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Hawks hold on behind Hunter’s season-high in MLK Day victory over Timberwolves

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Sloppy, but the Hawks got it done.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks played host to the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves on MLK Day on Monday afternoon, eventually edging away from the Wolves in the fourth quarter to notch the 108-97 home victory at State Farm Arena, which enjoyed a special new court-jersey combination to celebrate MLK Day.

The Hawks — still without Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Cam Reddish, in addition to Kris Dunn — were led by a season-high 25 points from De’Andre Hunter, with Clint Capela adding 23 points and 15 rebounds as all five starters scored 10 or more points.

The Timberwolves — without Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio and Juancho Hernangomez — were led by D’Angelo Russell’s 31 points. Malik Beasley added 15 points, including two timely three-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep the Timberwolves in close proximity.

Let’s break down this one down today.

Hawks turnovers prove almost costly

Even with the Hawks missing who they are missing, it didn’t compare to what the Wolves were missing in the form of Karl-Anthony Towns — Towns is a bigger loss to the Hawks than either Gallinari or Bogdanovic.

As such, the Hawks were favored heading into this contest and, realistically, should have been home and dry a long time before they really were, almost as early as the second quarter.

The Hawks pressed their advantage in the second quarter and built a 13-point lead as the second quarter ticked below its halfway mark. The Hawks enjoyed numerous opportunities to put this game beyond Minnesota before the halftime break but some sloppy play allowed the Wolves a path back into this game, offering the Wolves some hope that, in reality, they shouldn’t have had.

A huge reason behind the Wolves hanging around in this game — and not just in the first half — were the Hawks’ countless turnovers on the game: a season-high 26 turnovers. A couple of turnovers more and that would’ve been an NBA season-high (which still stands at 27).

Both Trae Young and Hunter led the way with six turnovers while the rest of the turnovers were scattered amongst the remainder of the roster (with the exception of Tony Snell and Brandon Goodwin).

12 of these turnovers came in the second quarter (leading to 16 turnovers in the first half) and the Hawks just looked a little careless at times.

Off of a rebound, Hunter’s pass to Goodwin sails out of bounds as Goodwin ends up on the floor:

Young had a bunch of his passes intercepted, here was one in transition where Young elects not to find Goodwin in front of him before putting on the brakes but his casual pass cross-court is picked off, leading to the Culver steal and dunk the other way:

Here, the use of camera angle after the Young pass inside leaves something to be desired but the ball is returned to Minnesota, who come the other way with Jordan McLaughlin, who slips the bounce-pass to Jarred Vanderbilt, who scores off of the turnover:

Again, Young’s pass is snuffed out and in transition, the ball eventually finds its way to Malik Beasley, whose run is untracked as he located in the corner before receiving the ball and hitting the corner three:

There were a few turnovers that were unfortunate, like this one from Hunter as he just loses it on the way up (Young had a similar turnover in the second quarter), but the end result is the Wolves come the other way and get an easy look at the rim with Josh Okogie:

Minnesota also did well to create some turnovers, such as this poke-away on Capela and, again, the score heading the other way with McLaughlin:

I think you get the picture: the Hawks turned the ball over and the Wolves scored off of those turnovers, keeping them in the game when they probably didn’t have a right to be, given who they were missing.

Things got close in the fourth quarter but the Hawks were eventually able to finish the job, almost blowing another 15 point lead. What should have been a straightforward victory was almost thrown away as the Hawks’ 26 turnovers not only limited them to 79 shots on the game (12 fewer than the Wolves) but also led to 26 Minnesota points. The Hawks can probably consider themselves fortunate that total wasn’t higher...

Postgame, Lloyd Pierce admitted it wasn’t the most elegant of showings from the Hawks but was satisfied with the Hawks’ execution in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t pretty but it’s a win and we’ll take a win,” opened Pierce. “It’s easier to watch film after a win, it’s easier to communicate with the guys after the win. The good thing is we get to play them again (on Friday) and hopefully correct some of the sloppiness of the game. I thought our guys competed at the very least and executed down the stretch which was a point of emphasis for us into that fourth quarter.”

The Hawks’ turnovers was arguably the only reason the Wolves hung around as long as they did. Pierce discussed how the Hawks didn’t ‘settle down’ into their offense when the quick opportunities didn’t come their way offensively.

“We talked about execution last game,” said Pierce on the Hawks’ turnovers. “Execution sometimes you think is just being the fourth quarter — and that’s been a concern for us — but our inability to execute in the first half, we continued to try and play fast and then when we don’t have anything we stay unorganized. A lot of our turnovers, instead of settling down and getting into a set we just start making up things. Obviously the ball was slippery and it’s just flying all over the place and we’re throwing lazy passes and cross-court passes, whatever the reason may be. But we just have to settle ourselves down and get organized if we don’t have easy and early opportunities. It was balanced, it wasn’t just one guy. I thought all of our guys played that way tonight when we had those random opportunities.”

