The Hawks won their season opener on Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks 117-111. Not surprisingly, Dennis Schröder led all scorers with 28 points (on 27 shooting possessions). Unexpectedly, Marco Belinelli and John Collins were the Hawks second- and third-leading scorers with 20 points and 14 points, respectively. They combined to score 34 points on 26 shooting possessions which translates to an impressive 130.8 offensive rating.
Marco Belinelli is an underrated secondary offensive creator in the NBA. He was viewed as a necessary throw in (for salary matching purposes) on a deal in which the Hawks moved on quickly from Dwight Howard after one season with his hometown team. Just two summers ago the Charlotte Hornets traded their first round pick (22nd overall) to acquire him once they realized that they were not going to be able to bring back Jeremy Lin. Steve Clifford would use Belinelli to be the central figure in his second unit offense.
The Hornets had an unsuccessful 2016-17 season but that had more to do with their record in games when Cody Zeller was unavailable (3-17) than the play of their second unit. Belinelli was a well above average operator in the pick and roll last season, 30th in points per possession (125 possessions or more), which is excellent for a bench wing. Of the 29 players ahead of him 15 were point guards and 6 were all-star wings.
So while Belinelli arrived in Atlanta this summer with very little fanfare, in NBA circles he is known as a trustworthy veteran wing that can help create offensive production on second units.
John Collins arrived with more than a little fanfare in the form of the Hawks first round pick. He posted the best PER in the country last season at Wake Forest, skyrocketing up draft boards in his sophomore season. DraftExpress.com also had him measured as the most efficient scorer on pick and roll possessions in the NCAA last season (noted in the linked video at the 1:54 mark).
On Wednesday night, they went to work together on the Hawks second unit and found the chemistry and productivity to be one of the biggest factors in the Hawks road victory in Dallas.
They wasted no time in the first quarter using a dribble hand off (DHO) to put the undersized JJ Barea in the position of having to navigate the screen from Collins to create an uncontested 3-point attempt for Belinelli.
A few possessions later they execute a high pick and roll to force Nerlens Noel to challenge Belinelli’s perimeter shot, which allows Collins to attack the offensive glass and get the easy put back score.
Still in the first quarter the Hawks use a horns set to allow Colllins and Belinelli to work together in off-ball screen action. Belinelli leverages screens from both Collins and Malcolm Delaney to free himself up for a cut right down the middle of the lane. Collins pressures Noel as a threat on the weak side baseline to create the space for Belinelli to get to the rim for the easy score.
On this play the action is picked up after Belinelli and Mike Muscala used the high pick and roll to get Noel switched onto the ball handler. You can see the chemistry and trust between the veteran and rookie as they execute the give and go to produce another easy shot at the rim.
Belinelli and Collins operate in a traditional pick and roll on this possession late in the 3rd quarter. Even though the defender, Dorian Finney-Smith, works to trail the ball handler over the screen, Belinelli is able to use his length and footwork to hit a comfortable 3-point attempt.
This is the first play following the 3rd quarter break so this qualifies as an ATO (after timeout). Coach Budenholzer draws up this play to leverage the stress that Belinelli and Collins have been putting on the Mavericks defense with their two-man game to free up Luke Babbitt, the Hawks best 3-point shooter, for an open shot. It is executed to perfection and the result in the only 3-point conversion Babbitt would have in the game.
This type of play is a fun little discovery fans and observers can discover early in the season even when expectations for the team is low. Belinelli and Collins may not be able to frequently replicate the level of combined statistical success they had in this game. But they certainly seem to have found something they should be able to build from in the form of second unit offensive production as the regular season continues Friday night in Charlotte and beyond.