The Atlanta Hawks wrapped up their preseason campaign with a dominant victory over the Miami Heat, 127-92, at State Farm Arena on Thursday night to finish 2-2 on the preseason.
Trae Young put on a storming performance as he scored 27 points and dished out 15 assists while De’Andre Hunter added 19 points. For the visiting Heat, Javonte Smart scored 20 points while Max Strus added 18 points.
Heading into this fixture, it was clear what this game was going to be for the Hawks: “dress rehearsal” — the Hawks were going to play as many of their guys as they can and play them for three quarters, with the exception of Clint Capela, who was on a minutes restriction last night.
The Hawks looked sharp coming out of the gate and Young and John Collins wasted no time displaying their chemistry on the court, with Young linking up with Collins on a number of occasions. It didn’t always lead to baskets in the opening stages of the first quarter but the link up play was there:
For the game itself, the Hawks did play a strong, sharp game where they shot the ball well (48.5% from the field, 41% from three) and moved the ball very well (33 assists). Multiple Hawks played very strong games as Young carved the Heat apart, Hunter looked sharp and the bench was very strong too in their own respective rehearsal (minus Danilo Gallinari, missing with left shoulder soreness).
Quite possibly a large part of the Hawks’ dominance was due to the side they fielded but also the side the Heat fielded too.
Missing for the Heat were the following: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Markieff Morris, Victor Oladipo, PJ Tucker, Dewayne Dedmon, Marcus Garrett and Omer Yurtseven. 41-year old Udonis Haslem was a starter last night.
The Hawks were sharp but probably looked better on the court than perhaps they might have done had the Heat fielded even their B-Team. Even still, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan was also pleased to see Capela sharing the floor with the other starters as well as expressing his satisfaction with how the Hawks played last night on both ends of the floor.
“It was really good to get Clint out on the floor and really get that starting group together and allow those guys to play some minutes tonight,” said McMillan postgame. “We did a good job of sharing the ball, we talked about that. We established a tempo we wanted to play right from the start. 33 assists tonight, only 10 turnovers; we’ll take that every night. Really good ball movement. Defensively they did some good things. We cleaned up our defense. We didn’t trail and give up a lot of easy baskets, especially in the halfcourt. I thought it was a connection out there with both groups and that’s what we wanted to see and that’s something we build off of.”
The Hawks were able to start Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Hunter, Collins and Capela for the first time in preseason, Capela featuring in his first preseason game albeit on a minutes restriction. There was strong optimism about this starting five last season but, as everyone knows, it did not get to see a lot of time on the court together and McMillan was happy just to see that lineup play together.
“It’s always about winning but really in preseason, especially for us this season, it was about getting our guys healthy to play,” said McMillan. “I really wanted all of our guys to play in this last game, it’s kind of like a dress rehearsal for them and for me to work on rotation. The only guy that was missing tonight was Gallo that would’ve been in that second unit. It was good to see ‘Dre and Trae and Bogi and John and Clint play together. This was Clint’s first game and he was restricted to 12-15 minutes. The first half I thought he did a good job of giving us what Clint gives us: defending the basket, rim-running, both he and Trae connected a couple of times. It was good to see that group out there.”
“If we’re all on the court together, we’re a pretty good team,” added Young of playing again alongside Bogdanovic, Hunter, Collins and Capela.
Speaking of Hunter, he scored 13 of his 19 points in the first quarter as he looked sharp out on the court, shooting 7-of-12 from the field and 4-of-6 from three on the game. Hunter was obviously the Hawk that missed the most time last season and between his own absences and the various other absences amidst a somewhat injury plagued season for the Hawks last year, Hunter needs time to build some on-court chemistry himself still. That might sound a little off but, for example, Hunter only shared 158 minutes on the court with Bogdan Bogdanovic last season (between Hunter’s/Bogdanovic’s absences and Bogdanovic coming off of the bench at times last season).
“It was good to see ‘Dre out there but really see that combination of the starting five: ‘Trae, Bogi, ‘Dre, John and Clint,” said McMillan when asked about Hunter. “They didn’t play a lot of minutes together last year, especially towards the end of the year. It’s really important we get those guys out there and allow them to get a feel for each other, build that chemistry, learn each other’s tendencies. That’s good for them as well as for me.”
“It’s great,” said Hunter of playing together with the starting lineup. “We barely played with this lineup last year, even for most of training camp it was tough to get all five guys out there. Last few days of practice we were able to do so and we got to do it in a game. Just building that chemistry. We have great talent, I feel we match well. Just all about getting the rhythm and the reps.”
“To have our guys back, starting lineup back I think it was really important for us to go out there and get connected together,” added Capela. “Just to have that feeling to be out there together one time before it really starts, officially. I was really happy to be out there with the guys.”
McMillan went on to highlight Hunter’s impact on both ends of the floor, describing him as a rare commodity in the NBA in the form of a legitimate two-way player.
“He gives it to you on both ends of the floor,” said McMillan of Hunter. “You don’t find in this league very many two-way players and De’Andre is a two-way guy. He’s going to defend just as hard as he’s going to look to score. He plays the game the right way, he’s really unselfish. Tonight was basically ‘Dre just running the floor and making plays. I thought Trae did a good job of finding guys tonight and there wasn’t a lot of play-calling for him. If we can establish that type of tempo and get that type of ball movement, we’ve got guys that can put the ball in the basket. Tonight, ‘Dre was the guy that was receiving a lot of those opportunities early and he was able to finish and be productive.”
“Getting ‘Dre back is going to be big for us,” added Young of Hunter. “He’s a really good defender, a really good scorer. He can pretty much do it all. When he’s on the court, he makes our team that much better.”
