For the second night in a row, the Atlanta Hawks got down big to their opponent on the road and fought back to make it a game in the fourth quarter, only to fall short. On Wednesday night, it was the Detroit Pistons’ turn to build a comfortable lead before watching it wither away against a Hawks team that just doesn’t give up, no matter what the deficit is.
Atlanta turned up the defensive intensity as the Pistons relaxed to make it a game in the fourth quarter after going down by as many as 30 points in the third. The Hawks putting up a fight against a better team only to lose is a familiar refrain this season; what wasn’t familiar at all was the play of NBA debutant Andrew White, who was called up on his two-way contract to play with the Hawks before the All-Star Break.
White is a 24-year-old rookie after spending time with three different D-I programs during his college career. A training camp cut of the Boston Celtics, he brings high-level shooting and a limited amount of playmaking to the Hawks, as well as solid defensive effort and IQ, all of which was on display against the Pistons. White finished 6-for-11 from the field for 15 points and added a little bit of everything else: two rebounds, an assist, and a steal. He impressed on the defensive end as well, flashing an intelligence level beyond most rookies in their NBA debuts.
A lot of what he did on the floor may seem simple—he knocked down shots, made the right rotations, cut to the basket when appropriate—but showing putting together all of those skills in his first NBA action was the important part. There was no point at which an observer would say that he stood out in a bad way, that he didn’t belong on the floor with his teammates. In this era of the NBA, the prevailing thought that role players have to have one specialized skill and can be below average in other areas is dying; unless you’re a superstar, being more well-rounded and versatile is better than being absolutely lights-out in one area. White showed a lot of different skills, none of which will turn him into a star overnight, but all of which will be helpful in his NBA career.
Offensively, White’s value is mostly tied to what he can do beyond the three-point line, as is so common among wings in the current iteration of the league. He hit three of his seven attempts against Detroit, including a few tough ones with a hand in his face.
His immediate confidence was impressive—he didn’t back down from anybody on the court and certainly didn’t play scared. White told reporters after the game, “I’m just confident in myself, confident I can play at this level.” That confidence shined on both ends of the floor, even when things weren’t quite going his way later on.
Outside of his three-point shooting, White’s handle and playmaking skills were at least passable, which is exactly what the Hawks need from him. He’s not going to be a world-beater from day one, but if he can flash other offensive skills than a three-point shot, he’ll become even more valuable to them.
The first basket of his career came on a smart cut from the weakside corner:
The Hawks run a pick-and-roll on the left side of the floor with DeAndre’ Bembry and Miles Plumlee, which prompts Detroit’s Luke Kennard to rotate over to the left block to stop Plumlee’s roll to the rim. That leaves Jameer Nelson to cover both White and Isaiah Taylor on the weak side, so White follows his defender toward the rim and gets the easy finish. Again, this isn’t an overly complicated move, but at White’s level, it’s important for the coaching staff to see that he’s able to think the game at the speed required in the NBA.
With the ball in his hands, White showed more than just an ability to shoot the ball from deep. Watch below how he’s able to drive past Kennard and find John Collins in the opposite corner:
Later on, Atlanta ran their familiar sidelines out-of-bounds set for White, giving him the opportunity to run a side pick-and-roll with Collins on the left side of the floor:
In the second half, White delivered an on-target pocket pass to Plumlee when the Pistons’ defense sent help his way:
On the perimeter, he showed his intelligence in a few instances, lifting up from the corner twice to get an open shot:
These little relocations are the difference between an open passing lane and being completely covered. As his defender turns his head to look at the ball, White moves slightly to lose his defender and open a shot for himself.
When he had his defender slightly behind him, he was able to rip into the paint and finish over Andre Drummond:
Defensively, White executed the scouting report on Stanley Johnson, getting under the screen to force the pull-up jumper:
Particularly impressive was his recognition of what Detroit was doing offensively. Watch how he switched out onto James Ennis to blow up the Pistons’ ideas of getting Ennis an open shot:
When the ball gets reversed from right to left, Kennard steps up to set a flare screen for Ennis. If White is too locked in on defending Kennard, Bembry has no chance of getting through that screen and Ennis has an open three. Instead, White executes the switch and communicates effectively with Bembry to completely stop the play in its tracks.
I must reiterate that none of these things are individually impressive or unexpected; however, putting them all together in his first NBA action is what has people excited about his performance and future with the Hawks. There are certainly holes in his game—he was taken advantage of on three straight trips early in the fourth quarter—but his versatility on both ends of the floor should make him a part of the Atlanta rotation as the season comes to a close over the next two months. He’s currently on a two-way contract, but general manager Travis Schlenk and his staff already have to be thinking about how they will open a roster spot for him when his two-way days are up.