Pierce wasn’t the only one who felt the Hawks were playing a little too fast.

“(We were) probably in a rush. We were playing really fast,” echoed De’Andre Hunter on the Hawks’ turnovers. “I know we want to play fast, get out out on the break but sometimes we need to slow it down just a little bit. We were moving way too fast.”

On another night, against another team, the Hawks probably don’t emerge with a victory with the sort of sloppiness and turnovers they produced during this game. However, with the Wolves as shorthanded as they are, the Hawks were able to take care of business despite those 26 turnovers.

A much needed victory for the Hawks: they did enough to secure a home win on MLK Day.

De’Andre Hunter’s season-high & supporting cast

It remains debatable where the Hawks would be on the season without the consistent and pleasant production they have been receiving from second-year wing De’Andre Hunter.

Hunter has scored in double-figures in every game he has played this season and that trend continued on MLK Day as Hunter eclipsed his season-high with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field, 3-of-6 from three and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.

Hunter’s percentages last night are almost on par with his season averages, further highlighting his consistency on the season — Hunter is now averaging 16.7 points per game on 50% shooting from the field and 40% from three on 4.6 attempts per game.

There’s obviously been a lot to like when it comes to Hunter this season but was has impressed me has been Hunter’s poise and confidence — he doesn’t seem to be fazed on the floor.

Let’s take a look at a few of his makes on the game.

Hunter converted three three-pointers in this game, including this confident three on the catch, unfazed by the oncoming contest of the defender, with Collins’ dash into the paint creating problems in transition:

Here, Hunter slips the pick and Josh Okogie is caught napping on the slip. Young finds Hunter near the rim where he uses the glass to finish at the rim:

On the highlight play, Hunter comes off of the Collins screen, receives the ball and attacks the rim, finishing with authority and a big-time slam-dunk:

Hunter would actually require a look at his hand after this dunk, such was the manner of this particular attack. It’s been a point of emphasis for Hunter, to attack a little more this season.

“Just attacking downhill, being aggressive towards the rim. I feel I settled a lot last year. That’s the biggest thing, and drawing fouls,” said Hunter postgame on the biggest difference between year one and year two.

In transition in the second half, this break for Hunter starts with a great vertical contest from Collins at the rim before Goodwin finds Hunter in transition, using his larger frame to secure an easy basket in transition:

Lastly for now (because we’ll see some other Hunter baskets when looking at some other plays), Hunter makes a nice cut across the lane before locating to the dunker-spot, where he drains the baseline jumper:

Hunter’s night was probably the largest focus postgame, with numerous Hawks singing his praises after not only a season-high night but his continued level of play.

“I think his game is similar to his personality: just steady,” said Pierce of Hunter postgame. “Consistent work, he’s a consistent performer, he’s got the challenge of chasing guys around on the defensive end, and really not being a focal point offensively but finding his rhythm on the second-side. We have opportunities to post him, we can space him, he’s in position to attack downhill, he’s consistently getting to the free throw line.

“I think the steady part of his game is the balance: the balance in which he plays and the balance in which we can use him.”

Over his last five games, Hunter has gotten to the free throw line 6.4 times per game (shooting 90%). It’s here where Young believed things opened up for Hunter against the Wolves.

“It’s confidence with him,” said Young of Hunter. “From year one to year two, you see the confidence and the poise he has. He’s letting the game come to him, attacking, getting to the line. I’ve talked to him about finding ways to get to the line. He can shoot the ball from the free throw line really well and he did that tonight and it opened up everything else for him.”

Hunter himself didn’t have a ton to say about his season-high but believed his aggression played a role.

“I was getting downhill,” said Hunter on what was working for him. “I had a lot of open shots, open threes, missed a few early, connected on a few in the second half. Just my overall aggression helped me in this game.”

Clint Capela went a step further than the rest, saying that Hunter has the opportunity to be “special.”

“When I first saw him, I thought he was already really good ... I really feel his game has matured. He’s strong. He has a chance to be really special,” Capela said. “I enjoy watching that. Every day I’m here to push him, always trying to talk to him defensively, offensively to make sure he keeps the confidence up and stay aggressive. Defensively, also be a presence for us, be able guard the star on the opposite team every night. I think it’s been amazing to see that. I think he really has a chance to be special.”

Uncharacteristically, Hunter picked up a technical foul, coming after exchanging words with the officials after this foul call:

The reaction to this technical foul has been largely the same: people loved it.

“I thought him getting a tech was a positive,” said Pierce of Hunter’s technical foul. “You’re starting to see some fire, you’re starting to see some passion, you’re starting to see some intensity from a guy who’s pretty reserved. I like his level of engagement and that was an example of it today. He was attacking the rim, he didn’t think he was getting calls, they called a foul on him and he was trying to make a point about his ability to attack and he wants to be rewarded.”

