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Atlanta’s conditioning a subject again as they fall in preseason in loss to Cavaliers

A second preseason loss but it wasn’t without some entertainment.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks dropped their second consecutive preseason fixture as they fell short 99-96 against the Cleveland Cavaliers at State Farm Arena on Wednesday night.

Cam Reddish scored a team-high 20 points while Kevin Huerter added 15 points. For the Cavaliers, Collin Sexton registered 19 points while his backcourt partner Darius Garland tallied 15 points.

Preseason game number two; there’s a bit more to say about this one compared to the first one despite the absence of Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela Danilo Gallinari, Solomon Hill, Lou Williams and Onyeka Okongwu. Delon Wright stepped into the starting lineup along with Huerter, John Collins, Gorgui Dieng and perhaps most notably De’Andre Hunter.

As Hawks head coach Nate McMillan alluded would happen, this was a fixture where the younger/end of the bench players saw considerably more game time, such as the likes of Jalen Johnson, Sharife Cooper Skylar Mays and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to name a few.

In the end, they all got to experience a pretty tightly contested preseason fixture, one where the Hawks overturned a double-digit deficit in the second half to bring this one down to the wire. In the end — having overturned an out-of-bounds call which returned possession to the hosts, trailing by a point with 33.5 seconds remaining — they got two decent looks with a Luwawu-Cabarrot three in the corner and Hunter’s floater after the offensive rebound:

After the Cavs made both resulting free throws from the intentional fouls, the Hawks inbound the ball to Cam Reddish — with about nine seconds left on the clock — who immediately jacks up the three which is missed and that was your ball game:

Again, preseason is an odd time and you can’t gauge any of the Hawks’ rotations or the such while as many people were missing as they were. That said, it was strange to see Huerter not start the third quarter — assuming perhaps he was done for the night — only for him to return later off of the bench.

McMillan revealed postgame this was done in an effort to find ‘balance’ between his starting unit and his bench and balance the experience of those who have played in his system with those who have not.

“I switched up the combinations so that we can get some balance with both groups,” said McMillan postgame. “I put Kevin (Huerter) in the second unit with Cam so we can have more balance, some guys who know are system and have played in our system. I thought they got us back in the game. We started to get some stops, make some baskets. I thought Sharife came in and really gave us a lift. I thought he played at the pace we wanted to see. Delon tweaked his ankle so he was out for the game and Sharife really came in and gave us a lift.”

Despite coming off of the bench in the second half, Huerter tallied 26 minutes and he wasn’t the only notable Hawk to see a fairly high minute figure for preseason. Hunter played just under 26 minutes, Collins played 25 minutes, Reddish played 27 minutes and Dieng played 31 minutes.

McMillan explained this high-minute output postgame, referencing the Hawks’ conditioning — as he did after the Miami game — as the main reason for this.

“What I did with our guys — basically the decision was made during the second quarter — I’ve got to play our guys,” said McMillan when originally asked about Dieng. “I’ve got to play these guys into shape. Our conditioning is just not where it needs to be. I was trying to get some guys some minutes today but all of our guys need to play. Gorgui played more minutes, he needs to be in shape. Our entire team needs to be in shape...”

“Same thing with Kevin,” added McMillan when the minutes of Hunter were posed to him. “He played 27 minutes. I wanted guys to play between 20-24 minutes and I looked at us and said, ‘They need to play.’ I kept them in as long as I could before the bench started yelling at me to get the guys out; John and Kevin were at 27, 29 minutes, a little bit more than we wanted them to play. But we need to, we’ve just got to play to get ourselves in shape tonight. We had 91 attempts and we shoot 39% from the floor. We’ve got the shots we just don’t have our legs right now.”

The Hawks themselves know that they aren’t quite where they want or need to be when it comes to conditioning but are confident by the time the regular season rolls around that they will be.

“There’s a difference playing 26 minutes and playing 26 minutes at the intensity that we were playing a couple of months ago,” said Kevin Huerter. “That’s obviously the intensity we need to get back to and play at all year. That’s known in the locker room. No one’s at the shape they’re going to be in mid-season form. In a lot of ways that’s what training camp is used for and what these games are great for. We’ve got to continue to push each other when we’re on the court, got to try go as hard as we can to get yourself in shape so that whenever October 21st comes around you’re going to be in game-shape.”

While the Hawks lost this preseason game, there are mainly two talking points in the aftermath: Collins’s airborne dunk on Jarrett Allen and Reddish.

Covering Collins first...it really was something spectacular:

Postgame, Collins praised Sharife Cooper’s involvement in the play.

“I love Sharife’s game,” said John Collins of the play. “I’ve watched Sharife for a long, long time, since he was in high school and doing his thing here in Atlanta. Great to play with him and nice to have him to set me up as he did. Talked about the play a little bit before but even he said he thought he threw it a little too high. I’m just glad I was able to go up there and get it, make a nice highlight play and finish it out.”

It makes for a very nice poster (check the featured image) and time will tell if it makes another t-shirt (Collins himself was unsure when asked about it postgame).

“We’ll see, we’ll see what the people want,” laughed Collins. “If I get a crazy amount of people asking I might. But for right now, trying to keep it cool, keep it preseason.”

Let’s talk Reddish.

Reddish’s play is...polarizing to say the least. He started off 1-of-6 and then 2-of-9 from the field and, honestly, he showcased some really poor decision-making and shot-making ability in the first half. Some of his attempts were just not of a high quality.

