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DeAndre’ Bembry, lottery duo impress in Hawks preseason opener

A strong outing for Bembry but plenty to look at elsewhere as well...

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks’ preseason finally got underway on Monday night as they took on the New Orleans Pelicans but fell short on the scoreboard — 133-109.

DeAndre’ Bembry led the Hawks in scoring with 16 points while Alex Len added 14 points as seven Hawks players reached double digit scoring as the minutes were spread around, as is the norm during preseason with Pierce eluding pre-game that no one would play more than 25 minutes.

For the Pelicans, Jrue Holiday scored 21 points while Brandon Ingram added 19 points.

If you’re new here and don’t know how this works, it’s usually at this point where the game is broken down into the finer components and we go from there — you’ll catch it pretty quickly...

Old habits die hard

We’ll open with a few lines on the game itself...if you were watching this one live, I’m sorry. It was not pretty. If you plan on catching up and watching today, fair warning...

The first half was relatively watchable in terms of a spectacle — it had its moments, highlighted by some Zion Williamson dunks and Trae Young nutmegging JJ Redick en route to the basket:

“Just having fun, seeing openings,” said Young of the play. “He (JJ Redick) came up to me a couple of possessions later and was telling me he was trying to intentional foul me. When I got the rebound, I saw him spread his arms out like he was going to foul me. So I saw the opening and threw it between his legs.”

With the whistles also getting a fair run in the preseason (more so than the players), a flow was tough to establish and the second half was a not an enjoyable watch...

Along the way, some of the Hawks’ poorer tendencies from last season came to the fore.

I understand it’s one preseason game so I understand not to overreact (and it’s good advice in every regard at this stage, positive and negative). That said, if you were worried about the Hawks defensively coming in, then this game would’ve only confirmed your worries.

It was bad, the defense was bad...

The Pelicans were able to score with ease throughout the night, as they did on this play:

Credit to Young for rotating but there’s nothing he’s going to be able to do against Ingram with his size and length. Not that this game was ever going to be perfect defensively — or even close — but it just wasn’t what you would’ve liked to have seen. It was so easy at times...

And then came the Hawks’ old Achilles heel: turnovers.

Now, this was an issue for both sides and it’s not too uncommon in preseason, but regardless, the Hawks committing 29 turnovers (leading to 34 Pelican points) is far from ideal.

“29 turnovers sets everything back,” said John Collins. “I think we still scored 100-and-something points and had (nearly) 30 turnovers. I think that’s the tell of the game for us ... obviously we can get better on the defensive end but if we give a team 30 extra possessions it’s going to be tough to beat them.”

But for Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, the game was everything he expected it to be.

“Just like a preseason game number one,” said Pierce postgame. “I don’t know about you guys, but that was everything I expected. Sloppy. A lot of turnovers. High scoring. Not very good defense on both sides. A lot of fouls. Preseason.”

“This is why it’s called the preseason,” added Collins. “Obviously a lot of stuff you got to work on. I’m glad it’s the preseason...”

Preseason. Indeed. And preseason game number one at that, but the concerning thing is that the Hawks displayed the poor attributes that many feared would be the case this heading into season, and this game could to be an outlier of what is to come. It will obviously improve, especially in the turnover front but not a great start.

Trae Young committed eight of those turnovers and that was disappointing to see off of the bat but you do, of course, have to bear in mind that (a) it’s the first proper game in months and (b) there’s a lot of new pieces trying to learn each other.

“First game, it was good to get out there and run against another team,” said Young. “It was tough because we didn’t play how we wanted to play. For me, having that many turnovers is definitely tough. I have to understand I’m playing with a lot of new guys. I got some offensive foul calls. I have to play smarter and I have to play better. That’s what preseason is for, getting the rust off.”

Young didn’t show too many signs of rust when it came to other aspects of his playmaking, tallying 11 assists on the night in just 25 minutes and that’s an encouraging sign, but the turnovers will have to be cut down.

