On Tuesday night, the Atlanta Hawks struggled to create consistent offense in American Airlines Arena after losing Trae Young to an ankle injury early in the second quarter, resulting in a 112-97 loss to the Miami Heat.
For Atlanta, John Collins led the way with 30 points and 7 rebounds. After Collins, the second-highest scorer for the Hawks was Jabari Parker with just 12 points as the team sputtered without Young for nearly three quarters.
The Heat were able to get major contributions from multiple players. Tyler Herro put up 29 points along with 7 rebounds, with 12 of those points coming from the charity stripe. Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic also came through with 21 points apiece.
The Hawks had a difficult time playing defense without fouling. The Heat took advantage and got to the line for 45 free throw attempts; the fact that they only made 33 of them kept Atlanta within touching distance for longer than they should have been. It also didn’t help matters that Miami was able to convert 13 three-pointers in 31 attempts, though the Hawks were due for some three-point regression from opponents’ after holding their first three foes to 23.9 percent from 3. In general, teams don’t have a lot of control over how well their opponents shoot from beyond the three-point line and significant aberrations like Detroit, Orlando, and Philadelphia all shooting terribly against the Hawks are usually ripe for regression.
Pierce said in his postgame interview that “we were really undisciplined defending three-point shooters and fouling.” The Hawks were aggressive defensively, but at a cost — they committed a ton of fouls and gave up a lot of open shots through their aggressive rotations. In more than a few instances, they also gave up three-shot fouls, the worst mistake a defense can make.
Before his injury, Trae Young was aggressive early in the game. Having averaged 34 points, nine assists, and six rebounds in his first three games, Young’s confidence was at an all-time high coming into Tuesday’s game.
The way Young has been able to generate points and assists is simple. He has done exactly what he’s supposed to do in pick-and-roll situations. With his long-range shot going in at a high percentage, and the distance he’s taking the shots, it’s hard to tell what he’s going to do in those situations. Not to mention if he doesn’t have that shot available, he’s proven he can make a consistent floater in the lane if he can blow by his defender after the screen is set.
He is also an incredible passer, which makes him even more dangerous. Less than three minutes into the game, Young utilized the pick-and-roll to get Collins open for a long-range bucket. Collins had four three-pointers in the first quarter alone, the first two of which were set up by Young.
Young also got open for a couple of deep shots but only ended up making the one that was furthest away from the basket. At the very least, it looked like he was on pace to have another good scoring night with a few assists under his belt until he rolled his ankle getting tangled into a couple of defenders on an aggressive drive to the rim.
With their leading scorer back in the locker room, Atlanta had to rely heavily on Collins. He, started out hot, knocking down four three-pointers in the first quarter and had a strong scoring outing overall. If Collins can knock down threes, it’ll make the pick-and-roll/ pick-and-pop between him and Young even more lethal than it already is. He did a great job offensively by scoring at all three levels outside of creating in the post, but he couldn’t do much of anything else the Hawks needed on that end of the court. He only had seven rebounds, which happened to be something that Atlanta struggled with all night. Miami grabbed 49 rebounds as a team compared to Atlanta only ending up with 33, and the Heat grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to the Hawks’ nine.
Collins tacked on four assists, which is good for a player at his position, but with Young out of the game, the Hawks were starved for someone to create on the perimeter. Those skills are something the coaching staff is working with Collins on improving, but it wasn’t enough for it to make a big difference in the final score of this particular game.
The third-year big man also did a good job of altering some shots at the basket and attempting to make it hard for Miami to score inside, but the Heat was able to draw fouls time and time again on the inside and get to the line.
Collins played a very good game, but no one else was there to help him carry the load. It is obvious that Young is the focal point of the Hawk’s offense and without him playing the point last night, the responsibilities were split among Kevin Huerter, DeAndre’ Bembry, Tyrone Wallace, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish. Usually in a situation like this, Evan Turner would be the primary ball handler, but he was dealing with a sore Achilles injury and didn’t get a chance to see the court.
Huerter and Reddish seemed most suitable to play the role of point guard out of the five guys mentioned. Huerter is an underrated passer who can drive to rim and fire passes all over the court.
His individual scoring is still a work-in-progress, but Huerter is coming along as a creator in pick-and-roll. Reddish shot the ball atrociously against the Heat last night (and for the entire season, really) but he showed he could find other players when his shot wasn’t falling. Reddish led the way in that category with six assists.
As for the rookies in last night’s contest, Hunter again proved he is one of the more NBA-ready rookies drafted this year. He continues to give it his all on defense and show that he can pick his spots and take smart shots. He committed his fair share of fouls last night against Miami, but the aggressive physicality against the likes of Jimmy Butler and Justise Winslow is a positive overall for Hunter and the Hawks. Reddish hasn’t been the brightest light on the offensive side of things, but he always seems to be in the right place at the right time on defense, particularly when he’s playing off the ball and can use his length and intelligence to play passing lanes and muck up opponents’ actions.
Bruno Fernando has played much better than he did in the preseason. He’s been active in the paint and has knocked down a couple of three-pointers this season, all while running the floor with high energy. He only played 11 minutes in Miami, probably because he rolled his ankle on Monday night and head coach Lloyd Pierce wanted to make sure he was all the way back healthy before playing him normal backup minutes. Damian Jones came off the bench for eight minutes in the second half to back up starter Alex Len.
Atlanta’s identity thus far looks like a team that heavily relies on Young to get things going on the other end, which is clearly going to be tested while the star guard is sidelined. The bottom line is that the Hawks need more contribution offensively from guys like Bembry, Reddish, Hunter, and Huerter. Huerter is still on a minute’s restriction and will be the starter once he’s able to play a full game, which may change things, but it’s going to need to happen on a quicker timeline if the Hawks are to have much of a chance in their next several games without Young.
Young spoke after the game about his injury and brought up the fact that this was his first NBA injury and that he doesn’t know how the process goes. Young played 81 games last season, so this would be the first time he would miss significant time. He also stated that “he feels good,” which is a great sign for him and his recovery, though the presence of crutches in the post-game interview and the report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania that Young could miss two weeks don’t necessarily bode well for his immediate return.