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NBA Summer League 2017: Breaking down the Atlanta Hawks opener

Getting into the nitty-gritty of the Hawks’ 75-72 loss against the Nets

NBA: Summer League-Los Angeles Clipper at Los Angeles Lakers Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their first game of Summer League Las Vegas, falling 75-72 to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night. Five players scored in double-figure scoring for the Nets, led by Archie Goodwin’s and Isaiah Whitehead’s 14 points. The Hawks were led by DeAndre Bembry’s game-high 22 points.

We’re going to break down this game a bit, look at specific aspects and/or players (etc.) of the game and examine’ll see how this works quick enough.

I’ll chat about the game briefly before moving on to the more important items of discussion today.

Now, to most people, it’s not a big deal if your team wins/loses at Summer League. I suppose the thing to remember when it comes to the Hawks losing here is that the Nets brought a core of their actual roster (and I don’t mean like a Bembry or Prince who didn’t play a ton of minutes last season, the Nets brought guys who played a lot real minutes) to Vegas. Added to that, coach Kenny Atkinson is actually coaching the team himself, so there’s a lot of familiarity there when it comes to the Nets’ players.

As you’d imagine in a 75-72 game, defense played a huge part. After falling behind early, the Nets’ defense and physicality really clamped down on the Hawks and made life difficult for the Hawks to score. The Nets built a big lead themselves before almost blowing it twice, with the Hawks cutting the lead to one with under a minute left and then Caris LeVert inexplicably scoring with six seconds left in the fourth quarter — rather than just run the clock down to zero — to give the Hawks an opportunity to tie the game with a three but Bembry’s shot ultimately missed.

Again, whether you win/lose in Summer League, it doesn’t really matter. You just want to see you guys compete and how they fare. And that’s more so what I’m looking at with Summer League, rather how the game got away from Atlanta, or went in their favor as the case may be...

The John Collins-era begins...quietly

Atlanta’s first round selection — and 19th overall — John Collins made his debut on Friday night, starting at power forward, and he had a, shall we say, quiet night. Collins scored eight points on 2-of-4 shooting while collecting 11 rebounds in 24 minutes.

Only four shot attempts? That was a little surprising, I have to say. The other surprsing thing nestled in that was the Hawks — or Collins even himself — didn’t look for opportunities in the post, an area of the court that Collins is skilled at. I’d imagine we won’t see Collins only attempt four shots next time out, and hopefully he gets a crack or two in the post, as it’d be good to see how he fares in there against Summer League competition.

The opportunities to display some of Collins’ mid-range game also didn’t really materialise but Collins knows that his coaches believe in him to take that and Collins himself shares the same confidence to shoot that shot when it presents itself but not above making the right basketball play at that current time.

“The coaches definitely have confidence in me,” Collins said. “They’ve seen that I have a solid stroke and, when it’s open, I definitely will let it (the mid-range shot) go. If not, I’ll be a smart player and make the right basketball play.”

His coach, Charles Lee, isn’t so worried about Collins’ ability to shoot/not shoot the ball in his rookie year, saying the most important thing for John to do is not worry about shooting — that’ll come with time — but just playing hard and focusing on defense, pick-and-roll action and rebounding.

“I think the things that are going to translate for John Collins in his first couple games, his first year as a Hawk is just playing hard”, said Charles Lee. “The pick-and-pop three threat, we’ll work with him on that, see where he gets to. But the biggest thing for him from day one is he has got to play hard — on defense and push pick-and-roll, he’s got to rebound like a monster and offensively just play with great pace, get to the next action. I think all the shooting stuff will come as he gets more comfortable.”

Collins definitely played hard, you could see that. There’s a few criticisms of Collins I have from this game coming up, but his scrappiness and hard work was definitely present.

I’m glad Charles mentioned defense... Let’s get to defense, which is what I’m really going to focus on today.

For me, and many others, Collins’ defense was a huge concern heading into/out of the draft. The belief behind his poor defense in college was that Collins’ college coach needed him to avoid foul trouble at all costs because he was an important player for Wake Forest. Since foul trouble isn’t a problem in Summer League (the limit is 10), this was the opportunity to see if Collins’ defense was due to the fear of fouls or if he was just a bad defender.

Aaaand...based on this game, it turns out Collins is just not good defensively and he proved this multiple times in different defensive situations.

Off the dribble, Caris LeVert is able to beat Collins off the dribble and get into the paint but his progress is halted by multiple Hawks bodies. LeVert turns around, sees an open Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, passes the ball to him and RHJ hits the jump shot.

RHJ was originally Taurean Prince’s man on defense, but Prince had to slide over and leave RHJ to cover the threat of LeVert once he was able to get past Collins. RHJ cleverly recognised this and drifted out of the paint and he got himself a decent look, which he made. Had Collins been able to stay in front of LeVert, Prince would not have needed to leave his man, and the likelihood of RHJ having that shot is low.

(Worth noting, it wasn’t so much that Collins made a mistake, he was just too slow reacting to the drive of LeVert)

Collins had issues protecting the rim too. Isaiah Whitehead catches the ball on the left wing, probes his way inside the three-point line before spinning past Collins and lays the ball in.

A basic defensive fundamental when defending near the rim is to keep your arms above your head, as to to better contest the man going to the rim. ‘Verticality’ is another term used for it. But, as you can see, Collins doesn’t really make an effort to properly defend the rim here and his arms stay more outwards than upwards, which doesn’t bother Whitehead in the slightest and the result is an easy score. Not a lot of defensive effort/resistance shown by Collins here.