Other notes on the game itself, the Hawks conceded quite a number of offensive rebounds (15 of them leading to 28 second chance points, Jahlil Okafor grabbing five of those offensive rebounds) and missed a number of freebies at the line — 15-of-24 on free throws. It is part of the reason the Pelicans took 14 more shots than the Hawks, the other — as Collins eluded to — caused by the Hawks’ sheer number of turnovers.

Again, it’s preseason game number one... I won’t say pick-and-choose when it comes to conclusions to draw (because I don’t think you can just ignore the defense and turnovers as they are recurring problems from last year and were always likely to be present again this year) but take the majority with a grain of salt. The Hawks did not play well last night, the positive is that they can’t be much worse on Wednesday, Lloyd Pierce and his staff I’m sure will be delighted with how much film they will be able to go over with their players — we’ll see how they get on against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

DeAndre’ Bembry

One of the positives last night was the play of fourth-year swingman DeAndre’ Bembry.

Bembry led the team in scoring with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, 1-of-2 from three, three rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals and two turnovers in his 20 minutes of play as he stepped in for Kevin Huerter at the starting two-guard.

A lot of Bembry’s offensive work took place at the rim — an area of his game that need improving in terms of efficiency. Last night, Bembry was 5-of-8 on shots near the rim and that’s a positive start.

Bembry looked, at least last night, a bit shiftier with the ball — it looked easier for him to change hands more smoothly a while on the move and he used this to good effect last night. And he needed to, because with no Evan Turner and no Brandon Goodwin, Bembry was the backup point guard last night. In fact, Bembry led the Hawks in usage last night with 28%.

Speaking of Bembry postgame, Lloyd Pierce seemed conflicted but not when it came to Bembry’s play — more so to his role.

“It’s tough,” said Pierce. “He’s been great for us all through training camp. Evan Turner is out and Brandon Goodwin is out. I say ‘you’re going to start at the two and then play the rest of the game at the one.’ We’re putting him in a spot…I wish we could just play him at the one and let him focus there. ‘Dre is always going to compete and always get downhill. He had a couple of errant passes, but that’s just timing for all of our guys. We’re not all on the same page just yet.”

Bembry could be expected to handle the ball quite a bit season and it’s a role he’s ready for.

“I’m here and ready to do whatever the coaches need me to do,” said Bembry. “I’m comfortable with doing it. I did it a lot last year as well...”

I wouldn’t get used to a 28% usage rate from Bembry in games and when Kevin Huerter is ready to join the fold he’ll have the opportunities to make plays as well. For the most part, Bembry handled himself well last night handling the ball, the only real tough spot seemed to come in the second quarter when the lineup of Bembry, Cam Reddish, Vince Carter, Bruno Fernando and Damian Jones struggled to do much of anything on offense — something I’d put more so down to the lineup itself than just Bembry.

Either way, a solid night for Bembry to begin the preseason — always a welcome performance for the Hawks.

The rookies taste the NBA

The Hawks’ draft night is one very much documented, making quite a number of deals to ensure they were able to select De’Andre Hunter as well as adding Cam Reddish and then Bruno Fernando in the second round.

All three featured last night and there’s plenty to talk about in that regard.

Let’s start with the number four overall selection in the draft in De’Andre Hunter, who scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 2-of-4 from three in just under 25 minutes.

“It felt good to be running the floor,” said Hunter. “I had the opportunity to make some plays. I got some open shots. Great passes from Trae gave me some other opportunities. We were all playing together and it was fun.”

Hunter’s performance was largely positive and coming in and hitting a few perimeter shots was very welcome.

Defensively, it was going to be a mixed bag of sorts for Hunter. He picked up two fouls in the first quarter and looked, at times, like any other NBA rookie defensively.