“It’s good for him especially, for a guy like him who doesn’t necessarily express himself. I think it’s good he got it out and even let the refs, the league know his presence,” said Capela of Hunter’s technical foul. “We need that from him, we want that from him. I always tell him, defensively, ‘Talk to me too, I want to hear you ... we want to hear your voice as well. It’s real important for us.’ It’s huge. I’m excited.”

“I was frustrated,” said Hunter of the tech. “I feel like I get fouled a lot, in my eyes, and they don’t necessarily call them. I feel like on the other end, sometimes, when I foul, it may not be a foul, it’s always called as a foul. It’s been happening almost every game, I was kind of fed up. I let it get the best of me.”

It’s good to see this from Hunter, who, as many Hawks have eluded to since he was drafted last year, can be a little quiet. It’s encouraging to see him let some frustration out, especially since he’s now trying to assert his aggressiveness more on the court, and that is translating: it’s resulting in more free throws. The Hawks rank third in the NBA in free throws attempted per game (first in makes, second in percentage) — obviously a lot of that is Trae Young but Hunter is stepping up in that regard too.

Outside of Hunter (and we’ll talk about Young later), there was solid production from the other Hawks starters.

Starting with Kevin Huerter... While his three-point shooting has regressed somewhat since the start of the season where he was shooting 40% from three (Huerter shot 3-of-8 from three tonight), the ball has been put in his hands and, with it, Huerter has been able to successfully find his teammates, dishing out eight assists on the night to go with just two turnovers.

The ball moves nicely when Huerter is on the floor and his passing/playmaking (which I’ve talked about on many different occasions since his rookie season) continues to impress and Huerter is continuing to impress as a secondary playmaker, which he showed last season too.

Huerter found his teammates in numerous pick-and-roll scenarios, such as this play where the Wolves show on the pick-and-roll with Capela, allowing the Huerter to lob the ball into space where Capela fakes at the rim before tucking away the shot at the rim:

Huerter and Collins have always had a nice understanding on the court and this was, again, on show last night.

On a highlight play, Huerter throws the high lob coming off of the pick-and-roll, for which Collins skies to guide for the emphatic dunk at the rim:

After a quick exchange/hand-off, Huerter drops a quick but direct bounce-pass which Collins receives before driving to the rim and finishing amidst the crowd:

Again, Huerter and Collins link-up in the pick-and-roll but this time — as Anthony Edwards looks to help on the roll — the ball is whizzed out to Hunter, who hits the three-pointer:

To finish (and probably my favourite assist of the night from Huerter), Huerter intercepts the hopeful pass from the baseline (one of four steals on the game, tying a career-high) and heads in transition. He delivers the ball to Collins, who sends it back to Huerter, who immediately touches it to Hunter to complete the transition play, plus the foul:

A very beautiful play in transition indeed, the kind of unselfishness that allows the Hawks to dish out 30 assists on 36 field goal makes (Pierce mentioned postgame about how this number could’ve/should’ve been 40 had the Hawks not turned the ball over as they did).

Cam Reddish missed his second consecutive game but when he returns, the Hawks really shouldn’t take the ball out of Huerter’s hands in order to get it into Reddish’s hands to initiate plays. I understand the Hawks perhaps want to instil confidence in Reddish and want to see more from him from a playmaking point of view but what Reddish has shown so far, he’s just not ready for that. Huerter, however, has shown his quality in this department time and time again, and he has helped the Hawks since his insertion into the starting lineup.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Reddish returns: will he return to the starting lineup or remain on the bench?

Outside of Huerter, Collins produced a solid game: 15 points on 6-of-8 from the field, seven rebounds but he also tied a career-high in blocks with four.

Collins continues to display his improvement as a rim protector, not just in terms of blocked shots but contests at the rim too. This block as the help defender was probably the pick of the bunch:

As a two-man lineup, Collins and Capela continue to post great numbers and while some debate how they operate together, what can’t be argued is that the Hawks’ interior defense certainly created problems for the Wolves, who shot under 50% around the rim:

Speaking of Capela, he has looked much better in these last few games, adding another 23 points and 15 rebounds while adding three blocks himself. Capela currently ranks third in the NBA in rebounds per game and has pulled double-figure rebounding games in his last 10 games (of his 11 total games played).

What has been noteworthy from Capela, in addition to his improved look on the court in terms of movement, is the fact he played 37 minutes on Saturday in Portland and another 39 minutes against the Wolves (a season-high).

“He was our guy tonight,” said Pierce of Capela. “They had 38 points in the paint. I think he does a tremendous job contesting, showing his length, coming in and rebounding, being able to ignite our offense when we can rebound and run. Then he’s doing a good job playing behind the defense and just getting some easy opportunities, getting to the free throw line. He’s starting to shoot it with more confidence, we’ve got to get him there more so we can build his confidence even more at that line.

