The Atlanta Hawks are in Cleveland to take on the defending NBA champion Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Prior to tip-off, we caught up with Greg Anthony of NBA TV to discuss the upcoming match-up, the transition of the Hawks franchise and much more.
Here is a transcript of the interview that took place on Tuesday afternoon:
Brad Rowland: What did you think of the decision to move in the direction of Dwight Howard after Al Horford landed in Boston and what are some of the pros and cons of going from one to the other?
Greg Anthony: “I think it was a good move on their part. I’m still a Dwight Howard fan. He’s had his issues the last couple of years, there’s no doubt about it, but he is still one of the 5 best centers in the game without a doubt. He’s still young enough to be a factor and, when you look at some of the issues that Atlanta had a year ago... he’s going to give them better rim protection than they’ve had in the past and he does give them a guy that can score with his back to the basket. In some respects, that could help the balance of their team. I think he’s also a better complement to Paul Millsap in terms of how he plays. In some respects, there were times that he (Millsap) and Horford could be similar players, even though Millsap is a little more perimeter-oriented with the ability to put it on the floor. I just think that Dwight is the kind of guy that puts a little more pressure on your front-line defense and that could allow a guy like Millsap to have a little more freedom to have an impact. So, I love the move for the Hawks and I think, if it continues to go as it is going, they could find themselves back in the mix when it comes to the Eastern Conference.”
BR: A lot of people in Atlanta, and even nationally, believe that Paul Millsap is one of the more underrated players in the league. Do you agree with that?
GA: “Absolutely. I think he is one of the more underrated players. I'm a huge fan. The one thing about the game today is that one of the most valuable assets a player can have is versatility. That’s something that Paul Millsap has. He can block shots. He can make plays off the dribble. He defends well. He can rebound. He obviously can score. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t impact your growth as another player individually, which kind of helps the team collectively. He’s not one of those ball dominant players that has to have 25 touches per game. I’m a huge fan of Paul’s and I really think, if you’re Atlanta, you have to be thrilled to have a guy like this on your roster. He allows the team to flow well with how he plays, and the other thing I love about him is that he’s a high-IQ guy. He doesn’t make a lot of negative plays that can affect the team’s chemistry.”
BR: What do you think about Dennis Schröder as a long-term starter at the point guard position?
GA: “For me, it’s still too early to tell. I give Budenholzer and that staff and that organization credit because they know as well as anybody what guys can do because they get to see him every day. The fact that they not only made the trade, but then made the commitment to him long-term, I think that kind of gives you a sense of what they feel. Early on, I think he’s been solid. I think he’ll continue to get better. I was a little more apprehensive about it than some initially, but I think with each game, he’s proving that he’s more than capable. In some respects, he’s probably the key to this entire time, and whether or not they can get to another level in terms of truly being able to contend in the Eastern Conference.”
BR: Tuesday's game against the Cavaliers brings dread for a lot of Hawks fans given what has transpired the last two years in the playoffs. Do you like this team with Howard in the middle more against Cleveland than the previous edition and how do you think the two teams match up at this point?
GA: “I don’t know yet. You can look and say on paper how things look and start talking about match-ups, but until you actually see them on the floor in a game — Not that you’re going to be able to tell if a team can contend after one game — but you can get a better feel for what each team has to do in order to have success and whether or not they are capable. I think that is what the game can give us an idea of. Can the Hawks actually become competitive? To your point, regardless of what they were able to do in the regular season... in the postseason, they weren’t competitive. That is where I think we’ll find out more. I think a healthy Dwight makes a difference, though. There’s no doubt about that. Early on, he’s been solid for them. He’s doing a very good job with the paint touches he’s getting. He’s rebounding has been solid. I think he’s a guy that can create some issues for Cleveland in a different way than what you got from Al, so we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.”
BR: What would you say is Atlanta's biggest weakness right now?
GA: “I think they’re pretty set. I think they have to be happy with how the bench is playing. Tim Hardaway Jr. is giving them a nice boost. Kyle Korver is starting to get back. I thought last year was sort of a lost year for him. I think that is a positive. I think it’s going to depend on what some of the young guys on that bench do. Ultimately, that’s going to determine how far they can go. What do they get consistently from guys coming off that bench? That’s going to be critical. If you remember a couple of years ago when they were at their best, Kent Bazemore was one of the bench guys, right? Now, they have guys like that on their bench and I think that’s what we’ll find out more about as the season progresses. They’re not a finished product right now. Who you are today, you could be completely different in 6 or 8 weeks. Especially when you’ve made wholesale changes, you really won’t have a feel for who a team is until January. You’ll have the bulk of your practices between now and then, and you’re going to be able to figure out who you are, and establish what your strengths and weaknesses are. That’s when you really start to get a sense of which teams are for real and which teams are still far away.”
BR: Kent Bazemore has been a topic of conversation given the new contract and what was a slow start to the season. Do you buy that he's a legitimate starting wing moving forward or do you see regression coming from last year's breakout campaign?
GA: “I think he is. I think he’s been around and been on some really good teams. He’s got a sense of who he is as a player. I don’t think what he’s done the last two years is an aberration. I really think it is who he is. I do think, though, that some guys, after a big contract, can press a little bit because they think they might need to do more to validate it. I think that could be part of this for Kent. I like his game and I think he’s a great fit there. I think he’ll be fine. The struggles have obviously been pretty evident, but remember, he’s making a transition, too. He went from playing last year when you had Teague and Horford. That’s a completely different style of play than what you’re getting now when you have Howard and Schröder. There is an adjustment that has to be made for a lot of people, and I think he is one right now, with the contract and the changes that is kind of struggling a little bit at the start.”