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Offensive rebounding the key to efficient offense for Atlanta

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Grabbing easy points when they can get them will help buoy the Hawks’ offense.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When a team struggles offensively, any way they can generate easy points becomes essential to keeping up with their opponents on the scoreboard. Generally, running in transition and crashing the offensive glass are two key avenues to generate efficient shots, but teams must have the personnel to do so, otherwise it turns into a detriment. It’s still very early in the season, but the Hawks might have found a successful formula on the glass that will help them create these hyper-efficient shots.

Atlanta’s teams under head coach Mike Budenholzer have mostly ignored offensive rebounding—the team has finished 28th, 30th, 30th, and 14th in offensive rebound rate during Budenholzer’s tenure. Instead, the Hawks have focused on getting back to set up one of the stingiest defenses in the league, as the team has sported a top-five half-court defense and a top-five transition defense each of the past three years. That doesn’t happen by accident; Budenholzer preached to his team constantly to focus on getting back after a missed shot or turnover, eschewing any opportunity for second-chance points to focus on the other end of the floor.

This year, however, things look a little bit different, even with just one regular season game in the books. One of the key features of Hawks teams of old was their Five Out offensive system that leveraged the shooting of their big men to open the lane for their driving guards and cutting wings. They got away from that philosophy last year after bringing in Dwight Howard to replace the outgoing Al Horford, but after one disappointing season, Howard was shipped out of town. Still, the Hawks must have seen something they liked about having a bruising big man because Dewayne Dedmon was signed this offseason to take over Howard’s spot as the starting center. So far, Dedmon is taking the best of what Howard brought to the team without adopting any of the mercurial center’s bad habits—he’s crashing the glass on both ends, protecting the rim, and even stepping out of the paint for some jumpers without demanding post touches and lacking energy when he doesn’t get enough of the ball.

Dedmon’s energy on the offensive glass was apparent in the Hawks season opener in Dallas, in which he grabbed two key boards in the final nine minutes of the game to help seal the victory, including a clutch put back in traffic with a minute left to give the Hawks the lead for good:

Both Dedmon and rookie rebounding machine John Collins made their living on the glass in pick-and-roll, routinely rolling to the rim, gaining position on their defender, and vacuuming up any missed mid-range shots from the Atlanta guards. Dallas kept their big men back in the paint on the pick-and-roll, but it didn’t matter, as the Hawks were consistently able to get in behind for quick points. Of course, it’s only one game and Atlanta will certainly come up against more formidable foes on the glass, but it’s a positive sign that Dedmon and Collins were able to wreak havoc in the paint without needing the ball to be dumped into them and having the rest of the team stand around to watch.

Collins is already a revelation on the glass compared to the players the Hawks have employed over the past decade. His ability to get up for put back dunks in traffic is already elite among the league’s big men and he’ll only get better as he learns the angles of the NBA game.

In the above clip, Mavericks big man Nerlens Noel hangs back at the elbow on the Marco Belinelli-Collins pick-and-roll, allowing Belinelli to turn the corner and rise for the shot. Noel tries to contest, but the rolling Collins is already flying to the rim, looking for his opportunity for a quick two points if Belinelli misses. Notice that Mike Muscala also crashes in from the corner to provide rebounding support—that sort of thing wasn’t happening nearly as often over the past few years.

Grabbing a few more offensive rebounds each game will help a Hawks offense that desperately needs any easy points they can get. Dedmon and Collins showed against Dallas that they’re up to the task and their energy on the glass will be key for an Atlanta team that looks like it will struggle to generate efficient offense consistently.

All stats courtesy of Ben Falk’s wonderful site Cleaning The Glass.