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Hawks unable to complete comeback in Milwaukee

Despite some well executed plays, the offense fell apart in the final few minutes.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

After putting together a furious comeback to tie the game, the Atlanta Hawks were unable to pull ahead for the victory late against the Milwaukee Bucks, notching their 40th loss of the season in the process. The Hawks trailed for a majority of the game before drawing even with 3:31 left in the fourth quarter, but it was all Milwaukee from there, as the hosts went on a 13-8 run to close the game.

Ultimately, it was Atlanta’s offense that let them down in this game, as they were unable to contend with the length and athleticism of the Bucks. Dennis Schröder in particular had a tough time finding his touch on passes and ended up with five turnovers to just four assists.

Down the stretch, the Hawks had some brilliant play designs that either didn’t come off due to fantastic Bucks defense or didn’t produce the made shot they deserved. Ersan Ilyasova missed two open three-pointers in a row after Giannis Antetokounmpo restored the lead for Milwaukee with about three minutes left. The first came on a play I’ve covered in depth in this space:

The Hawks use some dummy Chicago action to disguise the down screen for Ilyasova, which fools the Milwaukee defense into leaving him open, but he barely draws iron as Thon Maker closes out. Antetokounmpo gets another shot to go, then Ilyasova had a chance to redeem himself, but again was unable to put the ball through the basket:

Ilyasova read the defense well to slip the screen to the right wing and Schröder was able to make the pass over the top to him (we’ll get back to Schröder’s passing in a minute), but the shot didn’t go down in what was a theme for the Hawks in the final few minutes of this game. The process was great—Ilyasova got two open looks from beyond the three-point line—but when those shots clang off the rim, it puts a lot of pressure on the Atlanta defense to get stops on the other end, which they were unable to do in several big spots down the stretch.

Shortly after Ilyasova’s two chances from three, Atlanta ran a very interesting set in an attempt to get Dewayne Dedmon a three, which was defended beautifully by Milwaukee. This was a variation of the Spain pick-and-roll that’s been all over the league—watch how Ilyasova “rolls” but really is screening for Dedmon to come up to the three-point line:

Once again, this was a great design from Atlanta thwarted by Milwaukee’s length, athleticism, and intelligence on defense. Tony Snell guarded all three players involved in the action, switching from Kent Bazemore to Ilyasova on the initial pick-and-roll and then to Dedmon at the top of the key once Ilyasova set the down screen on Maker. All three plays were well designed and executed by Atlanta and to come away with zero points from those three trips down the floor is disappointing, but the process that goes into these possessions is great despite the results.

One area in which the process and results were both immensely poor was with Schröder’s passing. There were multiple instances of bad reads and off-target passes from the leader of Atlanta’s offense and while the final few minutes aren’t a referendum on Schröder’s skills at the point guard position, the first 45 minutes certainly did his supporters no favors. His decision making and passing ability (in addition to his three-point shot) have always been the things holding him back from being a high-level point guard and they were on full display against the Bucks.

The above clip is the epitome of who Schröder is as a passer: after receiving the handoff inside the three-point line on the right wing, he should be able to clearly see Snell with his feet in the paint and Taurean Prince wide open in the corner. Instead of either throwing the ball to Prince immediately or driving to draw the defense toward him, he chooses to veer back into a pick-and-roll with Dedmon, which brings Snell back into the paint. Once he gets closer, he finally makes the pass, only it’s completely off target and forces Prince to bounce the ball on the catch, giving Snell time to close out to the corner and completely erase any advantage the Hawks had.

Contrast that with backup Malcolm Delaney, who doesn’t have nearly the NBA reps at point guard but has ten times the vision Schröder does:

Delaney attacks the pick-and-roll, sees Sterling Brown in the middle of the floor ready to take the roll man, and immediately hits Prince for the open three with an on-target, quick pass. This isn’t an isolated incident with Schröder—he missed all night, throwing the ball all over the gym trying to find shooters in the corners or on the wings.

Passing has been a problem for Schröder from the beginning of his career and to see him perform so badly in this area in his fifth season is disheartening for anybody who believes he can develop into a top-15 point guard. Add in his other issues (no three-point shot, minimal effort defensively) and it’s not hard to understand why the Hawks didn’t get much traction in trade talks last week. Schröder is paid like a starting point guard, but the only starter-level skill he brings is his ability to get to the basket at will; everything outside of that is a work-in-progress that just isn’t showing very much progress.