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¡Ay, caramba! The Brooklyn Nets steadfastly refused to play along with the Atlanta Hawks’ competitank antics on Saturday, allowing their spunky visitors to escape Barclays Center with a 114-102 victory. The scene shifts from the BK to the ATL today (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, YES Network in NYC). With the Nets heading south of the border for a pair of games in Mexico City afterwards, everyone is left to wonder if Brooklyn is heading south in the standings as well.
Signals had been pointing upwards for Kenny Atkinson’s bunch after stealing two of three on the road last week, at immolating Memphis and water-treading Dallas. Then came Saturday, with Brooklyn (8-14) getting blitzed at home in the paint by a Hawks team missing both Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins (and you, too, Mike Muscala).
Atlanta (5-17) built up a decisive 54-28 paint-points advantage versus a jumper-satisfied Nets squad, one that did not convert on an attempt in the paint until almost midway through the second quarter. And even that bucket came not from a big, but from Brooklyn’s default starter at the point. Among Net players who showed up to compete with the Hawks, Spencer Dinwiddie (3-for-8 3FGs vs. ATL, team-highs of 15 points, 9 assists, 3 blocks, plus 6 rebounds) often seemed to be on an island unto himself.
“I thought they dominated us in every area,” Atkinson told the postgame media. “They were the more aggressive team. They were the quicker team . . . They really took it to us. We could not keep them in front of us . . . That was the story of the game: We couldn’t guard them.”
Former Hawk DeMarre Carroll, who made quite a living off guarding people, got more than a birds’ eye view of the proceedings. “They came out and basically kicked our butt,” JYD stated matter-of-factly. “We didn’t have any energy. We came out lackadaisical and we knew coming off a three-game road trip, this tends to happen. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”
Alternatively, Dennis Schröder (10-for-19 2FGs, 6 assists, 1 TO @ BKN; 36.7 assist%, 6th in NBA) sure seems to understand his role, at least on offense. As Bryan Fonseca of SB Nation’s Nets Daily noted, Dennis had not just one head coach watching him, but two. His German National Team coach from Eurobasket, Chris Fleming, now serves full-time as an Atkinson assistant.
Schröder also knows he’s being scouted before games by former Hawks video coordinator and current Nets assistant Jordan Ott. When Dennis plays the Nets, he’s dressed to impress (20.5 PPG, 7.0 APG, 1.5 TOs/game), and he was eons better with his shot selection than during the Hawks’ October 22 loss (5-for-22 FGs) in the same building.
It was back when Atkinson and Ott were in Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer’s stead, when Carroll (career-highs of 14.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG this season) previously reached his zenith as an offensive performer. Shooting career-highs of 56.7 FG% on twos, and 39.5 percent on threes, during the Hawks magic-carpet-ride season of 2014-15, DeMarre showed he had turned a corner by attacking from the wings off the catch, without hesitation as to whether he would shoot, pass, or drive. His offensive play from that season should be instructive for the player who presently starts in his stead for the Hawks at small forward.
No one is doing HesiHawk quite as habitually these days as Taurean Prince (last 5 games: 33.3 FG%), with one shot-fake and jab-step at a time unsuccessful at drawing defenders to bite. Atlanta’s leader in total minutes is putting the ball on the floor and trying to Tetris his way to the hoop, but without much of a Plan B when those forays are thwarted by the opposition.
As a result, Prince (5-for-13 FGs, no assists, 2 TOs @ BKN) is too often settling for mid-range shots. Despite shooting a solid 42.5 3FG% in just his second season, his proportion of three-point attempts taken (34.5 percent of FGAs, as per basketball-reference) is down from last season (36.3 percent). It’s a similar deal for the shots he gets around the rim (63.5 FG%, up from 53.4%; 29.4 percent of FGAs, down from 36.1 percent). In the mushy middle is where things get muddled for Prince and the Atlanta offense.
Compared to his rookie year, Taurean is taking a higher proportion of his shots between 3-to-10 feet (shooting 25.6 FG%), between 10-to-16 feet (32.3 FG%), and the dreaded long 2s from 16 feet out (19.0 FG%). Throw in a turnover percentage (16.4 per 100 plays) that rivals Kommander Kent Bazemore’s (16.3 TO%), and you can see why, despite a stellar perimeter shot percentage, Prince’s offensive efficiencies (-0.4 offensive win share) have been as poor as any current (i.e., Malcolm-Delaney-at-PG excepted) significant contributor on the team.
It is a big ask to read-and-react in Coach Bud’s motion offense for even veteran players, but Prince (46.5 catch-and-shoot 3FG%) can help his cause, and Atlanta’s, by simply gathering and hoisting the open threes when the ball comes his way. He’s one of seven Hawks (incl. Dedmon, Luke Babbitt, Delaney, Tyler Cavanaugh, Baze, and Marco Belinelli) hitting above a 40-percent clip on catch-and-shoot threes.
There will be opportunities to blow past the closeout man, but Prince must make those decisions more immediately, as his reactions while reading the defense tend to throw him off more than his defenders. The Hawks (12th in eFG%, 21st in O-Rating) can diversify their offense further by running plays where Taurean (11.2 assist%, 52nd among 80 players w/ 30+ MPG) receives the ball strictly as a swing passer.
Rebounding by Committee remains the order of the day for Atlanta, and the nimble feet of Ersan Ilyasova (11 rebounds, 8 offensive) will have to come through again tonight if the Hawks intend to pull off the Pasa Doble. In the Battle of Inferior Baller Bros, starter Miles Plumlee (7 rebounds, 3 swats) managed a strategic draw with the Nets’ Tyler Zeller on Saturday. Having Ilyasova and Plumlee back and healthy allowed Luke Babbitt (season-high 20 points, 4-for-6 3FGs @ BKN), still dealing with a nagging back issue, to snipe away in a bench role.
The Hawks’ wings (including DeAndre’ Bembry) helped the Atlanta frontcourt limit the Nets to just 12 second-chance points, and Atkinson is out to change that tonight. He got nothing from the benched Timofey Mozgov (DNP-CD for two straight games) and next-to-nothing from starter Trevor Booker (0-for-5 FGs vs. ATL, benched mid-3rd quarter) on Saturday.
Through drives and post-ups, the Nets will try to get the ball inside more and draw trips to the free throw line (26.5 FTAs per game, 4th in NBA), although making these shots have become a bit like the adage about drawing horses to water (73.1 team FT%, 27th in NBA).
When Brooklyn goes bigger and crashes the offensive glass, the Hawks should counter by pushing in transition, no matter whether the Nets convert their plays into points. It will be up to Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (starting beside DMC at power forward), and Caris LeVert to slow the Hawks’ rolls toward the paint and the three-point corners, if the Mexico-bound Nets want a happy send-off tonight from their fans, and a few others.
Let’s Go Hawks!