Editor’s note: This is the first post from new Peachtree Hoops contributor Mason Smith. We’re excited to have him on the staff and help with our coverage of the Atlanta Hawks.
It was a back-and-forth game to open the 2023 Las Vegas Summer League, but the Atlanta Hawks fell short as the Sacramento Kings won 80-76.
Sacramento’s Jordan Ford finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field. Neemias Queta added 13 points with a game-high 12 rebounds, and Kessler Edwards scored 14 points on 3-for-6 shooting from 3-point range.
On the Hawks’ side, Trae Young’s old Oklahoma running mate Brady Manek had a team-high 17 points on a game-high five 3-pointers. AJ Griffin was second on the team with 12 points and nearly had a double-double with nine rebounds.
The two Atlanta draftees had starkly different pro debuts. Second-round pick Mouhamed Gueye finished with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block. Lottery pick Kobe Bufkin didn’t have his best game, finishing with eight points on 14 shots, 0-for-8 on 3-pointers, four rebounds, three assists, and eight turnovers. Bufkin also finished with a game-high eight personal fouls (the summer league limit is 10).
The core of the Hawks’ summer league roster had specific goals outlined for them. For Bufkin, it was to work on his skills as a lead guard; for Griffin, it was to aggressively hunt for his shot and attack off the dribble. The second-year guard was the first player to attempt a field goal and the first to score, knocking down a deep 3-pointer off of a pass from Mouhamed Gueye.
Sacramento’s Jordan Ford responded with a mid-range jump shot, but scoring was hard to come by for both teams. There were some highlight moments from Gueye, who got on the board with a tough and-1 layup against two defenders and showed his defensive prowess with a monster block on Kessler Edwards. The second-round pick also had a missed dunk that, if he had made it, would have been in contention for dunk of the summer.
Bufkin also put his offensive repertoire on display, scoring with a left-handed floater and hitting a mid-range jumper of his own.
The Kings countered with Kessler Edwards, who had a solid first quarter with six quick points. Keon Ellis also added four points, but it was a low-scoring affair at the end of the first quarter, with the total being 19-16 Sacramento.
The second quarter was another offensive struggle as the Hawks and Kings scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, and both squads finished the first half shooting under 30% from the field and combined to shoot 6-for-39 from deep.
How bad was it? Bufkin scored a floater to make the score 27-23 Sacramento at the 6:55 mark. The following points for either team didn’t come until the 5-minute mark when Colby Jones made a putback layup. Then another drought ensued until the 3:27 mark when Keon Ellis made a jumper, and Neemias Queta hit a free throw to make the score 32-23.
The Kings appeared to be pulling away, but the Hawks used the final 3:27 to go on on a 9-2 run, capped off with another contested 3-pointer from Griffin to cut the lead to two points. At halftime, the score was 34-32 Sacramento.
In the second half, the offense came alive for both teams. Sacramento made the first move with an 8-0 run early in the third, thanks partly to a pair of threes from Ellis and Edwards. Mfiondu Kabengele ended the run with his second 3-pointer of the night to make the score 44-38.
Both teams exchanged baskets, and the Kings began to pull away once again, growing the lead to eight, But a 3-pointer from Gueye, his only one of the game, kicked off an 11-2 Atlanta run to make the score 55-54 with 1:30 left, giving the Hawks their first lead since the opening frame.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Sacramento ended the third on a 6-0 run to take a 60-55 lead into the fourth quarter.
In the opening of the final frame, Brady Manek, the former Oklahoma Sooner and Trae Young’s former teammate went nuclear, knocking down three consecutive 3-pointers to recapture the lead. After Jarkel Joiner made a 3-pointer, the Hawks took a 67-60 lead with 7:25 to go.
But Neemias Queta kept the Kings in it, scoring four of his team’s following seven points to cut the deficit to six with 4:54. At that point, the Hawks went ice cold, failing to score again until Kabengele knocked down a corner 3-pointer, ending a 12-0 Kings run to make the score 79-76 Sacramento with a minute left in regulation.
Unfortunately, that would be the last time Atlanta would score, as the Kings took the game 80-76.
Despite the loss, there were some positives for the Hawks. Griffin is working on attacking off the bounce, and his aggression paid off in the form of a near double-double. Bufkin looked comfortable in pick-and-roll sets and wasn’t afraid to facilitate as a lead guard. And Gueye showed the athleticism and offensive potential that has general manager Landry Fields and co. so optimistic.
The Hawks will play their second Summer League game Sunday against the Denver Nuggets. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV.