Atlanta Hawks basketball is back.
The Hawks tipped of their 2019-20 campaign on the road in Detroit and came through with a victory as the topped the Blake Griffin-less Detroit Pistons 117-100 on Thursday night.
Trae Young poured in 38 points while dishing out nine assists, while John Collins and Jabari Parker added 18 points apiece.
For the Pistons, Derrick Rose scored 27 points in his Pistons debut while Andre Drummond added 21 points and 12 rebounds.
If you missed the game itself (we won’t be spending a ton of time talking about how it unfolded), the postgame recap is a great place to do it, and you can do it here.
Let’s get into it.
Trae Young ignites in opener
Trae Young began year two with a bang and put the league on notice of his development with a 38 point performance on opening night — 38 points on 11-of-21 shooting from the field, 6-of-10 from three, 10-of-12 from the free throw line, seven rebounds and nine assists in 37 minutes of action.
Young enjoyed success both inside and outside of the arc and the Pistons had no answer for him as he began with 16 first quarter points.
We’re going to dive into some film and look at how Young tore it up on the Hawks’ opening night.
Young gave Bruce Brown Jr. a rough time off of the dribble and it began on this drive as Young blows by with the quick cross and gets to the rim for the layup:
Alex Len being able to pull Andre Drummond out of the paint really helps for plays like this one, means obviously that Drummond isn’t in a position to slide over and contest/block the shot.
On this play, Young changes gears and again Brown is left for dead, and Thon Maker’s indecision as a help defender allows Young to score at the rim:
In the more open court on this occasion. Young gets downhill and, again, switches gears and gets to the rim for the bucket:
You look at this play and wonder ‘where’s the help defense?’ and the issue from the Pistons’ side with this play is that Andre Drummond, the help defender, is obviously tracking John Collins closer to the corner but as he does, he turns around and he no longer has eyes on the ball:
By the time he turns around and sees where the ball is, it’s way too late and Young is basically at the rim and Drummond can’t cover the ground in time to contest the shot:
And obviously from behind the arc Young had it going, hitting some ludicrous shots such as this and-1 three:
And from the (large) Detroit logo:
Side note: if we’re talking about making shots from the logo, the size of the logo should probably taken somewhat into account: that thing is massive (still a great shot, though).
Young’s ability to score inside and out contributed to a 26 point first half for the Hawks, yet despite that the Hawks actually trailed heading into the break, largely thanks to Derrick Rose’s 15 first half points.
The 26 points from Young in the first half were the most Young scored in a half, scoring 24 points in the second half against the Bulls earlier in the calendar year.
Young slowed down a little in the second half and part of that was due to the Pistons showing a little more aggression in their defense of Young off of pick-and-rolls.
While the shot was sinking tonight, Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce is sure that Young is going to be blitzed off of pick-and-rolls regardless of whether the shot is falling.
“The ball went in the basket but teams are going to blitz Trae regardless,” said Pierce via Fox Sports Southeast. “He’s the focal point of what we do offensively and they’re going to blitz him. We’ve talked about that a million times already — three of the five teams in preseason blitzed him, they’re going to do that. It’s our execution out of the blitz that’s important. Vince (Carter) came in and had a great ball-fake — I think that was the most exciting moment we had — we get a weak-side three because that’s some of the stuff we’ve been working on and talking about. So Trae, great job getting off of the basketball and the other guys making plays because of the blitz.”
Here’s the play that Pierce referred to:
And Young, to his credit, didn’t force a lot in the second half — only attempting six shots in the second half for 12 points.
Seven of Young’s second half points came from the free throw line and a number of them in the fourth quarter as the Pistons kind of lost control of this game and gave away some cheap fouls sending Young to the line.
All added up, Young finished with monstrous 38 points — the most from Young in a game that didn’t go to overtime.
“He was incredible from start to finish,” said John Collins via Fox Sports Southeast. “He came to play, first game of the year he wanted to start it off right and he did.”
This game was pretty much everything you wanted to see from Trae Young heading, officially, into year two.
In preseason, Young didn’t shoot the ball well from behind the arc and he took a lot of deep attempts, but last night would’ve allayed those fears as he hit as many threes last night (six) than he did in the entire preseason on 24 attempts — that’s a huge win. While the turnovers (six) did mount for Young after an encouraging start in that regard, that shouldn’t takeaway from what he did last night.
It’s just one game but what a showing it was from Young.
Jabari Parker’s strong debut
Jabari Parker looked a little lost at times during the preseason and you asked ‘Why is he on this team? Where is the fit?’
Parker enjoyed a strong game against Chicago in the preseason and things began to make a little more sense for Parker offensively (an interior threat). On Thursday night, that continued as Parker scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field.
Mind you, there wasn’t a ton else from Parker (one rebound, zero assists) but the scoring inside was what the Hawks needed and Parker did that excellently last night:
Everyone is used to seeing Young and Collins link up but, in the opener, Young and Parker did a great job linking up with each other, a number of Parker’s buckets came by way of Young.
In the pick-and-roll, Young slips the pass to the rolling Parker, the help defense isn’t there, and Parker is able to finish at the rim:
Off of this pick-and-roll, the Pistons do a better job getting a body in front of the cooking Young. But of course, when the extra man is committed, there’s an open man somewhere and Young slips a nice bounce-pass to the cutting Parker and Luke Kennard isn’t going to slide over and get dunked on:
Of course, Parker is more than capable of scoring on his own as he drives from the perimeter into the paint and to the rim in a hurry:
Again, Parker — rejecting the screen — gets downhill, blows by Tony Snell and finishes with the dunk:
It was a really strong night for Parker, who credited his teammates for looking for him (Evan Turner had a number of assists to Parker in the second half).
“Just trying to be aggressive,” said Parker postgame via Fox Sports Southeast. “My teammates really looked for me in my comfort zone and from there on I was able to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Even though the Pistons’ bench outscored the Hawks’ 56-42, Parker’s 18 points off of the bench were a huge boost, and it’s a role Parker is embracing.
“I’m just going to try bring that energy from the bench every opportunity I get,” said Parker. “Try keep a clear head, play as hard as I can and hopefully that leads in the right direction for me.”
One of the key factors in this game was that the Hawks outscored the Pistons 60-36 in the paint and obviously Parker was a huge factor in that regard, scoring a team-high 14 points in the paint (Collins and Young adding 12 and 10 points respectively to help).
Parker is going to be a mixed bag at times this season but his ability to score inside and put pressure on the rim on drives and pick-and-rolls is going to be big for the Hawks. Added to that, anything he can do from the perimeter (knocking down a three-pointer with two attempts last night), that’s a bonus and a very welcome sight too.
De’Andre Hunter was a given to start but with Kevin Huerter returning from his knee injury and on a minutes restriction, Lloyd Pierce elected to start Cam Reddish in his place, meaning that obviously two of the Hawks’ three rookies started last night.
Hunter looked great out on the floor as he scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from three. Hunter just looked very comfortable on the floor and I think Lloyd Pierce honestly put it best postgame when asked about the rookies’ performance.
“De’Andre Hunter is not a rookie,” chuckled Pierce postgame. “He’s a very composed individual, I think we’ve known that. I thought he made timely and appropriate plays and that’s big for him...”
There’s not even a ton more to say about Hunter in this spot: he just looked like he belonged out there on the floor. The occasion didn’t seem to bother him either. Most people — I would imagine — would be fairly nervous ahead of their first NBA game but Hunter looked calm and composed. This is a rookie who the Hawks, and this is no secret, paid a lot for in terms of assets to acquire, so there is definitely pressure for this to pay off and I imagine, perhaps, Hunter is exposed to some of that but he didn’t look fazed out on the court.
“You see his composure tonight, came in, hitting big shots in practice, comes in and hits big shots in the game...” said Collins of Hunter.
Cam Reddish’s debut was a little more layered.
Reddish obviously started and immediately was tasked with guarding Reggie Jackson, the Hawks hiding Young a little more on Bruce Brown Jr. defensively. And Reddish performed quite well defensively, as a whole last night. He also gave the option for the Hawks to switch defensively, something they did often last night and because Reddish can guard multiple positions, it allows the Hawks to do that and the Pistons struggled at times.
Sure, the boxscore won’t paint a pretty picture (one point on 0-of-6 shooting) but Reddish was able to contribute in other areas, his impact defensively and on the boards a key to Lloyd Pierce.
“Cam didn’t make a basket and he had seven rebounds,” said Pierce of Reddish. “When I say ‘team effort’ and ‘team win’, I think that’s what’s important. When you’re out there, do you contribute and can you make an impact? His defense was phenomenal and his ability to come back in and rebound was phenomenal. We’re going to have night where guys aren’t making shots, it’s ‘can you make an impact when you’re on the floor?’ and I think he did...”
Reddish’s impact was reflected in the plus/minus where, despite not making a field goal, he was +11 on the game. He was good, and his defense is ahead of his offense right now and while you shouldn’t expect Reddish to not struggle perhaps to the degree he did last night on offense every game, the bottom line is he’s going to be a better defender than he will be on the offensive end right now, and that it’s probably going to be rough offensively to start out.
In addition, Young certainly isn’t worried about Reddish.
“Cam, he had a lot of jitters he had to get out,” said Young. “Obviously, you don’t want to talk about his game too much tonight, he’s going to bounce-back and have a great one next game. I’m excited about him.”
Bruno Fernando also had an interesting game.
He was...not good to start off but enjoyed a strong second half where he showed some flashes on both ends and finished with seven points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field, including a three-pointer.
