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Hawks still in pursuit of non-lottery objectives for remainder of season

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It’s not just about the ping-pong balls.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks entered the All-Star break as one of eight NBA teams with 20 or fewer wins. It’s a crowded field at the bottom and the number of wins and losses accrued by that group of teams will be closely followed as teams jockey to compete for draft stakes.

But there is plenty of on-court play that is important beyond the results that have impact in the standings. The Hawks have a young team and should utilize every opportunity to evaluate players up and down the roster.

Let’s take a look at critical areas of evaluation for the Hawks young players.

Dennis Schroder

The next game that Schroder plays will be the 150th start of his career. A player’s second full season as a starter is generally when a step improvement is expected.

We have been tracking his progress this season regularly via the Dennis Schroder report. In summary, his turnovers are down but so is his perimeter shooting. And his defense has not graded out well statistically across the season.

But it can be hard to know what internal objectives the Hawks have for him that might be more specific that can be tracked via the common statistics if even in the more advanced forms.

Schroder has taken a step forward producing in the pick and roll this season. Last year, he measured in the 62nd percentile in the league averaging 0.84 points per possession and had a turnover frequency of 16.0%.

This season he grades out in the 72nd percentile with 0.90 points per possession and a turnover frequency of 13.7%.

How much of the desired improvement that the Hawks’ coaching staff wants to see from him in the half-court offense is reflected in his improved production in the pick and roll?

As to dig into his shooting woes, it might be worth considering that there has been a significant amount of change from last season to this season in terms of predicting the spots on the floor from where his shots would come, especially in catch and shoot opportunities.

Last season, Schroder ranked in the 93rd percentile in spot up opportunities with many of those being catch and shoot looks from the left corner. He shot 46.1% on catch and shoot looks from the field last season including 38.8% on 3-point attempts.

This season, he ranks in the 14th percentile in spot up opportunities with a field goal percentage of just 32.0 and a three point percentage of 25.8 on catch and shoot opportunities. This might account for most if not nearly all of his regression as a perimeter shooter this season.

For the remainder of the season, the objectives for Schroder might include:

  1. Demonstrate continued improvement and production in the pick and roll
  2. Improve level of engagement and display more consistent focus on defense
  3. Become a more selective perimeter shooter and show some amount of adjustment to being able to deal with perimeter shots coming from less predictable spots in the half court offense

Taurean Prince

Prince has had a breakout season as a shooter this season, even if he has had a few rough stretches of recent. He continues to take advantage of his ability to convert at above league average in spot up opportunities even as he has been entrusted to operate more frequently as a secondary creator.

The most encouraging part of his offensive play is that he has improved his ability to finish plays at the rim, from 55.7% last season to 62.3% this season, while also improving as a three-point shooter. He shot just 31.9% from beyond the arc last season and has improved that mark to 36.8% this season.

The former Baylor standout is shooting roughly the same percentage as he did last season on catch and shoot opportunities from 2 point range, 44.0% last season, 43.2% this season. From the three-point line, Prince has improved as a spot up shooter from 34.1% last season to 39.8% this season. This progression has taken place despite the fact that Prince has increased his volume of attempts above the three point break.

As a secondary creator, both his assists and turnovers are up from last season. For the remaining stretch of this season, it would be encouraging if Prince could produce more assists than turnovers. Although both of those statistics have to be viewed through the context that his teammates actions and results are reflected.

For the remainder of the season, the objectives for Prince might include:

  1. Demonstrate cleaner play in his role as a secondary creator.
  2. Build and potentially improve on his sample size as an above average shooter at the small forward position.
  3. Exhibit a more consistent focus and cut down on the mental mistakes that have resulted in him being benched for the closing stretch of games several times this season

DeAndre’ Bembry

It has been a mostly lost season for Bembry, as he has struggled to keep himself physically available and his play on the court has been visibly and statistically worse than last season by far. It’s unclear what to make of that given that he has not really been able to play consistently enough to develop a rhythm.

He did play in Atlanta’s last two games before the All-Star break and his play was turnover free.

The Hawks have already picked up his third year player option for next season. And while it would likely take an unexpected development for him to not be on this roster through the end of next season, Atlanta could be bringing in as many as four new players next season as a result of the 2018 NBA draft.

For the remainder of the season the objectives for Bembry might include:

  1. Play each of the final 23 games of the season
  2. Earn rotation minutes on a roster with a crowded back court
  3. Demonstrate the defensive intensity and confidence that he flashed in limited opportunities last season
  4. Be as good as any Hawks’ perimeter player getting shots at the rim as a result of dribble penetration

John Collins

If Collins simply finishes this season playing at the level he has thus far, it will be widely considered as a profoundly successful rookie campaign. But he has started to flash a corner three-point shot in the last month or so.

His playmaking skills are already ahead of where most had projected prior to the 2017 NBA draft. But he is still largely reliant on his teammates to create his shot opportunities.

Collins has also been a much stronger rebounder on the offensive glass than on the defensive end. And he has seemingly not earned much trust to play defensively at the center position. That has partly been a result of how foul prone he has been especially in more physical matchups.

For the remainder of the season, the objectives for Collins might include:

  1. Continue to demonstrate improvement as a shooter especially on corner three point attempts
  2. Earn time at the center position; reduce his foul rate (to date 4.7 fouls per 36 minuets)
  3. Demonstrate some ability to create his own shot (76.6% of his made field goals have been assisted this season)
  4. Finish the season as a top ten offensive rebounder; improve his standing as a defensive rebounder (currently 44th in defensive rebound %)

Tyler Dorsey

Like Collins, if Dorsey finishes this season playing at the level he has thus far, the season will be easily considered a success. But as an undersized player who entered the league considered to have below average playmaking skills, the more versatility he can demonstrate over the rest of the season the better.

But it must be said that he has already demonstrated more versatility than Atlanta’s brass would have expected from him in his second and third season. He is averaging five rebounds per 36 minutes and has amassed 38 assists and just 11 turnovers.

For the remainder of the season, the objectives for Dorsey might include:

  1. Simply continue to knock down shots and just increase the sample size of his current conversion rate as a shooter
  2. Demonstrate that he can handle minutes at the point guard position against opposing teams’ second units
  3. Continue to exhibit that he can handle defensive assignments against players that have legitimate size at the wing position

The Others

Isaiah Taylor has had a few brief stints of impressive play, but his performance as a shooter has been very inconsistent. His play down the stretch could have much influence as to how much the Hawks prioritize the point guard position in the draft and free agency following this season.

Tyler Cavanaugh has not seen any NBA minutes since the middle of January. But he has likely already convinced the decision makers in Atlanta that he is a legitimate NBA shooter, especially at his position, and that his decision making is significantly ahead of what is seen from a vast majority of NBA rookies.

Cavanaugh’s position is slightly less crowded after the trade of Luke Babbitt to Miami. But since both Mike Muscala and Dewayne Dedmon are in full control as to whether they become free agents again this summer (and both have played well this season), the Hawks will likely want more court time from Cavanaugh to evaluate what they have at the two big positions heading into off-season.

There are plenty of reasons to continue watching this team apart from seeing how the draft lottery takes shape and player development is at the forefront.