The Atlanta Hawks dropped their final preseason game 104-98 against the Dallas Mavericks in Georgia. Kent Bazemore led the Hawks with 20 points while Gian Clavell was one of six Dallas players to score in double digits, Clavell leading the way with 19 points.
Let’s break this one down, where did this game go wrong for the Hawks? What stood out?
Dallas’ three-point barrage
The Mavericks churned out a whopping 48 three-point attempts, converting 19 of them (39.6%). These came in many different ways and for many different reasons. One of the reasons why Dallas converted so many three-pointers was the Hawks’ pick-and-roll coverage/defense.
The Hawks have been using a pick-and-roll coverage where they put pressure on the ball handler and have other guys slide over/rotate to the open shooters left by each respective player. It’s difficult to explain, so here’s an example from the Memphis game.
Here, Luke Babbitt and Malcolm Delaney extend pressure on the ball-handler, Andrew Harrison. This leaves Babbitt’s man, Chandler Parsons, open. DeAndre’ Bembry leaves his man, Tyreke Evans, to cover the threat of Parsons as Babbitt extends the pressure with Delaney. When the ball is worked back to Parsons/the pressure on the ball is relieved, and as Babbitt slides back over to Parsons, Bembry slides back over to his man.
That’s the kind of coverage the Hawks used last night, only the Mavericks — unlike the Grizzlies — made Atlanta pay.
Here, you can the see the same sort of coverage applied.
John Collins steps in front of the ball-handler following the screen (you can actually see Delaney pointing at Collins to do just that). This leaves Collins’ man, Maxi Kleber open behind the three-point line as he fades off of the screen. Tyler Dorsey (like Bembry in the example above), leaves his man in the corner to cover that threat but when Kleber hits the open man in the corner, there’s no one there to contest the open three-point shot.
If this is the same coverage used against the Grizzlies (which it certainly looks like), Mike Muscala probably should’ve slid over to at least contest this three.
Again, in the third quarter, the Hawks defend the pick-and-roll-type action in a similar way. Following the screen, the ball-handler hits Jeff Withey with the quick pass as Dewayne Dedmon executes the coverage. When Withey receives the ball (heck, even before), Taurean Prince is already rushing to meet him and this leaves Brandon Ashley open for three as Dedmon arrives on the scene but is too late to prevent the three.
There was a slight hesitation from Dedmon as he closed out Ashley and this may have been the difference between make or miss. But the coverage... Looking at that, your mind would go straight to “why is Prince leaving his man like that?” but it’s the coverage that allows this three, it’s not poor defense from Prince — he’s simply executing the coverage. Ersan Ilyasova is right there too, could he have slid over to prevent this three? Probably, but Dedmon did contest the shot well in the end and had he not shown slight hesitation, may have prevented this shot altogether.
Postgame, coach Mike Budenholzer discussed the coverage and how the Hawks were using preseason to practice different coverages.
“There were some times where we were working on things,” said Bud. “Sometimes in preseason games, you’re working on certain coverages regardless of what might be happening or not happening in a game.”
“They got loose a little bit, did some things that, to some degree, might be expected... But there were some things we were doing that probably make us vulnerable to threes and it’s good to practice on those things and work on those things.”
So, Atlanta’s pick-and-roll coverage was one reason why the Mavs torched the Hawks from the outside. Another reason? The Hawks, on some occasions, just played poor defense.
Here, Ersan Ilyasova finds himself too far away from Maxi Kleber, and when the ball is whipped to Kleber, Ilyasova is too far away to contest the shot and Kleber drains it.
“...there were some three pointers where we’re just not staying attached enough, we're not doing a good enough job to limit their threes,” Budenholzer acknowledged postgame.
On this possession, Dennis Schröder is caught ball-watching and loses track of Yogi Ferrell, who knocks down the three when the ball returns to him behind the arc.
Even when Schröder gets nearer to Ferrell (he never gets anywhere close to affect the shot), his contest is, shall we say, leaving something to be desired (his hands more out and than up) — half-hearted.