Hunter is, for many, an x-factor for the Hawks this season. It’s unknown what a healthy De’Andre Hunter could’ve helped propel the Hawks to but the encouraging news on that front is that Hunter is confident of his health ahead of the season.
“I felt pretty good,” said Hunter of his knee. “I wouldn’t say I’m 100% yet but I’m definitely really close. Just trying to get in game shape and get some rhythm.”
Outside of Hunter, there are a number of Hawks rehabbing somewhat during the preseason, Capela being one of them having to sit most of the preseason with ‘left Achilles injury management.’
Capela, as McMillan revealed postgame, was limited to 12-15 minutes and was happy to see Capela back out on the court, as was Capela himself; taking satisfaction of how he was able to stay in shape while he rehabbed.
“I feel really good,” said Capela postgame. “Felt pretty good especially on my sprints and lobs. I’m really satisfied about the work I did when I was not practicing.”
Capela was able to register a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in his first half of action but it remains to be seen if Capela will begin the regular season on a minutes restriction when the Hawks get their season underway next Thursday.
Elsewhere, McMillan also got to take a look at his bench/rotation in addition to the starting lineup. Delon Wright returned to the fray and handled backup point guard responsibilities while supported by Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, Solomon Hill and Gorgui Dieng.
Dieng enjoyed a solid game; he was active defensively and flashed some positive moments as he steps into the primary backup big role while Onyeka Okongwu continues to rehab from a shoulder injury.
Super enjoyable sequence from Gorgui Dieng here:— Kevin Chouinard (@KLChouinard) October 15, 2021
▪️ shuts off initial drive
▪️ blocks shot
▪️ closes out on corner
▪️ slaps a pass out to the corner as defense closes in on him pic.twitter.com/eFThBFKHuN
This steal in the second half was quite enjoyable to watch too:
In the end, Dieng posted six points on 3-of-4 shooting to go along with two rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks.
Elsewhere, Reddish produced a solid game as he scored 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting and 2-of-8 from three. The splits perhaps don’t do Reddish justice on what was a decent outing for the third year wing.
An amusing sequence from Reddish took place in the fourth quarter where Reddish hit a three-pointer and proceeds to shake his head seemingly at how he was left all alone to shoot that three:
Then immediately shoots a brick on the Hawks’ next possession as a nice action from Dieng and Hill gives Reddish a great look at another three:
Consistency lacking somewhat from Reddish at this point but that sequence aside, Reddish has enjoyed a solid preseason (perhaps a little erratic at times but it’s been decent overall, despite the poor shooting splits) and McMillan has been able to gauge Reddish’s potential a little more having seen him in action all four games, as well areas of future development to grow Reddish’s game.
“We know he’s capable of shooting that basketball,” said McMillan of Reddish. “What I want to develop with him is decision-making and making plays because he has the ability to put the ball on the floor, he can create his own shot. When he learns to develop and make decisions with that basketball he’s going to be another weapon out there. It was good to see him with Delon and Kevin with the second unit, and Gorgui. The only guy that was missing was Gallo. Kevin and Cam and Delon, they haven’t played a lot of minutes in this preseason and we saw what we’re capable of doing with our bench as well.”
Huerter enjoyed a strong second half as he finished with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 3-of-5 from three and it was encouraging to see Wright out on the floor too.
I enjoyed this brief defensive possession between Wright and Dieng on the ball and on the screen before Reddish is called for the foul:
Interestingly, McMillan is unsure as of right now what style of play the second unit will be better suited to.
“That second unit will establish a tempo the more they play together,” said McMillan. “Maybe they’re a team that runs, it may be a team that is better in the halfcourt. It’s really similar to the guard-play of Sharife. Sharife, when he’s gotten into the game he’s played more up-tempo with his group. Delon is getting used to the guys that he’s playing with. It’s yet to be seen what type of tempo that second group is going to play with.”
As McMillan alluded to, I think it will depend on personnel.
Reddish isn’t afraid to push the ball in transition, Huerter can pull the trigger quickly in transition when found and Lou Williams won’t be shy in pulling up either, and I’m sure there’ll be options with Gallinari/Dieng in trail situations (obviously Gallinari is much more of a threat from that point of view). Sharife Cooper — when he plays — is someone whose game can work in either but probably more ideally suited to transition opportunities where he can get downhill.
On the flip side, Wright can run the offense in the half-court, as can Huerter — and Williams to a lesser extent. Gallinari is probably better suited to a slower pace in the half-court, as is Dieng. Reddish probably isn’t the best ball-handler in the half-court nor the greatest of penetrators but he can make some tough baskets and can get hot from three-point range.
It’s going to be interesting how it plays out. My guess would be that the second unit will probably work more efficiently in the half-court but they will certainly be able to get out and run too for some transition threes.
Alas, that will conclude the Hawks’ preseason. Hard to get a proper read on where they truly are because of how little the Hawks all played together (and when they did, it was against the Miami C-Team) but I’d speculate that McMillan is perhaps a little more pleased with how preseason ended versus where it started. The Hawks aren’t entirely healthy but they’re close, and have a week before their TNT opener against the Dallas Mavericks.
Expectations are high and the Hawks will be eager to show they are ready for those expectations.
“I’m excited about this team,” said Young. “The whole preseason has been fun, training camp has been tough. We’ve just got a lot more expectations on the whole gym for each other. My expectations haven’t changed. I had a lot of confidence in this team last year, this year it’s only higher. I think we can do whatever we want to do this year. I think we’ve got the talent to go all the way but now it’s all about how bad we want it and how much we can do about it.”