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Hawks sputter on both ends in preseason loss to Heat

Things got ugly at times on Monday.

NBA: Preseason-Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their third successive game to begin the preseason, falling short 87-120 against the Miami Heat in South Beach on Monday night.

Trae Young scored 23 points on the night while John Collins enjoyed a bounce-back game of sorts, scoring 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

For the Heat, Tyler Herro scored 23 points (including the Heat’s first 14 points in the first quarter) while Meyers Leonard and Bam Adebayo both added 15 points apiece in a convincing Heat victory.

Offensive struggles in the second, defensive struggles in the third, general second unit struggles

Things were going well for the Atlanta Hawks to begin this game.

The Hawks scored 34 first quarter points on 62% shooting from the field with Trae Young scoring 11 first quarter points (which went somewhat under the radar in part due to the Tyler Herro show to begin this game). Sure, the Heat scored 32 points themselves but it was an entertaining first quarter where the Hawks were more than a match for the Heat.

And then arrived the second quarter, where things deteriorated rapidly.

The Hawks’ rapid offense came to a crashing halt as it took them six minutes to score four points to begin the second quarter and various other foibles allowed the Heat to build a double-digit lead. While the Hawks were able to cut this to single digits by halftime, difficulties in the third quarter meant that the Miami lead quickly ballooned to 19 points and by the end of the quarter it was 21 points and the game well and truly over.

So, what happened in this time? How did things unravel as quickly as they did after such a strong showing in the first quarter?

Well, the offense — particularly in the second unit — was a huge issue last night and these problems were prevalent particularly in the second quarter, a quarter where the Hawks shot 4-of-22 (22%) while the bench combined for a plus/minus of minus 41 in the second quarter alone.

Let’s look at some film.

Cam Reddish had a tough night last night (and that is probably an understatement) and his three-point attempt on this play — one of his six missed shots, shooting 1-of-7 on the night — rims out. After the miss, Young gathers the offensive rebound, finds Alex Len, whose behind the back pass attempt to Collins sails out of bounds:

Fellow rookie De’Andre Hunter also had a tough night shooting the ball (2-of-8 from the field), and on this play he fakes Goran Dragic off of his feet before stepping inside the three-point line and missing the jump shot:

This was a good play from Hunter, he just happened to miss the shot.

On this possession, Reddish tries to take it off of the dribble, commits the turnover and that leads to the Miami basket in transition — two of their 27 turnover points:

This is one of those ‘You’re going to have to be patient with Reddish’ plays (and games, for that matter). They will happen.

The Hawks shot 8-of-31 from three, and matters aren’t helped when one of your shooters, Alex Len, isn’t firing, missing the quick three-pointer on this possession on the find from Evan Turner:

Now, those were some of early misses of the second quarter and by the mid-way point of the second quarter, Young is off of the floor and it’s the lineup of Evan Turner (making his preseason debut),Reddish, Hunter, Jabari Parker and Damian Jones where things got messy offensively.

Turner played just nine minutes in this game and couldn’t link up successfully for the assist with Damian Jones on this alley-oop:

A good dive from Jones but just unable to connect on this one...

This next play — and this is not to bash on Reddish, it’s just highlighting the Hawks’ second unit offensive issues in which Reddish was a part of (and before someone says it, yes, Reddish started this game but under normal circumstances where Kevin Huerter would be starting, Reddish would be part of this unit) — Reddish’s quick three-pointer is short:

This next play I think really highlights the Hawks’ problem in their second unit.

Evan Turner comes off of the pick-and-roll with Jones and gets to the baseline, where he shoots a tough fadeaway that draws air. The rebound is picked up by Jones, who is stripped by Jimmy Butler and the shot clock violation is committed:

Notice on that play how many Heat players were in/near the paint: all five of them.

With that lineup of Turner, Bembry, Hunter, Parker and Jones there is no shooting for the Hawks to space the floor. Yes, Hunter, Bembry, Parker and Jones can hit jump shots but not consistently. The Heat know this, and it allows them to load up in the paint they’re able swarm to snuff out any danger on this play.

Parker is a tough solve... he has just struggled to fit on the offensive end with this side so far, and some of the iso-ness comes out at times, as it did on this play which is thwarted by Derrick Jones Jr.:

This was not a good game from Parker — he may have scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds but committed six turnovers in the process and was minus-25 in the game.

It was just a really rough go of things in the second quarter, particularly for the second unit, who absolutely need some shooting/spacing. Allen Crabbe’s presence is missed, as he is one of the few Hawks players on the bench that is a consistent three-point shooter. Chandler Parsons’ ability to shoot the ball would also be a nice boost but alas... And throwing Vince Carter out there, while he did hit two three-pointers, isn’t a direct solution for a lack of shooting (and you’ll see some of the drawbacks playing Carter later on the defensive end).

Without Trae Young on the court, the Hawks were just lost, to a degree.

Plus/minus is a subjective stat, one where I think context is key. Despite the blowout nature of this game, despite Young’s seven turnovers, 10 missed shots, he registered a zero on plus/minus — which is hugely impressive given the game itself.

Every single Hawk that player, other than Young, registered a minus plus/minus (John Collins, to be fair, was only minus 2).

The bench’s plus/minus numbers are...not pretty.

