his defense has helped ignite several transition opportunities.
No player however may be more improved than Muscala who made some adjustments to his jump shot over the summer and looks confident as an offensive player.
Muscala’s versatility allows him to fit well next to either Paul Millsap or Dwight Howard and he has seen time at both the power forward and center spots early on. He’s shown an excellent pick-and-pop game and the ability to set quality screens in the pick and roll.
On this play, Muscala does a nice job of making himself available for the pass on a drive by Schröder. Dennis beats his man and when Muscala’s defender leaves, he steps up and shows some nice touch.
These are little things but it is the kind of basketball IQ stuff that the Hawks have prided themselves on under Mike Budenholzer. Muscala has also shown his ability as a passer and this high-low connection with Millsap is a nice example.
Atlanta dominated Saturday’s game without much of a contribution from Dwight Howard who finished with two points and seven rebounds while battling early foul trouble. Howard was active defensively finishing with three blocks while contesting nine shot attempts.
Again sample size is important to consider, but it appears that the Hawks are still feeling their way through incorporating Howard into the offense. The Schröder/Howard pick-and-roll that we heard so much about this summer hasn’t materialized so far in the regular season. Per NBA.com’s play tracking, Howard hasn’t been involved as the roll man in any single pick-and-roll so far this season.
At times the defense has taken him away and that has opened up space for Schröder and others. At other times, he hasn’t set a good screen forcing Schröder to look elsewhere.
Budenholzer talked about winning without a major contribution from Howard following Saturday’s game.
''Everybody steps up, everybody contributes. Dwight is going to have great, big nights. A day like today was maybe not his day. Muscala, Paul and Kris (Humphries) were great. It's much more a positive than anything.''
Atlanta returns home on Monday where they will host the Sacramento Kings at Philips Arena.