“Those two guys (Hunter and Capela) are the anchors of our defense. ‘Dre, defending the top perimeter (players) and Clint manning up behind at the rim. They’ve been consistent and they’ve been getting better every game.”

Speaking further about Capela, Pierce described what Capela provides not just defensively but what his rebounding unlocks for the Hawks offensively.

“It really makes it enjoyable to have a guy that you know is going to secure a rebound and allow us to get out and run,” Pierce said. “He’s not going to lead the league in blocks — that’s really not the strongest part (of his game), he will contest, he will challenge, he will alter shots — but securing defensive rebounds is where he’s tremendous because it gives us an opportunity to get out and run and we need to play that way and we have a guy back there that’s doing it...”

Looking outside of the starters, Pierce ran with a fairly short rotation — the starters played heavy minutes (Huerter playing the most with 40) and the Hawks ran an eight-man rotation in the second (which did not include Rajon Rondo, who featured in the first half).

“I thought we had a bunch of guys that were playing well. I didn’t want to just play guys. I thought ‘Dre was really critical out there and I thought Kevin (Huerter) was playing extremely well. I wanted to keep those guys on the court as much as I could.”

Pierce went on to say how he wanted to get rookie Onyeka Okongwu some minutes but couldn’t due to the close nature of the game.

“...I was going to go to ‘Big O’ but we never really stretched the game out,” he said. “I thought there was going to be some time to get him in and get some energy but the way Clint and John were playing, to bring Big O in the second half in a tighter game would’ve been a gamble. We missed our opportunity early, so we stuck with the guys who pretty much got us there.”

I think Pierce thought as most people entering this game would’ve thought: that the Hawks could/should have put the Wolves away early, and then the opportunity to get Okongwu some free, garbage time minutes — which are so key for him right now, having had no Summer League or training camp or anything of the sort — would’ve materialized but it wasn’t to be.

But going back to the original point, the production across all of the starters was sorely needed, especially in a game where Young shot just 3-of-8 from the field and struggled at times.

Speaking of...

Trae Young: a conversation

Let’s talk about Young’s performance.

Young scored 20 points on 3-of-8 shooting from the field, 2-of-5 from three, 12-of-13 from the line, dished out 13 assists, grabbed eight rebounds, committed six turnovers in 32 minutes as he battled some foul trouble in the second half.

That stat-line looks solid enough but if you watched this game, you would know that Young did not play well by his standards. Young, for the most part, has not played well of late.

Young was — and I really don’t think this is a debate — the worst starter for the Hawks against the Wolves.

His shot selection at times was poor.

Example:

I care not that he made the shot: that doesn’t mean it’s a good shot. Dennis Schröder had a bunch of these too in his time during the Hawks, as did Taurean Prince. Made shots do not necessarily equal good shots.

Young made two threes like this but to continue to attempt them wasn’t a good idea:

A possession where no one other than Young touches the ball and takes a deep three inside the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. Yes, he can make them, but it’s not a good shot.

There was a possession where Young attempted to break down rookie Anthony Edwards for effectively all of the possession before firing the ball last second of the shot clock to Capela, who had to force up a jump shot as the buzzer sounded:

‘But he had 13 assists on the game!’ — that, in itself, does not mean Young had a good game.

He certainly had a good first quarter: six assists and one turnover despite not attempting an official field goal. That — while not sustainable — is a good assist/turnover ratio, something Young has struggled with at times during his career. It was just disappointing to see Young commit some of the turnovers he did and to dish out seven assists while committing five turnovers the rest of the way is disappointing too.

Defensively, it’s the same story: not good, and it’s better to leave it at that.

All in all, Young has not played well of late: that is not a hot-take nor should be a surprising thing to read if you’ve watched the Hawks play in recent days.

Not to add fuel to a fire that was made a bigger than it actually was, but Young hasn’t looked quite like himself ever since that Hornets game. Whether that’s a coincidence or not, no one other than Young himself will know, but what is for certain is that Young’s level of production is down since then.

In his last six games, Young has averaged 16.3 points per game on 30% shooting from the field on 14.8 attempts, 19% from three on five attempts per game and only 6.8 free throw attempts per game.

Make of it what you will, but the Hawks need Young to play to a higher quality than he has of late. He’s been faced with tough defensive looks this season but he also hasn’t looked like himself at times either. He is far better than those recent statistical averages: everyone knows that, and the Hawks need him to be the player he can be.

Whether that’s due to other events or simply a slump, who knows. But Young’s relative struggles have been going on for quite a while now and it’s worth noting.


The Hawks (6-7) are back in action on Wednesday in a home tilt against the Detroit Pistons, a team the Hawks have defeated already this season.

Another good opportunity to return to .500 awaits, you would imagine...

Until next time...