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Hawks show out in preseason victory against the Grizzlies

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Hawks fans witnessed a really encouraging performance on Monday evening.

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks moved to 2-2 on the preseason after taking victory in Georgia over the Memphis Grizzlies, 100-88. James Ennis III led the Grizzlies with 14 points while the Hawks were led by Dennis Schröder’s 21 points while Malcolm Delaney added 15 points off the bench.

Let’s run over the things that really stood out in this game.

Defense

Players and coaches vouched that the Hawks are going to be a defensive team, and heading into the season you figured that defense was certainly the Hawks’ best opportunity to win games this season, and we really saw that come to life last night.

The Hawks played a very good defensive game and set the defensive tone for this game right out of the gate in the first quarter. I’m someone who personally loves defense, and it was wonderful to see Atlanta bodies flying around on the defensive end and producing stops.

Let’s look at some defensive plays, from the first quarter in particular.

The Hawks were defensively focused on multiple possessions throughout this game.

Off of this good contest on Mike Conley by Dewayne Dedmon, the Grizzlies come up with the offensive rebound and set up again. After saving the ball from going out of bounds, Marc Gasol ends up with Schröder matched onto him. The Grizz find Gasol inside but the Hawks are alert to it, and by the time Gasol has even caught the ball, he is swarmed by two help defenders in Ersan Ilyasova and Dedmon. With seemingly no way out of the situation he is faced with, Gasol puts up a tough shot and the Hawks come up with the defensive stop.

Great help defense and great defense from Ilyasova to contest after the fact.

More good help defense was to come not long after this. James Ennis drives inside, having taken Taurean Prince off of the dribble, and it looks as though he has the beating of the last man between himself and the rim: Ersan Ilyasova. But Kent Bazemore is alert to his teammates’ trouble and flies over to swat the shot and the immediate threat is over.

This is something the Hawks have talked about: making sure players are covering for each other, and this was a great example of that.

Memphis’ two start players Gasol (2-of-9) and Conley (3-of-8) had tough shooting nights from the floor. This was Gasol’s first preseason game so there was, perhaps, a little bit of rust showing there but the Hawks — to their credit — defended both Conley and Gasol well.

Here’s an example.

Conley rejects the Gasol screen and tries to get inside, but Dedmon does a good job cutting off that driving lane, and with Bazemore and Schröder in close proximity, Conley has nowhere to go. He throws the ball back to his running-mate Gasol, who is open, but Dedmon does a good job recovering and contesting Gasol’s three as the shot clock winds down.

The Hawks also came up with a great defensive stop to end the quarter.

Again, the bodies are flying, a nice little hedge on the Harrison-Wright pick-and-roll by Luke Babbitt before he prevents Chandler Parsons from scoring an easy layup at the rim, Malcolm Delaney does a great job getting out to Tyreke Evans and preventing that three-point shot and DeAndre’ Bembry gets out to contest the last second shot from Harrison.

We’ll be talking about Bembry soon, but notice, as the pass from Evans goes back to Andrew Harrison, that Bembry is already aware of what’s going on and he’s already on his way to contest before Evans swings that pass out to Harrison. There’s a bit of arm flailing at the end of this contest by Bembry, but I believe this was an effective contest and he got there in time.

The Hawks defense would eventually limit the Grizzlies to just 88 points, 4-of-22 shooting night from behind the arc, Mike Conley to seven points and Marc Gasol to four points.

This is what the Hawks want to do every night, this is the end they want to hang their hat on.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on – being competitive,” said Taurean Prince. “Everyone on this team is a competitor first. The skills and everything else come after.”

“Defensively, some good stuff,” added Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “The individual defense was good...I thought the team improved a little bit defensively tonight and in some other areas...”

As always in preseason, it’s important not to get too carried away, but you can’t help but feel a little more excited about this team’s defensive potential after Monday night’s showing — really encouraging.

A much better performance from the 2nd unit/bench

I’ve been a bit critical of the 2nd unit/bench and their ability to create offense — both publicly and in my own private documentation (I’ll admit) — but last night they were excellent.

They scored 48 points on a combined 49% from the field (this is for the guys who played significant minutes, not the garbage time guys). And it wasn’t like the Miami and Cleveland games where the bench scored a lot of points because everyone played and played higher than normal minutes. No, Bud ran with a normal-looking rotation and rotation minutes so this was a legitimate bench performance.

Delaney (15 points), Tyler Dorsey, DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins (six points, eight rebounds) and Mike Muscala (12 points) all had solid/excellent games.

In previous games, we saw the 2nd unit struggle to break defenses down and would normally end up either turning the ball over or being forced/settling for a tough shot that misses. Example:

But this was not the case on Monday night.

