The No. 5 overall pick of the Atlanta Hawks received a lot of the buzz coming off the team’s first win of the season in Cleveland on Sunday, and it’s understandable given the 35 points and 11 assists Trae Young amassed in the contest. However, the game also offered the very first glimpse of all three of the Hawks’ rookies acquired in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft on the floor together for extended time.
Kevin Huerter played only in garbage time in the season opener in New York and Omari Spellman missed Friday’s in game in Memphis due to a sore ankle. In Sunday’s action, Huerter played ahead of second-year guard Tyler Dorsey, who ended up with a DNP-CD.
Young, Huerter and Spellman shared the floor for 10 minutes (per NBA.com). In those minutes, the Hawks produced an offensive rating of 153.8 and a defensive rating of 100.0. That’s obviously not sustainable, especially when considering the sample size, but it is encouraging to see how productive the lineups were with the three in the game at the same time.
In the minutes shared on the floor, Young had 15 points and four assists, Spellman produced 8 points and an assist, while Huerter managed six points and two assists. They collectively amassed 29 points and seven assists in an amount of time that is less than an NBA regulation quarter in the third game of their professional careers. Oh, and none of that included what was contributed by the other two players on the court in those ten minutes.
Young and Spellman had the experience of playing together in summer league to lean upon but Huerter could not play (although he was present) in either the Utah or Las Vegas summer leagues due to time needed to recover from a hand injury.
With that said, you would not have been able to guess that just from having observed Sunday’s action.
This is the very first offensive possession for the trio. Huerter attacks his defender, Cedi Osman, off of the dribble with ideal timing following Spellman’s dive toward the baseline. Because he initiated before Spellman and his defender, Larry Nance Jr., reach the baseline, the result is that all of the Cavaliers defenders momentum is headed toward the paint. And this includes Young’s defender, Collin Sexton.
Huerter even has the attention to detail to make sure he gets all the way to Kevin Love, who is defending Alex Poythress in the corner in the event he has any intent to try to recover to the top of the defensive formation. A simple kick-out pass results in a wide open three-point attempt for Young, which he knocks down with ease.
On this play, the Hawks are attacking Cleveland forward Sam Dekker in the pick and roll. Spellman understands his role on this play is to make contact with the would-be help defender in the corner, Rodney Hood.
The result is an accurate lob from Young to the front of the rim that Poythress flushes uncontested.
Viewing tip: If you have not yet noticed, one of the more fun aspects of watching Trae Young play is the semi-subtle mini-celebrations he displays when a teammate scores off of his assist (as can be seen on this play).
This is a beautiful example of moving the ball across the offensive formation and back without a single dribble in a “4 out” set. There is zero hesitation as the ball hits the hands of the Hawks’ perimeter players and DeAndre’ Bembry is the beneficiary, as he gets the solid look from the short corner and converts the three point attempt.
This time, the Hawks end up with a bit of an unbalanced floor with two bigs on the right side of the offensive formation and the two wings on the left side. Not to worry, Spellman and Alex Len improvise to get the ball back to Young who attacks the paint with the dribble.
Notice how Len and Spellman work together to make sure that Tristan Thompson does not get a clean release as to try to offer some help at the rim.
Head coach Lloyd Pierce sent Young back into the game with 38 seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter in hopes of setting up a 2-for-1 opportunity (2 offensive possessions for Atlanta sandwiched around 1 for Cleveland).
Young works with Spellman in the high pick-and-roll and is able to draw the attention of both defenders as he crosses the free throw line. A deft slip pass leads to an uncontested dunk for the Hawks’ rookie big man.
Also notice how Poythress and Huerter work together on the weak side to occupy their defenders, even if quite briefly. The concept is to avoid just standing on the perimeter resulting in simple decision making for the would-be help defenders. If they exchange positions at just the right time, it creates momentary confusion as to which defender has the potential responsibility to help at the rim.
A good rule of thumb to execute this is, for example on this play, for Poythress to maintain the same depth on the floor as Spellman does as he dives toward the baseline and for Huerter to lift for spacing purposes as his teammates work toward the baseline. This is textbook execution.
Atlanta runs a smart little wrinkle on this play. Young has already scored 35 points at this point in the fourth quarter but the Cavaliers are still just eight points down. Cleveland is attacking Trae Young as the ‘head of the snake” of the Atlanta offense; they are simply trying to force the ball out of his hands.
So the Hawks overload the strong side with four players on this set. As Len slips the high screen and dives toward the rim, Huerter’s defender, Osman, has to sprint to the front of the rim. The results is a simple pass to a wide open Huerter, who confidently knocks down the 3-ball to extend the lead to 11 points.
Here, we can see the unit attacking early in the shot clock. Spellman is working hard as a rim runner. Len recognizes the Cavs are not matched up the want they intend defensively and slips to the corner to allow Spellman the space to work in the paint.
Huerter sees the mismatch right away also and makes the pass over the head of Spellman’s nearest defender. Osman has no choice other than to foul and force him to earn the points at the free throw line.
All in all, it was a satisfying team win with positive contributions from nearly everyone who played rotational minutes. But even in the small sample size of 10 minutes of floor time, we might have seen a bit of was Travis Schlenk had in mind when the selected Young, Huerter and Spellman in the first round of the draft in June.