The Atlanta Hawks entered Saturday night’s contest with the Chicago Bulls as one of just a handful of teams shooting the ball better than 40 percent from the three-point line since the beginning of the 2018-19 NBA season. They were able to create the volume of perimeter shots they profess to desire (40 attempts), but they connected on just 12 threes in a 97-85 loss to Chicago.
The issues shooting the ball from deep are certainly what jumps out from the stat sheet, but the issues they had converting attempts at the rim might have actually been the more significant missed opportunity. Atlanta made only 11 of their 27 attempts inside the restricted area, including making just 2 of their 7 attempts from that range in the fourth quarter.
Only four Hawks players were able to generate 10 points or more. Taurean Prince led the team with 16 points on 5 of 14 shooting from the floor, but he also lead the team with 6 turnovers.
Trae Young used nine attempts at the free throw line to help him generate 13 points. It was his first professional game during which he was not able to connect on a three point attempt (0 for 6). He had just four assists and turned the ball over five times. Kent Bazemore, the third member of the Hawks’ primary starting ball handlers, turned it over four times in his own right.
Vince Carter had the best shooting success, converting on 4 of his 7 attempts from three point range, to produce 12 points. But in his second game since returning from an ankle injury, Dewayne Dedmon had the best individual performance for the Hawks. He amassed 13 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocked shots and had +18 individual net rating in his 27 minutes on the court.
As a team, the Hawks were active and generally effective on the defensive end, and DeAndre’ Bembry was a key contributor. He had three steals and a blocked shot while being asked to defend at the point of attack for a significant majority of his 27 minutes of play. Bembry also continued to demonstrate confidence shooting the ball from the perimeter, as he converted 2 of his 5 three point attempts and is 7 of 13 on the young season.
Rookie wing Kevin Huerter was mostly productive in his time off of the bench. He had six points, six rebounds and two assists and and connected on 2 of his 4 attempts from deep.
“We got the threes up but not the ones we wanted,” said head coach Lloyd Pierce during his post-game comments. “Part of it is when you look at how we play, ball movement, ball reversal, touching hands, we try to make simple plays. You can look at the number but those weren’t the threes that we wanted. We want threes on plays that were off of penetration, threes off of guys that are helping or over-helping and just making the simple reads.”
“We had a lot of dribble threes, late shot clock threes, out of rhythm, out of sync,” Pierce added. “And that’s just part of us understanding what we are trying to do offensively.”
“We just never got in sync offensively,” explained Pierce. “When you are a young team, when you are a new team, when you are a young player you try to let your offense dictate how your playing is. We need to come out and play with effort, play together, play with pace and the offense will come.”
“It’s pretty tough when no one’s hitting shots,” Bembry said after the game. “It’s frustrating, not only for that person that’s missing shots, but everyone else. You have to try to stay mentally prepared for these types of nights. We were in the game most of the night and could’ve won the game.”
Another rough start
The bench played significantly better than the starters did in the game. Prince and Bazemore more were the only two starters still in the game when Bembry finally connected on the team’s first field goal 5 minutes and 54 seconds into the game.
The starting unit made just 1 of 8 field goal attempts in the first period. The reserves connected on 5 of 6 three point attempts to get the team going offensively before the beginning of the second quarter.
“That second unit came in in the first quarter we were down 10-1, that second unit comes in and gives us a boost,” Pierce pointed out. “We have a goal of trying to keep them under 24, we kept them at 22 at the end of the first quarter. So I thought was a good spark. For the first quarter those guys that were on the floor to finish the quarter really helped us out. But we never got in sync offensively.”
“It’s very important. Coming off the bench, we need that type of effort and energy, just to get the blood flowing sometimes for the starters,” Bembry said. “Ever since I’ve been coming off the bench, I just try to get the team going. It’s been working so far.”
Pierce seemed encouraged to see Dedmon making such a positive impact in just his second outing. It leads one to wonder if he might be in the starting line up before too long.
“Dedmon was great. I thought his energy, his communication, he played to exhaustion. “ said his head coach. “I thought he did a great job giving us a spark, not only defensively in his communication but on the boards as well.”
“I’m feeling better,” said Dedmon. “My ankle is getting better. Just trying to take it easy. Coach had me out there a little longer tonight, but it’s cool. It’s basketball.”
Pierce spoke to his appreciation of what Bembry has contributed in his role off of the bench, not only in this losing effort.
“I think Deandre’, his spirit, his energy, his effort have been great,” he said. “We put him all over the place defensively, he’s guarding a lot of guys. LaVine was one of his match ups tonight. But I think he’s giving us what he has. He’s a competitor. He’s an athlete. He’s an attacker. I love what he has been doing since the season has started.”
But it was their inability to use their effort on defense to create offense that seems to bother Pierce the most. “That’s the frustrating part; we turned them over 23 times and didn’t capitalize on it,” he said. “And a lot of that is just our mentality. You know, get out and run, win the reaction, try to beat them before they can get set defensively. And for some reason or another we just didn’t finish well. We didn’t look to attack as often as we would like.”
The visiting team
Zach LaVine lead the Bulls with 27 points. He also secured 11 rebounds. But the Hawks were able to force him into 11 turnovers. He entered the game with the 7th most turnovers in the league.
Reserve guard Ryan Arcidiacano knocked down some key shots to help Chicago get separation from the Hawks in the second half. He had 13 points and seven assists and might have been the most effective player in the game from start to finish (next to Dedmon). He had an individual net rating of +15 in his 31 minutes of reserve play.
The Bulls got their second win on the season in what many would have considered a likely “schedule loss” heading into play on Saturday. They were playing the second of back-to-back road games after losing by 29 points in Charlotte on Friday evening.
“Credit to them, they played hard, they were on a back to back,” Pierce said of the Bulls. “We wanted to try to outwork them tonight. They were scrambling. They were fighting. They lost pretty bad last night so they came out with a greater sense of urgency than we did.”
Atlanta’s rookie point guard took some individual accountability for their inability to play to their own expectations. “It was energy, it was energy from start to finish,” Young said. “We didn’t have it and that was the main reason why we lost.”
“It starts with me,” he added. “With energy. I’ve got to bring energy start to finish.
The Hawks had produced just three points as the game neared the middle of the first quarter (all from the free throw line). Bembry connects on his first field goal attempt. He continues to show no hesitation shooting the ball from the perimeter despite entering the season just 12 of 50 from the three point line.
Huerter continues to demonstrate a willing to step directly into a three point shot if the defense does not account for him early in the shot clock even working off of the dribble. He and Bembry seem to be locked in as the third and fourth wings in the rotation.
Coach Pierce seems to want to be sure Dedmon is playing at the center position any time a wing is slotted up to the power forward position, and you can see why on this play.
He can help in pick and roll coverage all the way to the top of the key and still be able to recover all of the to the restricted area to serve as the rim protector.
This is one of the few times the Hawks were able to convert a live ball turnover into a score. Prince secures the steal and attacks with a sense of urgency that was lacking on the part of the team for too much of the contest.
Prince creates another transition opportunity during early play in the second half. It seems that Coach Pierce likely made this a point of emphasis during his half time comments and Prince did seem to try to put that into action. But the team was simply not able to sustain it.
This play is an example of the second unit working together effectively. LaVine overplays the pin screen threat that Dedmon offers Bembry, who cuts to the paint and receives a nice pass from Omari Spellman (who had 4 assists in the game). Bembry throws it down with authority.
This possession is one of the few on which a starting player moves with urgency in the half court. Prince makes a skip pass to Jeremy Lin in the opposite corner. He cuts to the paint and receives a timely pass and powers an uncontested dunk.
This play offers a look at the energy that Bembry brought to the game. He gets the chase down block on Arcidiacano and creates another Bulls turnover.
Young demonstrated some improved engagement working off of the ball defensively. He rotates from the weak side corner to discourage a pass to Bulls rookie center Wendell Carter Jr. as he rolls to the rim. Young has the play measured and is able to intercept the skip pass to the corner for a steal.
He jumps another pass from LaVine in the same action just a few minutes later.
“It’s just different tendencies each game,” Young said after the game. “Some games it’s different, different types of reads. Tonight I had a few good reads, and I was able to get some steals. It just depends on game by game how I read different things.”
The Hawks have a busy week ahead with four games in six days. It starts Monday evening with the teams first venture into Philadelphia where Pierce served as an assistant coach for the last five seasons. It will be interesting to see if the Hawks bring a unique level of effort and sense of urgency as to to reflect well on their head coach.
Pierce somewhat downplayed that aspect of the game in his post-game comments. “Obviously being there five years, you look forward to going back to a place where you spent a lot of time with the staff and players,” he said. “But it’s about us. Going back to Philly is a business trip, it’s about us just trying to correct what we did tonight, get a little bit better as we continue to progress.”
“It will be a tough game, it will be a tough atmosphere,” he added. “We just need to be better. We need to play better, we need to come together as a team, we need to have a better spirit going into this road trip.”