A few examples:

This drive in particular was horrid, as well as the decision to attempt a shot inside:

On the steal here from Reddish, he buys his side another offensive trip but instead of perhaps passing it off to the open Skylar Mays, Reddish only has eyes for his own three:

You could debate whether passing the ball off to Mays for a three is actually better option than Reddish shooting a three himself (which is part of the overall problem) but, personally, I just don’t think it is. But hey, it’s preseason.

This next play was an odd one as Reddish leaves what is going to be an open slot behind the arc to cut into an already crowded paint where he receives the ball and misses the contested jumpshot:

In the third quarter, however, Reddish turned things around. He hit three threes and scored 11 of his 20 points in the third quarter alone. The Hawks bench certainly enjoyed Reddish ignite.

“Cam starts making shots it seems like every one falls after that,” said Kevin Huerter of Reddish. “He’s had a really good training camp. There were days where he was doing that, making a bunch of shots. Took him a little while to get going but I think everybody knows at this point Cam is capable of that.”

“We loved it, we all love Cam, we all love to see Cam get going,” added John Collins of Reddish. “I feel like if you look at the bench from when Cam was out there getting his buckets and doing his thing, we all love to support him and watch him grow and get better. We need Cam to be great to be successful.”

Reddish himself suspected that a change of sneakers at the half time interval may have been a reason as to his sudden change in shooting fortune in the second half.

“I changed my sneakers, that could’ve been it,” said Reddish postgame. “I just kept shooting. I wasn’t giving it too much thought. Just trying to have fun and enjoy the preseason and they started falling in the second half. Might have been the sneaker change.”

Reddish is a difficult player to evaluate, especially offensively. He has talent and can get hot but can make some truly horrid basketball decisions at times, this play was a good example of that:

He does really well to anticipate the pass and collect the steal but to steam in transition like that into a body for a very silly turnover spoils it... As I said, he is a very polarizing player.

Postgame, McMillan discussed how he wanted to evaluate Reddish — a player he hasn’t been able to see much in game-action — in this preseason.

“I talked to Cam, I want him to be aggressive,” said McMillan of Reddish. “I pretty much brought him off of the bench and played him as a lone Hawk in that first half because I wanted him to get touches, I wanted to play through him and allow him to play with the basketball. I’ve got to find out who Cam is. He didn’t play a lot last year for us. This preseason, I plan to play him every preseason game to try get him involved and see how we can use him and how we can put him in position to help us. We know what he can do defensively, offensively we need to see him play with the ball.”

As McMillan said, defensively everyone knows what to expect from Reddish and he flashed that last night with those five steals. He was active defensively, he showed good anticipation as to where passes where going and he has the ability to snatch those passes too.

This steal and pass to end the third quarter was highlight worthy (if Huerter had made the basket):

Reddish is capable of great plays like this but even last night, immediately after two of his steals (which we’ve looked at already) Reddish, straight away, takes poor shots which damages his good work defensively in the first place.

McMillan has talked about playing Reddish in all four preseason games and mentioned last night that he has to find out who Cam Reddish is in this preseason. I can’t help but wonder what conclusion is he going to draw?

Reddish aside, there were other Hawks who also enjoyed good moments last night.

Huerter made his return and shot an efficient 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and 3-of-4 from three, while Dieng enjoyed a better outing than Monday’s defeat in Miami.

He looked more comfortable with second unit players and a slower pace while also assisting on six occasions last night, some of these were very pleasing to watch.

This being one of them, as Dieng pokes his hand in to create the steal before finding Collins for the dunk in the paint:

This pass to the cutting Huerter to the rim was also very nice on the eyes and an impressive read and pass for a big like Dieng to make:

“...I thought he was doing some good things, he’s starting to get a feel for how we want to play,” said McMillan when asked about Dieng. “Playing with John, it’s a little different than our center normally plays. He’s a 5-man that can shoot the three so we’re allowing him to space whereas if Clint is in the game with John, Clint normally rolls. That takes some adjustment for our guys to figure that the five is spreading and the four is rolling. I thought he looked better, looked a little more comfortable tonight but we really have to work on our conditioning.”

Cooper didn’t make his first appearance of the game until the third quarter but when he did, he made his presence known. He obviously threw the ball up for that Collins highlight but was getting into promising places and linked with Collins nicely on a number of plays, and this little tip inside to Dieng for the assist at the rim was nice to see too:

Cooper also found it a little easier to get downhill than he did against the Miami Heat, which isn’t really a surprise: Miami’s defensive looks and schemes are different to that which teams use at times in their zones and they’re usually just a tough defensive side, especially for a rookie like Cooper looking to get inside.

McMillan praised Cooper in his first answer (see far above) but he wasn’t the only one to do so, both Collins (also see above) and Reddish did too.

“He played really well,” said Reddish of Cooper. “Poised, calm demeanour and he’s only going to get better.”

Meanwhile, there were a few difficult games out there for the likes of Hunter (2-of-11 from the field), Jalen Johnson (3-of-11) and Mays (1-of-6) and Wright tweaked his left ankle in the first half and did not play in the second half.

Other than those, a few more positives and talking points for the Hawks after this one compared to the Miami game, even if they did not win.

The Hawks will be back in preseason action on Saturday when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis.

Should be fun. Until next time...