On Thursday evening, the Atlanta Hawks fell to the Blazers for the second time this week in Las Vegas Summer league action. Although they were playing very short-handed, they were able to largely keep pace until the final couple of minutes of the third quarter, when Portland achieved an insurmountable lead. The final score would be 95-69 as the Blazers, with the deeper and more experienced roster, simply outlasted Atlanta in this game.
Omari Spellman took on a lot of responsibility, especially on the offensive end of the court, as the Hawks starting group lacked a natural point guard. Junior Robinson would offer 24 minutes of productivity off of the bench, but Spellman took the leadership role from the beginning. He scored 20 points on just 17 shooting possessions, including hitting three of his six three-point attempts. He also had five rebounds and three assists. Robinson had 11 points and a lone assist on the evening.
Antonious Cleveland contributed 11 points on 12 shooting possessions while also amassing three rebounds and two assists. Alpha Kaba was impactful on both ends of the court and easily had a team best plus-minus of -1. He had six points, nine rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
In post-game comments, head coach Chris Jent seemed generally pleased with his team’s effort (the Hawks played nine players versus the Blazers 11). “Well I thought in the first half we really competed,” he said. “I just thought we ran out of gas. Back-to-back-to-back games for our guys and short-handed. I thought they competed and just tried their hearts out and got fatigued. They just kind of wore us out.”
On the decision to sit Trae Young for this game (rest) he shared, “For him, with the draft process he didn’t play much basketball at all.” He added, “He had 1 on 0 workouts; he hadn’t played 5 on 5. It’s our second summer league; we had camp before we came. So back-to-back-back situation, we had some nagging injuries still. So it just felt like the smartest thing to do.”
Jent specially expressed praise regarding the play of Spellman. “He was great. His competitive nature always comes out. He competed his tail off,” he said. “Offensively he made some great plays; he showed his ability behind the arc. And also he made some great decisions. We didn’t make the shots but he was unselfish when he got in the paint. He made some great passes. He played great today.”
Spellman was not going to let himself and his teammates off of the hook for the loss, it seemed, despite playing with a less experienced group. “I always feel like my teammates can win a game,” he said. “I thought we had enough to win tonight, we just didn’t get it done. I would never want to undermine the guys that were playing alongside me. So, I thought we had enough to get it done and it just didn’t happen tonight.”
On paying without some of their offensive initiators, he talked about his role not being completely different than it has been for some other games. “I feel like I always try to take on a playmaking role,” Spellman stated. “I think that’s something I can do to help the team, moving the ball, being aggressive. A lot of times we run our play-making actions through me, obviously Trae as well. But when it’s not Trae I try to make plays for my teammates too.”
In terms of what he has learned from his first couple of weeks playing in an NBA environment he shared, “There are some things I really need to get better at, getting better at my in between game. I think a lot of times I think I get myself into trouble driving and stopping in bad places… so just make the right play,”
Let’s take a look at some of the action from Thursday night’s game.
Spellman came out playing aggressively on offense. He got the Hawks on the scoreboard with a made three point attempt from just above the break.
Jaylen Morris broke down the defense on this play with dribble penetration. Spellman sets up in the weak side corner ready for the quick catch-and-shoot. He is able to convert his second three-point make in the contest.
On this play Spellman is attacking with dribble penetration. It opens a passing lane to Robert Johnson, who knocks down the open three-point attempt.
While Cleveland did not put up big numbers in this game, he has consistently shown an improved ability to use his length on offense to get shots up near the rim. Here he gets the shot to fall and the opportunity for an additional point at the free throw line.
On this play, Spellman is chased off of the three-point line by Caleb Swanigan. He puts the ball on the ground and attacks the rim with success with the thunderous dunk.
Spellman is working hard as a rim runner on this play. He gets a nice push ahead pass and is able to convert the bucket without putting the ball on the floor. He also gets the opportunity for another point at the free throw line. This play is reflective of the fluid athleticism the twenty-year-old possesses.
Here we can see Spellman creating a shot for a teammate again. He is operating on the right baseline and forces help from a second defender. He steps through the second defender and finds Junior Robinson open on the left corner. Robinson is able knock down the shot.
On this play we can see Spellman making the right play “in the middle.” He is able to attract help defenders again which opens the passing lane to Jock Londale who converts the dunk.
Here we see Spellman operating in the pick and pop. This game was a nice example of the versatility in his potential NBA game. He gets the pass from Junior Robinson and knocks down the three point shot from the top of the key.
Alpha Kaba is going to likely need to continue getting stronger if he’s ever going to play in the NBA. But in this summer league he has shown improved hands. As on this play, he is showing he can catch the ball in tight space and get it to the rim for the score.
Another example can be seen here of Cleveland using his length and a slightly improved handle to create the space to get a shot up. He will need to make progress between now and when camp starts to increase his odds of making the final 15-man roster but he has improved since the end of last season.
This play offers a good example of very likely what Spellman was referencing in terms of needing to avoid making bad plays and getting stuck “in the middle.” A big man just can’t pick up his dribble and spin when his defender is still completely squared up on him. As soon as the dribble is terminated, all defenders abandon any would-be help responsibility and the play is easily neutralized.
As mentioned, Kaba had a nice impact on both ends of the court in this contest. His effort and hustle on this play to help a teammate and get the block with the team down 21 points with less than two minutes remaining is noteworthy.
The Hawks will make their final appearance in Las Vegas summer league action on Saturday night when the face off with the Los Angelese Clippers at 10:30pm ET.