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Hawks struggle to defend, rebound in preseason loss to Thunder

Taking a deeper look at Sunday’s action.

NBA: Preseason-Atlanta Hawks at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks faced off with the Oklahoma City Thunder for their third preseason game on Sunday and were outplayed in most if not all phases of the game in a 113-94 loss. The Thunder were the best offensive rebounding team in the league last season and they put that capability to use, gathering 15 offensive rebounds, which led to 21 second chance points.

Alex Len had to head to the bench just 3 minutes and 46 seconds into the game after collecting his third foul, two of which occurred while he was trying to keep Thunder center Steven Adams off of the offensive glass. From that point forward, the Hawks struggled to keep the Thunder out of the paint and had difficulty generating shots at the rim.

John Collins (left ankle soreness) and Jeremy Lin (rest) did not play and it was the latter’s absence that might have created what ended up being the biggest issue for the Hawks in the contest. Atlanta committed 28 turnovers which lead to 33 points on subsequent Thunder possessions. To put that in perspective, a team had 25 or more turnovers just 10 times all of last season.

Despite the foul trouble, the Hawks were able to be competitive early in the contest and had a 29-26 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to a 35-foot buzzer beater from DeAndre’ Bembry.

The Hawks would enter half time trailing by just seven points. But in the third quarter, they connected on just four of their 18 field goal attempts including missing on all five attempts inside the restricted area. On the other end of the court, Atlanta allowed 35 points, at which point they lost contact and never got back to within 14 points.

Alex Len lead the Hawks with 18 points but 12 of those came in the 4th quarter when the Thunder were playing mostly younger lineups. He managed just three rebounds.

Trae Young showed improved decision making. He had 16 points on 13 field goal attempts. He generated just two assists but the Hawks shot the ball poorly after the first quarter. He seemed in command of his play and was not trying to force shots for maybe the first time in preseason action.

Omari Spellman started in place of John Collins. He had ten points, seven rebounds, and three assists. But he struggled to execute on both ends of the court. It seems obvious that he sees the right play to make but he just can quite put it together very frequently. The rookie seems to be adjusting to the speed of the NBA game but that should be no surprise at this point,

Having missed Friday’s game due to illness, Taurean Prince returned to the starting lineup and was solid in 29 minutes of action. He managed 13 points on ten shooting possessions. He added five rebounds and four assists.

With Lin being ruled out, Jaylen Adams got extended play as the backup point guard. He hit three of his five attempts from beyond the three-point line to accumulate nine points. But he struggled defensively in his effort to contain former Hawks’ point guard Dennis Schroder, who managed 20 points on 15 shooting possessions, as well as veteran backup Raymond Felton.

After playing at least 17 minutes in each of the previous two games, rookie Kevin Huerter played just 4 and a half minutes in the fourth quarter. It appeared that Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was using this game to evaluate Tyler Dorsey playing along with Young and Bembry.

After creating 46 shot attempts inside of five feet in their first preseason game, they’ve struggled to sustain that. They generated 31 shots near the rim in Friday’s loss to the Grizzlies and just 27 in this loss to Oklahoma City.

Atlanta did create ten corner three-point attempts in both Friday’s and Sunday’s game after getting just four in their win over the Pelicans. They have taken 28 or more above the break three’s in all three games but have connected on just 25 percent of those shots (22 of 88).

Let’s take a look at some video, with some positives to take away.

Prince is able to work with Len in the pick and roll early in the game. On this play, we see something from Prince we did not often see last season. He is moving right to left in the high screen action and is able to hit Len with a bounce pass on the move for the easy shot at the rim.

Last year, most of the productive pick and roll plays we saw from Prince was almost exclusively working from his left to his right.

This is a heads up play from Young. Paul George gets a bit casual attempting an outlet pass to Schroder near half court and nearly the entire width of the court. Young pounces for the easy steal and layup.

