Despite the burst of activity surrounding the trade deadline earlier in the day, the NBA did actually feature games Thursday evening. The Hawks were in action in Orlando, where they took on a Magic team that had just shipped starting point guard Elfrid Payton out to Phoenix. Star forward Aaron Gordon also missed the game for Orlando with a hip injury that will keep him out of the dunk contest in about a week’s time.
Atlanta came into the game without guard Marco Belinelli, who was left behind at home to pack his bags for the trade that never quite materialized for the Hawks. Still, any packing he did shouldn’t go to waste, as general manager Travis Schlenk will almost certainly open buyout negotiations with the veteran shooter. Ersan Ilyasova took his normal starting position with the team despite trade rumors swirling around him—reports have surfaced over the past few days that Ilyasova exercised his implicit no-trade clause to stick with the team despite offers the Hawks would have taken to move on from him.
The first half of this contest looked as though the players had spent their pre-game time reading Woj’s Twitter feed rather than warming up for the game, as neither team broke 40 points in the opening two quarters. Both teams came out firing in the second half to get the scoring back up to normal levels for the game and while the Hawks took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter, they were unable to hang on to their slim advantage in a game that could prove pivotal at the bottom of the standings come lottery night. Atlanta now has one fewer win and two fewer losses than Orlando, who will be coming on strong in the tank race with Payton out the door and Gordon sidelined for the near future.
Down the stretch, the Hawks unveiled another wrinkle in the sidelines out-of-bounds (SLOB) series, which I covered at length in January. The initial setup for the play is exactly the same as their normal SLOB formation, but instead of the point guard (Isaiah Taylor, in this case) coming to the top of the key to get the ball, he curled around to the opposite corner. What followed was a classic screen-the-screener action that got Taurean Prince a wide-open three-pointer:
Malcolm Delaney triggered the play by inbounding to John Collins, who swung the ball to Dewayne Dedmon on the opposite wing. When Prince set the screen for Delaney, the Magic had to respect Delaney’s cut, because Dedmon had the ball on that side of the floor and could easily find him under the rim if the Magic don’t switch quickly enough.
Orlando actually does a good job of executing that switch, as Shelvin Mack is in good position to defend Prince, but a great screen from Collins frees Prince for the three. Setting good screens has been a weakness in Collins game in his rookie season, but his screen makes the play work here, as Prince is able to fade quickly to his left and nail the jumper.
Dedmon was another name who was rumored to be on his way out of Atlanta, though his injury and subsequent less-than-stellar play upon his return quieted those talks a bit. It’s obviously impossible to know how many calls the Hawks fielded related to Dedmon (though Travis Schlenk made absolutely sure to tell anyone who would listen that he was working the phones for days leading up the deadline despite nothing transpiring for these veterans), but it certainly seems as though a 3-and-D center on relatively cheap wages would have been a coup for a contending team needing depth at that position.
I’ve written, talked, and tweeted about it, but Oklahoma City not being able to put together a deal to bring in Dedmon as a backup center remains a mistake in my eyes. Dedmon showed a lot of what he can do in his return to Orlando, where he spent a little more than two seasons:
Dedmon spaces the floor out to the corner in the Delaney-Collins pick-and-roll and then demonstrates his athleticism for a Magic organization that mostly stifled his ability to do things like this. Marreese Speights has to close out hard because of Dedmon’s shooting ability, so he puts the ball on the floor and goes right around the defensively-challenged big man before making a great pass to Collins for the layup.
In the end, the defense just wasn’t quite there for Atlanta down the stretch. Despite what should be relatively strong defensive personnel, the Hawks have lacked on that end all season, mostly due to rather dismal effort from most of the players.
Dennis Schröder put together about a month of consistent effort on that end that saw the Hawks rise up the defensive rankings, but whatever fire was lit under him has long since gone out and needs new firewood to be rekindled. Dedmon’s strong effort early in the season has waned, as has Prince’s. Bazemore and Ilyasova remain as strong defenders relative to their skill levels on that end, but with so many key players not giving even minimal effort, it makes it very difficult for the team to defend at even a poor level.
With the trade deadline passed and no deal of any consequence done, attention now turns to the buyout market, where the Hawks expect to be active sellers once again. Belinelli is top priority here as well, but the fact that there were offers for him before the trade deadline, but no deal got done has to reflect poorly on the front office. Perhaps negotiating a buyout for Belinelli will prove to be easier.
The Hawks will fly home and immediately play Cleveland in the Cavaliers’ first game since overhauling most of their roster on Thursday, with their four new players meeting them in Atlanta for their mandated physicals. It’s possible that those players will suit up for Cleveland on Friday, though it’s more likely that Atlanta will face a depleted Cavaliers team. Of course, they still employ LeBron James, so no matter how depleted their roster is, the Hawks have to be firm underdogs.