Here, you can see the crisp ball movement and the end result is Bembry penetrating to find Prince open for a three-pointer.

Technically, Prince isn’t a part of the second unit but close enough...

At the end of the third quarter, the 2nd unit had two plays that didn’t result in baskets but the ball and movement were still much improved.

Delaney, though he tripped here, had a great game — 15 points and a team-high five assists. He just looked confident and looked like himself while playing the offense — a really encouraging performance by both him and the bench.

“Those guys (Delaney, Dorsey, Bembry, Collins and Muscala) had some good possessions on both ends of the court,” coach Bud remarked postgame. “Tyler’s learning defensively. There’s a couple of team defensive things where he has to be sharper, but those other guys were pretty good. John’s continuing to learn. I thought John took a step forward defensively tonight – blocked a shot, did some things activity-wise that were good. Having a good second unit, having good depth…we have a lot of bigs that can play and do different things. That’ll be important for us.”

DeAndre’ Bembry

Well, what can you say about DeAndre’ Bembry? He was fantastic last night, arguably a difference maker in this game — scoring seven points, dishing out four assists, grabbing three rebounds, blocking two shots and coming up with one steal.

I think it’s fair to say (and I’m tying this in with the 2nd unit offense/performance) that he is hugely, hugely important component to that 2nd unit — a difference maker. We saw how he can break down the defense and make plays for others — he just knows how to play the game.

He finds guys in transition:

And in the half court:

How sweet is that? Bembry’s ability to create is going to be huge for this 2nd unit, and you can already see what the Hawks were missing in those first two preseason games.

But we all knew that Bembry was capable of this on the offensive end, it was his defense where he also looked great.

We saw flashes of his defense last season but you can see how much it has improved, both on and off the ball.

His ability to stay in front of guys is huge and it certainly was a factor in this game.

Tyreke Evans is a good offensive player with plenty of experience and Bembry does a great job staying in front of him and effectively challenging this shot.

Wade Baldwin IV — on a poor offensive possession for the Grizzlies — tries for all he’s worth to try and shed Bembry but it was futile, and Bembry ends this great defensive possession with a block.

You can see the clear improvement on the defensive end from last season.

And off the ball, Bembry is much improved. That awareness, that defensive IQ seems to be at a higher level this season.

On this possession, Luke Babbitt’s man is Chandler Parsons. The Hawks use Babbitt and Schröder to extend pressure on the ball handler (Harrison), leaving Parsons open. Bembry strays from his man (Evans) to cover Parsons. Once the Hawks end this pressure — when Harrison passes to Parsons — Bembry waits for the perfect moment to leave Parsons (once he knows Babbitt is in the correct position again) and return to Evans.

You can see the spring in Bembry’s step, the anticipation — waiting for exactly the right moment to slide back over to his man but not allowing Parsons the opportunity for an open three-pointer. This is small but I think significant and really encouraging to see.

Coach Budenholzer was left impressed by Bembry’s efforts.

“It was nice to have DeAndre’ get to play some minutes,” said Bud postgame. “He impacted the game with his defense, his individual (defense), keeping guys in front of him, making it tough for guys to shoot and finish over him.”

“...I thought it (Bembry’s defense) was really good individually,” Bud added. “On the other end, he drives and kicks to Ersan for a three, gets to the paint and finds other guys, gets to the free throw line.”

“When you’re getting stops on one end, it’s creating running opportunities. When you play against a defense that’s not set, it’s a lot easier to play offense. His defense leads to us being able to play well on both ends. To see him moving out there and attacking the plays, he’s got a natural feel for the game.”

All aboard the Bembry hype train.

Turnovers

This was one of the very few negatives to come from this game — 26 turnovers the Hawks amassed on Monday night, 10 of those coming from just Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore.

The end result was that the Hawks left a lot of possible points on the table on the offensive end and led to 20 Memphis Grizzlies points.

Obviously not ideal, but I wouldn’t be too worried about this going forward. Worth mentioning, however.

Preseason beef?

Preseason beef??? Yes, yes indeed.

Backup point guards Malcolm Delaney and Mario Chalmers got into it in the second half of this game. You could see the trash talking going on between the two and the officials eventually got involved, T’ing up both Delaney and Chalmers for their continued yapping.

Nice to see a bit of edginess to a game, even in preseason, and Delaney definitely had the last laugh when it came to the end result and the boxscore.

Overall

Great game for the Hawks, a really encouraging sign of what this team could be this season — fun, and I think DeAndre’ Bembry has a huge say in that. He’s just a fun player to watch.

The Hawks’ preseason concludes on Friday night, they’ll take on the Dallas Mavericks in a rehearsal of the Hawks’ opening game of the season which takes place in Dallas.