Here, Brandon Ingram gets by in transition very easily, forcing the rotation from Jones and leaving the Hawks vulnerable on the offensive glass as Derrick Favors tips in:

He did, however, have some good defensive moments, such as this one against Brandon Ingram:

All in all, a positive game from Hunter, who looked much better offensively than I think many would have thought.

“...De’Andre makes his first shot, a nice little shot fake to a two-dribble pullup. After that, he settled in,” said Pierce. “One of his development areas will be using the basketball, playing pick-and-roll, facilitating. He’s used to one or two dribbles and then getting off the basketball. I think he has more to offer. That’s just something he’s going to grow in over time. Catch-and-shoot he’s pretty good. Guys were closing out to him and he was able to put the ball on the floor and make plays. He gets a dunk, just a catch in transition…he was great with his rhythm three’s. Make or miss, he looked good and comfortable doing it.”

Cam Reddish’s Hawks debut was a little more layered.

He struggled to begin and his first few possessions featured a turnover and he had an attempted shot blocked by Jrue Holiday. But Reddish settled down and in the end finished with 11 points on 4-of-7 from three and 3-of-4 from three in 15 minutes of action with the pick of the bunch coming from the corner, found in dramatic style by Vince Carter.

The three-point shooting obviously stands out from Reddish’s performance and it’s obviously an encouraging sign early on. Reddish also flashed some of his playmaking ability with this beautiful move before finding Alex Len for the bucket:

“...Cam comes in and turns it over on his first touch and that was his only turnover,” began Pierce of Reddish. “I thought he settled in…he got his shot blocked on the second possession. But after that, I thought he played a beautiful game. He was in rhythm on his jump shots, was efficient moving. It was good to see that. I didn’t know what to expect of him after that first (play), but I thought he came in, was very efficient from there on

But as the game went on in the second quarter — especially when DeAndre’ Bembry came back into the lineup — Reddish took a step back when it came to being on the ball/off of the dribble, especially after his tough start.

In truth, Pierce is still unsure how to use Reddish’s playmaking abilities right now.

“Really it’s just more ‘let me see him out there on the court’,” said Pierce. “We’ll figure out what he can do just by watching him. I think one of the things we saw is if we can get him in rhythm with some kick-outs, he can make an open three, eventually we’ll see him get downhill. I thought he had a couple of nice drives downhill that didn’t really result in much but he’s able to get there. I don’t know how we’ll do it. I don’t know if it’s him initiating or playing him on the second side — he was good on the second side tonight — we’ll have to learn how he is initiating the offense as well, at some point.”

Bruno Fernando’s debut was a little difficult going — three points in just 12 minutes of action and four turnovers in that stretch.

“I thought Bruno struggled tonight.” said Pierce. “In his first stint, he didn’t say a word. I think he just held his breath for five minutes. He looked like a rookie that was playing his first NBA game.”

The adjustment period for big-men is usually tougher than it is for guards and Fernando is no different in that regard.

Fernando did have some good moments though despite struggling overall. One was this spin move off of the dribble leading to the dunk:

For someone 6’10, this speed and fluidity in movement (we saw hints of it at Summer League) is super impressive.

Fernando also managed to produce three blocks, denying Frank Jackson on this possession, fuelling a fastbreak opportunity:

Fernando was also involved in a block that was originally called a foul, and Lloyd Pierce busted out the coach’s challenge for the first time this season.

“I really don’t like it. I really don’t” chuckled Pierce. “It’s great that they turned the call over but I’m just not a fan of it yet. I’ve got to get more comfortable with how to use it, when to use it. I thought it was great we were able to get the ball back, get to a jump-ball... I don’t know, it’s just weird. You only get one as well, there were a couple of others after that I wanted to use it. You just feel like ‘Now I’ve blown it, used it too early’ You want to use it at the right time. I’m having a hard time with it.”

Not a lot else to say about Fernando in this spot — Wednesday will be another day.

Speaking of, the Hawks (0-1 in preseason) are back in action on Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic at State Farm Arena once again.

Until next time...