Atlanta Hawks basketball finally tips off this Sunday against the Miami Heat on NBATV, beginning Atlanta’s five-game preseason campaign. The build-up to the new season hasn't been short of storylines but now it's time to focus to matters on the court again. There are so many questions facing the Hawks heading into the new season after a summer of significant change in terms of roster turnover.
It’s certainly set to be a different kind of year for the Hawks and there’s another difference the Hawks are facing: a shortened preseason. Thankfully this season, most of the Hawks' preseason is televised in one way or another, which means you can follow the Hawks as they prepare for the new season.
That being said, what are some of the things you should look out for when watching the Hawks in preseason?
How Dennis Schröder runs/leads the team
This is Dennis’ second season as the starting point guard and the first as the ‘man’ on this team — this is Dennis Schröder’s team to lead every night now and he’s the player teams are going to focus on when the Hawks come rolling into town.
It’s going to be fascinating to watch how Dennis deals with being the face of the franchise and all that comes with that. How is he going to deal with the extra defensive pressure teams are inevitably going to put him under? Doe he have another level to go offensively and can he reach it this season? Can he plug in defensively this season? How’s he going to get his teammates involved, make his teammates better? There’s a lot of pressure and responsibility on his shoulders — how does he deal with the on-court pressure?
And how about the off court pressure?
For some fans, due to some of his, um, recent off-court issues, Dennis will have some making up to do and preseason is a great opportunity for him to remind everyone about the person he is on the court and what he can do.
With a lot of negative discussion surrounding Schröder right now, it’s going to be interesting how — or indeed if — these off court distractions will affect his play during the preseason and, indeed, beyond.
A tweaked offense?
The Hawks are changing things on the offensive end — not from their ball movement-type of offense they’re renowned for these days, but when it comes to their spacing and pacing.
Speaking on Media Day, here’s what coach Bud had to say:
“...this year I would say there’s probably going to be a slight shift towards even greater space, even greater pace and even more pick and rolls but not losing the movement we have away from the ball and the cutting and screening and opportunities for everybody to participate in the offense...”
Greater pace, greater space and opportunities for everyone to participate on offense... These are the things that stand out to me.
Last year there was a drop off in assists per game for the Hawks. This happened for a number of reasons, but I genuinely believe that this roster — despite the fact Dennis is still around — is geared more toward sharing the ball.
Last year there were more isolation-type players like Dennis, Dwight Howard, Tim Hardaway Jr. and at times (literally because he had to put the team on his back) Paul Millsap. With the exception of Dennis, those players have moved on.
Now, I think the players currently on the roster will buy into the offense a little more this season because they may have no other choice if nothing else, because creating offense looks like it could be an issue this season so the ball will need to move around to generate good looks on offense.
During training camp, Bud also talked about spreading the floor a little more and opening the floor a little more for Dennis to drive. You’d imagine that this would involve more shooting lineups (which the Hawks have the versatility to do) and, perhaps, some spread pick-and-roll type plays?
It’ll be interesting to see how the Hawks implement these offensive tweaks, and preseason gives everyone the first opportunity to see this tweaked/adjusted offense in action. How different will it actually look?
**There’s a piece coming soon on Peachtree Hoops going into more detail about what playing with a “greater pace” means, so look forward to that.**
The starting wing production - Prince and Bazemore
Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore are both set for starting roles and larger offensive roles this season as the Hawks look for scoring in other avenues after the departures of some of the leading scorers from last season in Millsap, THJ and Howard.
Dennis Schröder can’t do everything on offense and you figure that Prince and Bazemore will have the ball in their hands a little more this season than last season — especially Prince. So what do they do with it? How do they cope with more offensive responsibility?
Baze really struggled at time last season with his consistency — can his performances be more stringed together this season?
Prince scratched the surface of what he can do in the playoffs last season — can he build on that?
We won’t get the definitive answers in preseason, but hopefully things will be a little clearer — these are two important players for the Hawks this season.
Every Hawks fan has been waiting all summer for the moment John Collins touches the NBA hardwood for real after his fantastic performances at NBA Summer League.
Now, we finally get to see Collins in action against professionals (with all due respect to the Summer League crop of players) in a competitive environment. And, naturally, there’s so many questions...
How will he perform at the professional level? Will he still be able to score as well as he did in Summer League? How’s that jump shot coming on? How’s that expanded jump shot coming on? Who will he posterize?
Yes, there’s a lot of questions when it comes to Collins but I think the excitement he brings about him outweighs that, and simply watching Collins and seeing how he fares will be worth tuning into preseason games alone.
Preseason is a time of the year where everyone gets to play at some point. Nicolas Brussino might have been one of those guys but with the injury to DeAndre’ Bembry might mean that Brussino might play some rotation-like minutes in preseason.
We’ve gone over Nicolas Brussino in-depth here already but to summarise: he’s very fun to watch and seems like a great fit for the Hawks’ offense. He has the potential to surprise many Hawks fans with his fun style of play, so keep an eye out for him.
There’s certainly plenty to keep your eyes peeled on during the Hawks’ preseason, so you can’t say preseason is boring!
NBATV is the place to be on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET, where the Hawks will be taking on the Heat — a team that Hawks players have already publicly stated were an inspiration last season.