It’s not like Collins isn’t capable of such defense, here’s a play from the second quarter where he does go vertical, keeps his arms straight up and effectively contests a shot near the rim which results in a miss.

He is capable, he just has to apply himself.

For this last defensive sample, I’ll let you watch it first before commenting...

You can probably see yourself what the problem was here. Collins has to step in and cut off that driving lane, not open it up as he did. That’s almost hilariously bad defense.

Look, I get it, he’s a rookie and he’ll learn and that’s fair enough — I agree. This is more so to identify that defense is an area of concern and an area Collins definitely needs to work at because if it’s going to exploited like this at Summer League, imagine how it’s going to be in the pro’s...

But, look, having said that, there were a few things that Collins did well that are worth mentioning.

He scrapped and was active on the glass, collecting a game-high 11 rebounds and a game-high three offensive rebounds, one off which Collins scored the put-back plus the foul — an important bucket that helped end a big Nets run that saw the Hawks see their 10 point lead completely overturned.

Collins also showed toughness.

Collins took quite a few hits in this game, particularly in the third quarter and you could tell he was hurting slightly. Unlike Lakers President of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson, who didn’t allow Brandon Ingram to continue playing after an injury to his leg, Collins returned and carried on playing. Post game, Collins revealed that he was struggling with cramp and that the Vegas heat got him!

I’m sure he wasn’t the only one.

Collins showed a very brief flash of being a possibly underrated passer. Check out this lovely pass he made in the first half to Richard Solomon.

That’s a beaut of a pass right there.

We also got to see shades of Collins’ athleticism. He tried to hammer two monster dunks home (which resulted in fouls instead) but did eventually nail a dunk off a steal in the first half.

A decent debut for Collins and there’s plenty of good to takeaway, but the takeaway I’m left with from his first game is that his defense is what I feared it would be.

Super Bembry Bros

DeAndre Bembry was the surprise leading scorer of this game with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting with 10 of those coming in the final period as Bembry helped lead the Hawks’ ultimately unsuccessful comeback.

Bembry found success nearer the rim rather than further away from it, and he just made things happen out on the floor. As predicted, Bembry did handle the ball often but showed signs of his inexperience at times as he turned the ball over seven times, which isn’t ideal. That said, his overall contribution to the game was great and that isn’t to be understated.

His coach was very happy with his performance and trusts Bembry in that role of ball-handler and how he has evolved his game since his first Summer League visit last year..

“I feel very comfortable with the ball in DeAndre’s hands,” coach Charles Lee said postgame. “He did a great job of making decisions. He plays with such a great pace off of the pick-and-roll. It’s a like quarter-back — he sees his checkdowns, he looks for the pocket pass, it’s not there, now all of a sudden maybe he’s getting to our floater, maybe he’s kicking it to the high quadrant...he’s done a great job evolving his game and becoming a lot more comfortable in pick-and-roll situations. He made great decisions today.”

It’s important and significant that the coaches trust Bembry with the ball in his hands since you’d imagine he’s going to be possibly handling the ball a little more next season than he did in his first (since you’d also imagine he’ll be an active part of the rotation next season).

Bembry is also expecting to be handling the ball more next season and hopes to take some of the ball-handling pressure off of Dennis Schröder.

“...sometimes Dennis needs someone else out there to make the right pass.” Bembry said. “He didn’t really have too much of that. Tim (Hardaway Jr.), he could score the ball but not too much facilitating, Baze not too much facilitating, so I think I could definitely help Dennis throughout the year next year.”

Unfortunately, for all the good work he did in the fourth quarter, Bembry’s late game execution let him down which was a shame as the Hawks had a great chance to re-take the lead right at the death.

Bembry just tried to do too much on his own and paid the price as a result and the Nets took the victory. Again, it’s a shame but he still had a great game and that’s an encouraging sign going forward.

Rapid fire review

We’ll do a rapid fire review of the rest of the notable Hawks players, starting with Taurean Prince.

It was an up-and-down game for Prince. He was definitely the second best Hawk on Friday scoring 14 points but shot 5-of-15 from the field. He had some good looks that didn’t go down but expect him to bounce back against New Orleans.

Josh Magette was very impressive, to me at least. Though he only scored seven points and dished out just one assist, the Hawks just looked so much better on the offensive end when he was on the floor versus when he wasn’t. He just added a calming influence, like he knew what he was doing and was in control. Again, the stats won’t show it, but this was a good showing from Magette.

Tyler Dorsey showed some flashes on getting to the rim (though he missed his free throws when he got the benefit of the whistle) and he looked comfortable in possession of the ball, which is encouraging. He didn’t attempt a three-pointer, something I’d like to see more of next time out, just to see how his feel for the NBA three is. Decent game from Dorsey here, though the box score wouldn’t have you believe.

Isaia Cordinier still looks raw and didn’t have the best of games on Friday night — two points on 1-of-5 shooting. More than that, he just looked bad on defense — either losing his man or getting pinned on screens and not being able to recover well. Again, he’s young but he could sure do with a good performance soon.

Speaking of raw, Alpha Kaba was also in the building. Kaba was OK. You could say he was just that player that was just there. He was just there, running up and down the floor. Not adding much nor giving away much — just there.

Up next

The Hawks are back in action on Sunday when they’ll take on the New Orleans Pelicans, who lost their opening game against the Toronto Raptors.