Plus/minus numbers of the bench included: minus 14 for Bembry, minus 25 for both Parker and Jones, minus 16 for Turner — in total (not counting the guys who only featured in the fourth quarter like Bruno Fernando, Brandon Goodwin etc.) the bench registered a combined plus/minus of minus 87...

In a game that the Hawks treated like a regular season game (more on that soon), that’s concerning...

In the third quarter, defense was the issue for the Hawks as the Heat scored 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting while hitting 6-for-7 on threes in the quarter.

On this possession, Jimmy Butler comes around Leonard and receives the hand-off before rising into a jump shot:

Now, that might not look like much but it’s plays like this where you’d like to see defensive growth: either Hunter goes under Leonard instead of over or, if he goes over as he did, John Collins has to switch onto Butler here.

See the position of Collins as Butler turns the corner, he’s in prime position to step in and prevent Butler from an easy shot:

Instead, he focuses on Leonard instead of Butler (a classic case of ‘Know Your Personnel,’ you’d rather let Meyers Leonard beat you than Jimmy Butler) and while Hunter manages to get a decent contest up for how far he trails Butler, it’s too easy for a player of Jimmy Butler’s calibre.

Here, again, seems a fairly simple play as Justise Winslow finds Herro, who comes off of the Adebayo screen and he hits the three:

Adebayo originally sets the screen for Winslow, who gets to the wing. As he does, he’s faced off by Alex Len. Reddish — Winslow’s defender — follows Winslow.

Now come the issues: Len has closed off the lane from Winslow and if he rises to take a jumpshot, you live with that because Winslow isn’t the most amazing shooter. So, Len is in a good position here and the weak-side defense is in order. On the top, you can see Herro on the move and Young in pursuit. The second screen from Adebayo is very clearly coming, which is going to take Young out of the play, meaning the next rotation needs to come from Reddish, who has come too far over on a player who isn’t going to the rim and you would be fine with taking a jumper. Herro comes off the screen, Reddish almost gets there but doesn’t get a hand up to contest and there goes another triple for Herro.

Know your personnel.

On this play, Goran Dragic is going to hit the three-pointer and though it looks as though Young is at fault, it starts with Vince Carter pushing up on Butler instead of going with Adebayo. From there, Parker has to step up to meet Adebayo, Young leaves Dragic to prevent a potential dump to Jones underneath the basket and that leaves Dragic alone in the corner for three. Young, to his credit, hustles out to the corner to try and contest but nothing can be done to prevent this three:

Though, Young was very much at fault for Dragic’s next three-pointer a possession later:

And lastly, Jimmy Butler out-jinxes Vince Carter, forces the defense to collapse — good rotation from Bembry but Parker is a little later to spot the danger and it leads to another Dragic three:

Plenty of issues for the Hawks on both ends of the court but obviously the biggest problems came in those second and third quarters, with the fourth quarter being a write-off.

Regular season rehearsal

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce mentioned that in one of these upcoming road games to close the preseason he would use it as more of a rehearsal for the regular season — last night appeared to be that game.

Pierce, perhaps tellingly, ran just a 10-man rotation for three quarters of this game as the usual suspects of preseason — the likes of Charlie Brown Jr. and Bruno Fernando — did not feature until the fourth quarter, when the game was well and truly over. We saw Evan Turner for the first time in preseason but no Kevin Huerter once again, so it was as close to a regular season rehearsal as possible without the Hawks’ starting shooting guard.

Generally speaking, preseason isn’t a time to overreact too much to things (and that goes both ways, so maybe let’s chill on the Tyler Herro, Rookie of the Year kind of stuff) but Monday night was... not good for the Hawks. It was not good, and there’s cause for a little more concern now — if only because this was a game the Hawks were actively trying to win with something approaching their regular season rotation (again, minus Huerter) on the floor.

The second unit’s offense is concerning, their lack of shooting is potentially problematic, their lack of spacing is concerning, how Jabari Parker fits in this offense is concerning, we knew turnovers were probably going to feature again this season (another 26 last night, and another seven for Trae Young though not all of them were directly his fault [but a number of instances where he left his feet]) and the defense is concerning (but again, that was always likely to happen).

I use the word ‘concerning’ by design, these are concerns right now in the preseason. We’ll see what happens when the regular season rolls around (and Huerter is back in the fray) but there’s a few causes for concern.

There weren’t a ton of positives to take from this game but there were a few.

De’Andre Hunter made some encouraging passes throughout this game, such as this assist to Collins for the dunk:

Again, a nice feed over the top from Hunter to Collins for the assist:

And a nice skip-pass from Hunter to the corner for an Alex Len three-point attempt, which is missed:

Elsewhere, DeAndre’ Bembry had some positive moments around the rim en-route to 13 points as he continues to show improvement heading into his fourth season.

Young we’ve discussed somewhat already, but it’s worth adding that he got the free throw line on nine occasions, converting eight of those nine free throws and that’s an encouraging sign. He did, however, hoist 17 shots making just seven and was actually the only player to attempt double-digit field goals for the Hawks last night — not saying that’s a bad thing, just an interesting tidbit from the box score that no other Hawks attempted double-digit field goal attempts (though you would like to see a higher percentage from the field than 41% but he had good moments offensively).

The Hawks (0-3) are back in action on Wednesday, the first game of a preseason back-to-back takes place in New York as the Hawks face-off against the Knicks at Maddison Square Garden.

Until next time...