LAS VEGAS — The Summer League Hawks fell to 0-2 on Saturday with a 90-66 loss to Minnesota. However, all eyes were on De’Andre Hunter and Bruno Fernando. The 2019 draftees were finally cleared to play after the NBA processed much of the transaction backlog that was impacted by a significant number of trades that could not technically be finalized until the end of the free agency moratorium.
Each of Atlanta’s two losses could not have been more different. In Saturday’s loss to the Bucks, the Hawks looked like a fairly organized team, but one that lacked the upper-tier talent to put the game away at any point. In addition to Hunter and Fernando not being available, Jaylen Adams and Charlie Brown (two-way contract) missed Saturday’s game due to injury, and both would normally be expected to carry quite a bit of the load offensively.
In Sunday’s game, the Hawks were able to put a more talented group on the floor despite missing Tahjere McCall, their best performer in Saturday’s contest. Still, the team lacked the organization that was demonstrated in their opening game, and that is not a surprise in that it was the first time these players had ever shared the floor.
The difficulties showed up in the obvious places one would expect. They struggled to get matched up in transition defense, and Minnesota was really pushing the pace. The Hawks also had difficulty generating help at the rim on defense without giving up open corner three point attempts.
Generally, it was an ugly game that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. Atlanta amassed just eight assists and turned it over 22 times. For good measure, they connected on just 5 of their 25 three-point attempts. Much of the perimeter shooting futility can be traced to the performance of the starting backcourt, with Adams and Jordan Sibert shooting a collective 4 of 24 from the field and missing on each of their 10 attempts from beyond the arc.
The Hawks were able to clean up a lot of the issues that plagued them defensively in the first half. After giving up 52 points in the first two quarters, they held the Timberwolves to just 13 points in the third quarter, but they were never able to get the offense going and lost contact with Minnesota early in the closing period.
With that said, both Hunter and Fernando showed flashes of what excites the organization about them.
On the first professional possession of Fernando’s career, he executes an impressive skip pass to Omari Spellman in the opposite corner. Spellman knocks down the three-point attempt, and that was a reminder that Fernando’s passing is one of his most NBA-ready skills.
Later in the first quarter, Fernando uses the dribble to attack a close out defender. The execution isn’t perfect but, in time, he will learn to let that defender get further on the perimeter as to get him out of the play.
On this possession, his inclination to attack quickly allows his defender to stay in front of him, but the big man gets an impressive turnaround jumper to fall. Plays like this are what generate encouragement about his long term potential as a shooter.
The Maryland product also made an impact on defense. On this play, he is able offer help at the rim and gets the block. His timing in this area of play can be inconsistent, but on this possession, he is able to help without losing track of his man.
Fernando finished with five points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
“It was good. It was a good experience for me,” said Fernando after the game. “I got to experience playing my first NBA Summer League game and get it out of the way and to be able to let it all go… all of the anxiety and everything to be able to be out there on the court. I can now just let it all go and just focus on the next one that we have on Tuesday. It felt great, but obviously we wanted a different outcome. We’ve got to move on from that and just focus on the next one.”
Hunter looked a little indecisive operating on offense in pick and roll action and in other ball-screen opportunities. It was as if he was trying to process whether he should shoot, attack with the dribble or pass the ball to the next player. This wasn’t stunning because, in addition to the fact that it was his professional action after a (very) short time with the organization, Hunter played in a highly prescribed offensive system at Virginia.
Atlanta’s coaching staff took advantage of an opportunity to generate a simple play for Hunter in a catch and shoot situation. Head Coach Greg Foster drew up an after-timeout (ATO) play to begin the second quarter specifically to get Hunter a look from the three point line, which he was able to convert.
Especially early in his career, it will be significantly more important that the No. 4 pick develops as a shooting threat off the ball than in any action in which he would be creating offense on the ball.
This play allows a look at where Hunter is really comfortable on offense as of now. This is legitimate NBA-level execution in the post.
When he is able to face up against his defender in isolation, there is zero hesitation. As his first NBA season progresses, it would not be surprising to see Hunter get to operate in this type of action against opposing team’s second units.
Hunter finished with six points (on 2 of 8 shooting, three rebounds and four turnovers.
The game flow was so choppy (56 fouls were called) that it was hard to generate much analysis as to how effectively Hunter performed in the defensive half court.
“I think he brings a lot of versatility and we’re trying to figure that out through the summer league process,” said Foster on what Hunter will bring to the team. “I wanted to see him play more at the 4. I don’t want to play him too much because he hasn’t done a ton this summer. He’s really versatile. I want to see him play the 3, I want to see him play the 4. And, defensively he can switch and guard smalls. He’ll be a good one for us.”
Omari Spellman put together a nice game after struggling a bit in the opener. He led the Hawks with 16 points on just 12 shooting possessions. The adjustment that Spellman and Fernando made early in the third quarter is what allowed the defense to settle in.
Spellman connected on two of his three attempts from the three-point line after shooting 34% from deep last season.
On this possession, he demonstrated the strength and footwork to finish through contact for the and-one opportunity.
“He was a lot better today,” said Foster of Spellman’s performance. “We’re getting our timing back. These guys haven’t played a lot of basketball this summer. There were a lot of individual workouts, he was one of those guys. To see him play with energy and effort… we knew he was better than what he showed yesterday. He did a good job of bouncing back.”
Former Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney was noticeably effective on defense and was a critical part of the third quarter play that got the Hawks back in the game. He had a game-best five steals and put in a monstrous 61 minutes of play in the weekend back-to-back games.
“He’s a tough kid,” commented Foster on Mooney’s contributions. “I know he had some nicks and bruises from yesterday’s game. He played (nearly) the whole damn game and he came out here and played big minutes tonight. I like the kid, he’s smart, he’s tough, he can shoot the ball. So, there’s a future for him.”
The banged-up Hawks will rest on Monday before returning to action on Tuesday to take on the Indiana Pacers. The game is scheduled to tip at 5:30 pm ET.