That three-pointer, to be fair, came in a short-clock situation where Kevin Huerter is trapped in the corner and is looking for any open teammate but it was a very significant three for Bruno to hit, and he did:
The very next possession, Fernando does a great job as the help defender, seeing the situation unfold defensively and cuts off the path the rim after Bruce Brown got Collins up in the air, forces the pass and then does a good job making life difficult for Andre Drummond (who, to be fair, Fernando allowed to get in front of him), forcing a miss:
This is great to see from Fernando. He may not be consistent in this regard right now and he will make mistakes but it’s Game 1: you just want to see some flashes, some potential.
“Bruno hits a big three, which is big for his confidence, and his ability to make Drummond have to work and that’s important for him,” Pierce said. “He’s an effort (guy), he’s an energy (guy) and he’s a physical guy and he has to do that part when he’s on the floor.”
All in all for the rookies, a good outing in Detroit and now that their debuts are behind them, they can kick on, starting Saturday night in their home opener.
Obviously this was the Hawks’ first regular season game and now everyone gets a look at the rotation now that it’s the real thing — the only wrinkle on that is that Kevin Huerter is on a minutes restriction for now...
It was interesting that Fernando was ahead of Damian Jones in the rotation on Game 1, you would have perhaps expected Jones to feature a little bit to begin — and of course, it’s still in play. You talk about the ‘early stages of the season’ and obviously the season just begun, so there’s obviously plenty of time for Jones to feature but it was interesting to see that decision immediately in game number one.
There were some interesting lineups thrown out there to begin the season. We saw a Trae Young, DeAndre’ Bembry, Vince Carter, Jabari Parker and Bruno Fernando lineup, we saw a Young, Evan Turner, Bembry, Parker and Collins lineup, we saw some De’Andre Hunter at shooting gaurd in a Young, Hunter, Carter, Parker and Fernando lineup...
Just some interesting lineups. Kevin Huerter played some short bursts at point guard, Carter obviously playing some small forward etc. etc.
Obviously it’s just game one, so we’ll see what becomes consistent as time goes on but always some stuff to file away and see what re-occurs.
I don’t normally do this but there’s still more to talk about that just didn’t fit under certain headings, so here we go.
- Obviously,Huerter made his return to Hawks action having missed training camp and the entirety of the preseason due to injury and...he looked like a player who missed training camp and preseason.
Huerter did not enjoy a good night as he scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting from the field while picking up five personal fouls in 14 minutes of action. To add insult to injury, the Hawks went through the whole first quarter without a turnover before Huerter entered (starting the second quarter) and proceeded to commit the Hawks’ first three turnovers of the game.
It was just a struggle for Huerter and it was probably to be expected. Not anything to really read into, Huerter just needs some more game reps. It remains to be seen what his minutes restriction will be on Saturday (and, indeed, if he will remain on the bench) but the overall positive is that Huerter is back on the floor, even if it was a struggle last night.
- Vince Carter made NBA history last night as he officially became the first NBA player in history to play in 22 different seasons. Carter has the opportunity to make history in 2020 by becoming the first player to play in four different decades should he touch the hardwood in 2020 (touch wood).
For the game itself, Carter played only 10 minutes but Pierce was full of praise for Carter postgame, referring to Carter as the team’s “stabilizer”
- wasn’t the only Hawk to enjoy a strong debut, Parker wasn’t the only one with a strong debut as a newcomer, with Evan Turner also playing very well. He scored nine points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field to go along with four assists, zero turnovers and some good defense in 16 minutes: basically all of the thing you’d expect from Turner.
- Defense helped the Hawks swing this one in their favor as they turned the screw in the second half:
Hawks defensive rating in the season opener against Detroit:— Brad Rowland (@BTRowland) October 25, 2019
1st half -- 131.3 points per 100
2nd half -- 77.1 points per 100
Pierce credited “switches” as a factor behind the second half defense (something we covered already talking about Cam Reddish).
Limiting Andre Drummond in the second half was also a factor, as well as keeping him off of the offensive glass: just one offensive rebound on the game for Drummond. Lloyd Pierce brought up a good point postgame, basically saying that because of how hot other Pistons got (such as Derrick Rose) they went away from Drummond/the inside a little bit and that helped limit Drummond somewhat (Drummond’s usage was down a few percentage points from the Indiana game).
“...I think, in a lot of ways, because they shot the three well in the second quarter and Derrick Rose was going (off), you’ve got to stick with what’s working, said Pierce No fault of theirs, they had some guys that were hot early and we didn’t have to deal with him (Drummond) as much...”
The Hawks (1-0) are back in action on Saturday for their home opener against the Orlando Magic at State Farm Arena.
Should be fun, especially off of the heels of a mega-game from Young.
Until next time...