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Just like old times.
Tidbits ‘n stuff for the Atlanta Hawks ahead of the Saturday night face-off with the Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit).
For the Pistons, this won’t resemble the fresh-faced Atlanta Hawks team that energetically outclassed them, 117-100 in October’s season opener in Detroit, nor the weathered Hawks squad that, hardly a month later, crawled back into the Pizza Pizza Palace to get cheesed by a 128-103 score.
One of last night’s Hawks Heroes, Eastern Conference POW candidate Kevin Huerter (past 2 games: 20.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 53.3 3FG%), hadn’t been a participant in either contest. Neither, for that matter, was Sekou Doumbouya, the Pistons’ newly 19-year-old sensation with a surname custom-made for the late Stuart Scott. Certainly, there was no Jeff Teague around.
Among the best things for Jeff’s return to the Ol’ Highlight Factory, Ryan Cameron gets one of his signature calls back: “Jeffteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeague!” Further, whenever the Hawks hit the road, Teague has a ton of options when it comes to getting a young teammate to order the postgame pizzas.
Retrieving Teague gives Atlanta (10-32) a reasonable chance of getting up off the Eastern Conference doormat in many ways. The depth chart will look less like a shallowness chart, especially once Jabari Parker (out, shoulder) and Alex Len (questionable, back) can return to couch Atlanta’s maturing set of wings, including Teague-mate Treveon Graham, part of the package exchanged for Allen Crabbe’s contract, and DeAndre’ Bembry (team-high and career-high 22 points, 4-for-5 3FGs and 4 steals @ DET on Nov. 22).
Further, Agent Double Zero’s inclusion renders Brandon Goodwin as one of the league’s best third-tier point guards, which is what the Norcross product deserves to be. And the dual-PG option we hoped we’d have with Trae Young back when Jeremy Lin was here, or when Evan Turner was acquired, can finally come to fruition.
No one is expecting Teague (team-high 6.1 APG w/ MIN, despite just 13 starts in 34 games; 37.9 3FG%) to replicate the stunning undefeated month of January five years ago, where he became a Player of the Week, one-fourth of the NBA’s Player of the Month and sealed an unexpected All-Star invite.
Much in the same way, few should expect Jeff’s former Timberwolf teammate, the Pistons’ Derrick Rose (team-high 18.1 PPG, despite just 2 starts in 36 games) to carbon-copy his MVP campaigns from days gone by. Rose (20+ points in 7-straight games, longest run since 2011) has grown accustomed to playing to his spots and his strengths in abbreviated bursts. That’s a skill Teague is learning to master as he shifts fully into a valuable reserve role.
Now that it’s almost certain he won’t have to hunt for short-term high-rise luxury apartment rentals in Buckhead, Andre Drummond (NBA-high 15.7 RPG) will turn his full attention tonight to showing the Hawks, and whoever his next prospective club will be by this time next month, exactly what they’ll be missing.
Drummond has had to wage battles for most of this season without two other Piston pillars, Reggie Jackson (lumbar stress) and Blake Griffin (knee surgery), who remain on the shelf indefinitely. As coach Dwane Casey’s club sinks out of playoff contention, it has become clear Drummond, Rose, Langston Galloway and Markieff Morris, are assets to be dangled by the Trade Deadline, especially so long as the veterans can stay healthy.
Despite a 4-13 slide lowlighted by a three-game home sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers, Bulls and Pelicans, Detroit (15-27) was able to grab a branch this past Wednesday before they could hurtle completely into the quicksand.
The host Celtics may not have been surprised by That Other AD’s obligatory double-double, or by Rose’s perfect 11-for-11 shooting inside the 3-point arc, or even Keef Morris’ efficient 23-point game off the bench. But Boston was wholly unprepared for the Pistons’ emerging youth movement, overwhelmed by the teenage titan Doumbouya (24 points, 8-for-8 2FGs, 2-for-5 3FGs) and his 22-year-old teammate “Svi for Three” Mykhailiuk (5-for-8 3FGs, 21 points and 5 assists off bench), the only Ukrainian-born NBA player aside from Len.
Wednesday’s win was the surest sign yet that Casey, striving for his own job security, and the Pistons organization is preparing to pivot in ways that haven’t been this drastic since 2008, when then-GM Joe Dumars heralded a rebuild by flipping the late coach Saunders out of Motown after three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals defeats. With some strategic deals in the works by team president Ed Stefanski, Casey can finally inherit a young core he can nurture, if owner Tom Gores grants him and the front office the latitude to do so.
With Friday night off, the Pistons’ brass certainly had to be inspired by last night’s topsy-turvy, quasi-historic win by the upstart Hawks in Spursville. Just a couple weeks ago, Atlanta nearly toppled the Kemba-less Celtics in Beantown. But in a sign of growth by coach Lloyd Pierce’s club, they flew home and beat a playoff opponent here at The Farm, the Pacers, the very next night.
That was the Hawks’ first win of the season on the back end of a back-to-back, and they’re hoping the ebullience exuded last night will carry over in front of another friendly home crowd to make it two in a row. Coincidentally, last season’s final victory by the Hawks, over the playoff-bound Sixers, came one night after Atlanta fell short in San Antonio.
Slowly but surely, thanks in large part to rookies De'Andre Hunter (33.6 opponent above-break 3FG%, 26.4 this month) and Cam Reddish (34.7 opponent above-break 3FG%, 32.5% this month; career-high 5 threes himself last night), there’s an identity building in ATL! Similar to November when the Hawks held the Spurs to 8-for-33 from outside, and the Pistons in the season opener to 10-for-37 shooting, Atlanta raised its record yesterday to 8-7 when they held opponents below 30 percent on threes (2-25 record otherwise), and all seven losses were just by single digits.
Get this team competent and reasonably consistent in just that one regard, perimeter D, and Atlanta gives themselves a puncher’s chance on any given night. With health and confidence on the rebound, Reddy V and Cammy Redd showed us that Trae can now rely on more than just himself to deliver the body shots, or even the occasional knockout blow.
Let’s Go Hawks!