This is another encouraging play from the rookie point guard. This is one example of how the Hawks want to space the floor in their new offensive screen. Spellman, playing at the power forward position, is in the weak side corner. And Len is working with Prince in off ball screen action. As such, the Thunder big men are nowhere near the paint.

Young gets down hill on Schroder and is able to get to the rim for the easy layup. Prince offers really smart help by jumping into the path of both Paul George and Steven Adams as they try to get to the rim and help.

One of the few positive developments from last season was the improved three-point shooting from Prince. But he still shot the ball much more effectively in catch-and-shoot situations as opposed to shooting off of the dribble.

On this play, he is able to get leverage on his defender, read the play and use good footwork to get separation via his step back. He knocks down a comfortable look from the three-point line.

This play is an example of some of the defensive issues the Hawks had in the game. This is not even a pick-and-roll. Timothe Lawawu-Cabarrot is simply stunting dribble handoff action with Schroder.

Bembry is clearly calling for a switch but he and Dorsey both follow Lawawu-Cabarrot up the floor. Schroder gets the easy lay up after which Coach Pierce calls a timeout in an attempt to get the defensive issues straightened out.

On this play, we can see a new wrinkle in how the Hawks use the high screen and roll. Here. Adams sets up near the three point break as opposed to settling in the corner. Bazemore is able to hit Miles Plumlee as he rolls toward the rim. Paul George is too high on the floor to help by “tagging the roller.”

Last season’s scheme would almost always call for Adams to start in the corner and then “lift” to the break at the same time that the big man is diving toward the rim.

This might be the single most successful possession the Hawks had in the game. The lineup recognizes that they might be able to leverage a 2-for-1 (two Hawks’ possessions to one Thunder possession) but they have to work quickly. Bembry races the ball up the floor and hits Spellman who finds Bazemore open in the corner for a successful three point attempt. Excellent recognition and execution on this play.

On this play, we can see how much better Young is shooting from the three point line when he has the time to set his feet and hop into his motion. He’s a high IQ player, notice how quickly he recognizes that he is going to get an open three point attempt. His hands go up and he’s ready for the ball before it even reaches the hands of Spellman.

This is another encouraging moment from the rookie point guard. In Summer League play Young had no idea what to do when the ball was not in his hands. And if you watched him play at the University of Oklahoma last season that probably doesn’t surprise you.

Here moves with purpose and excellent timing to lose his defender, Schroder. Again plenty of time to set his feet and he knocks it down comfortably.

This play offers a look at what Coach Pierce has really been emphasizing, attack early. Instead of heading toward Len to execute a pick and roll or dribble hand off with the floor spread Young first takes a peek to see if there is a path to the rim. He gets past Felton and gets the rim before Nerlens Noel or Jerami Grant can get there.

On this play, the Thunder defense is able to cut off Young’s attack early in the shot clock. But Young knows the defense is still scrambled so he quickly finds Bazemore with a pass who effectively finishes the play on Young’s behalf. It’s really impressive chemistry between Bazemore and Young in just their third game. And the result is an easy conversion at the rim (a critically important aspect of the Hawks’ offensive approach).

Here we see Prince demonstrate something he improved upon toward the end of last season. In the first half or so of last year, he would try to get all the way to the rim in any dribble penetration opportunity. Over the final few months, he improved his ability to gauge whether or not he was likely to get to the rim. And when not, he would find a nice , uncontested look in the 5-10 foot range.

This was one of the more enjoyable possessions the Hawks had in the game. A week ago there was immense curiosity about whether or not Len would try to develop a jump shot this season. Well, here he is sprinting to the corner in transition. And being confident enough in what he is doing to take a peek to make sure his feet were behind the line. It looks like he has been empowered to shoot the ball from the corner.

Len is now 3-for-5 on three-point attempts in preseason play. He was 6-for-25 in his career prior to this season.

So an ugly scoreboard and a ton of turnovers. But some positive things to take note of as well.

Up next:

The Hawks will host the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion on the campus of Georgia Tech University.