Schröder was again at fault in transition. Dennis Smith Jr. receives the hand-off from Ferrell in transition, and Schröder doesn’t even bother to contest until after the shot is launched.
Such lazy defense, so half-hearted... There’s never an excuse not to play defense, no matter who you are — at least try to contest somewhat effectively. Defensive lapses like this cost the Hawks from behind the arc.
Dallas — to their credit — did a great job creating these shots themselves by driving into the paint, collapsing the defense and kicking it out behind the arc for three.
Pretty pass from @clavelito04 to @MaalikWayns2 for 3️⃣! pic.twitter.com/PbszyfvXtr— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) October 13, 2017
Here’s a really telling stat: the Hawks contested 30 of the Mavs’ 48 three-point shots — meaning 18 three-point attempts were completely uncontested. Whether it’s your coverage, the opposition’s playmaking or poor defense...when you allow 18 uncontested three-pointers ,you deserve to lose any game.
Full credit to the Mavericks, though, they played a great game from behind the arc and made things happen for themselves.
Dallas’ generally superior play
The worrying thing for the Hawks here is most of the Mavs’s regular rotation didn’t even play. Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews, J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh McRoberts all sat out, and the Hawks still got run off the floor.
So much credit has to go to Rick Carlisle and his coaching staff. The 2nd unit/3rd unit/training camp invites were so well drilled — they knew exactly what they were doing, defended very solidly, out-hustled the Hawks, out-scrapped the Hawks...they just out-played Atlanta.
You can just tell when a team is excellently coaches and trained and that’s exactly what the Mavericks are. Even if the Hawks had defended the three better the Mavs probably still would’ve won this game, they were that impressive.
Coach Bud was equally impressed with the Mavericks.
“A lot of credit to Dallas,” coach Bud said in his opening statement postgame. “Playing the group that they played, I thought those guys really got after it, competed, played really hard, executed and shot the ball really well...”
Dennis Smith Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber, Gian Clavell, PJ Dozier...all fantastic. It’s hard to understate how much better they were than the Hawks last night.
Dennis Schröder’s tough night
Coach Bud revealed postgame that the plan was for Dennis Schröder to play the first half only, but that didn’t stop Dennis from struggling in the time he did play — nine points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field.
Dennis couldn’t get into a offensive groove but, to be fair, Dallas played him well from a defensive point of view.
Schröder likes to operate off of the Dedmon pick-and-roll, using it to either drive to the rim or spring into a jump shot.
Here, Dwight Powell does a good job hedging the pick-and-roll — taking away the open shot off of the pick-and-roll — and allows Dennis Smith Jr. to come back into the play to contest this shot:
When Dennis attempted to get to the rim, he was often faced with stiff opposition:
Again, Dwight Powell does a good job limiting Schröder by contesting his shot at the rim effectively.
Nerlens Noel helped out too:
The Hawks open their season in Dallas next Wednesday, they’ll have to figure out how to get Dennis Schröder some easier shots — everything was difficult on Thursday night.
Baze’s good performance
Kent Bazemore was about the only bright spark from this game as he put in a very good, all-around performance — 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 shooting from behind the arc, six rebounds, five assists and a steal.
“Obviously he shot the ball well,” remarked coach Bud postgame. “He’s had a couple of good days of practice shooting the ball. It’s great to see it carry over. Checking in with him, it seems like he’s healthy and in a good spot. He made some good passes too…liked his pace and the way he played, the shots he took.”
The Hawks will need Bazemore’s creation and scoring more than ever this season, and this was an encouraging performance.
You can’t help but wonder how many points the Hawks would’ve lost by had Bazemore not caught fire in this game...
Not the best way to finish the preseason. A lot of Hawks struggled shooting the ball, the ball movement could’ve been better, the perimeter defense obviously could’ve been better and the energy needs to be higher. All things, I’m sure, the coaching staff will be telling the players in the build up to the regular season.
The Hawks finish the preseason 2-3 ahead of their five-game road-trip to begin the new season, which begins in Dallas next Wednesday. If they were to finish 2-3 on the road-trip, that’d be a successful road-trip.
We shall see.