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Shorthanded Hawks fall to Blazers in Las Vegas

Wrapping up Sunday’s contest.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks fell to 0-2 in Las Vegas Summer League play on Sunday with an 85-68 loss to the Blazers. Atlanta’s roster is already a little short-handed in the area of offensive creation and they played without Tyler Dorsey, out with a hip injury. Trae Young also sat the entire second half as a precaution due to a quad contusion that he sustained in Saturday’s loss to the Knicks that tightened as the game progressed.

The game was fairly evenly played apart from a blistering 25-3 run by the Blazers in the first half. Portland converted 5 of their 7 three point attempts in a 27 point first quarter. They also collected five offensive rebounds in the first period to help get out to a lead that they would maintain through the rest of the game.

It was another successful game for John Collins, although not his most efficient performance. The game, as announced by head coach Lloyd Pierce during an in game interview with the ESPN2 broadcast team, would be his last in Vegas. All parties can breathe a sigh of relief as he was able to wrap up play before sustaining an injury. He seemed to consistently attract hard contact during play both in Utah and in Vegas.

Collins had 18 points on 20 field goal attempts and led the Hawks with nine rebounds. He hit just 1 of his 3 attempts from behind the three point line but continued to demonstrate his ability to play with versatility in the pick and roll.

After the game, it seemed as a bit of a surprise to coach Chris Jent that Collins would be shutting it down, but clearly he knows who made the call to do so.

“Whatever Coach Pierce says, that’s what we are going to do,” he said. “That’s what will happen.”

As for Collins, it seemed like he had nothing left on the checklist to accomplish.

“My big thing was for Trae and I to find some chemistry and I think we did that,” Collins shared. “And for me to prove to myself that I have gotten better, it’s been something I’ve been working on all summer,” he added. “And last is just to go out there and have fun with Tyler, Jaylen (Morris) and AC and then with new guys that I haven’t been able to play with before, I think I accomplished all three. I had a fun time.”

Young was scoreless having missed on both of his shots both three point attempts. But he continued to demonstrate progress operating as the ball handler in the pick and roll. He had three assists. With an off day before the Hawks play the Bulls on Tuesday there was some optimism that Young might be able to play.

“We will finally get a day off. It’s been pretty rigorous on these guys,” said Jent after the game. “So he’s young, hopefully he will recuperate really quick and we will get him back on the floor.”

Jent seemed pleased with what he saw from Young during his play in the first half.

“I thought he played pretty well,” he said. “They are a physical team. They’ve got a big, strong guard on him. He’s going to see a lot of that. Overall, we’ve just got to do a better job of screening and getting him open and getting him some space so that he’s got some vision. People are giving him a lot of attention. I think overall, he did a nice job.”

Both Antonius Cleveland (9 points, 2 assists) and Jaylen Morris (7 points, 2 assists) demonstrated some improvement offensively operating with the ball in their hands.

Cleveland spoke after the game about what he has been working on since the end of the 2017-18 NBA season.

“Shooting and attacking the rim, different kind of finishes,” he said. “Also passing. Just everything I do in the game I try to work on that outside of things. Just shooting, passing, attacking the rim, mid-range… all of that.”

In the end, it was more of the same for the Hawks, they are just not knocking down as many shots as their opponents are. Coach Jent seemed pleased with the looks they were getting. It’s just becoming obvious that the roster is short in the shooting department.

“Well I think our guard play was pretty good today,” Jent said. “We just had trouble making shots. We’ve generated good opportunities. For the most part we’ve taken care of the ball. The ball just hasn’t gone in the basket so it’s been tough for us in that regard.”

With Collins having led the team in scoring to this point, playing without him the rest of the way is very likely to create even more of a struggle on that end of the court for the Hawks. If Dorsey can return on Tuesday it could help.

As to take a few optimistic things from Sunday’s loss, let’s break down some video.

Cleveland flashed his emerging value as a two-way player on this play. He uses his length to jump the passing lane to get the steal and the mostly uncontested lay up at the other end.

On this play, Young and Collins demonstrate some of the chemistry that was an objective for them. Even when his shot has not been falling Young has been able to operate with a lot of success in the pick and roll.

He gets and keeps his defender on his back and drives straight at Collins’ defender as to occupy him. An on-target, behind the back pass sets up Collins for the wide open three point attempt.

It’s encouraging to see Cleveland comfortably knock down a three point attempt when his defender is not respecting him as a shooter. He uses a jab step to get plenty of space and nails the three ball.

This play was drawn up during a time out. Jaylen Adams and Omari Spellman effectively occupy three defenders which opens up a shot for Morris on the baseline. It would have been better to see Morris get behind the three point line on this play. But he continues to show progress as a shooter.

This is another encouraging play from Morris, who played off of the ball almost completely last season at the NBA level. He demonstrates confidence in his dribble in traffic and gets the left handed runner to fall.

Here is another play drawn up during a time out. Young is operating with Alpha Kaba in the pick and roll. With this being a high pick and roll (instead of the side pick and roll we saw with Collins earlier) Young masterfully gets his defender on his hip and keeps him there. Notice how completely in control of two defenders is Young on this play.

This is really impressive play for a young point guard. He is 100% in control throughout this play. He drives straight at Kaba’s defender and delivers a perfect drop of pass to Kaba who catches and finishes with a dunk.

Adams, who will play under a two-way contract this season with the Hawks has missed his fair share of shots in his five games of summer league action. But he is aggressive. Which is not the worst place to start.

The Hawks will look for him to power the offensive of their G league affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks. And that will start with his ability to create his own shot. He does that on this play by getting the Blazers defenders on their heels which opens up a path to the rim for an easy lay up.

This might be the most intriguing play we’ve seen the Hawks add to the playbook this summer. It’s the 4-5 pick and roll with Collins acting as the initiator. We’ve seen him create open looks for his teammate at the rim in this action in prior games.

But on this play, he uses a spin move to create space for his own shot at the rim. It is noteworthy that the Hawks are trusting Collins to initiate this action.

For long stretches last season, Collins operated almost exclusively at the rim and relying on his teammates to creates shots for him. But in his play during summer league action it’s been clear that he has been working on this face up game. He’s had a lot of success attacking the rim with dribble penetration.

On this play his defender, Caleb Swanigan, backs off of him in hopes of keeping him out of the paint. Collins sets his feet for the simple jumper that he knocks down with confidence.

Overall, it was a pretty quiet day for the No. 30 overall draft pick, Omari Spellman. (His opportunities on offense will certainly increase with Collins wrapping up his play.) But the Hawks were able to use a set baseline out of bounds (BLOB) play late in the fourth quarter to get him a comfortable shot.

The diminutive Junior Robinson screens his defender and Spellman’s before clearing out so that his teammate can catch and knock down the mid range jumper.

The take-away at this point is that individually there is encouraging progress. But the roster is simply constructed without much offensive creation. We will see if anyone can step up and handle some of the offensive workload when the Hawks return to action on Tuesday against the Bulls.