The Atlanta Hawks small ball lineup has the potential to be good defensively when defending small lineups. By adding two forwards with wingspans longer than seven feet, the Hawks have boosted their length significantly. This gives the Atlanta Hawks the potential to stifle other small ball units with that length. The length also allows Atlanta to hold their own, should the opponent try to play a bigger lineup against the Hawks smaller unit. They can switch the pick and roll comfortably with every player, except the smaller Trae Young. That versatility affords coach Pierce the option of using a method to mask the defensive deficiencies of Trae Young, similar to the switching method that the Golden State Warriors use prevent teams from attacking Steph Curry. Ben Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area shows us a good example in the following tweet:
Deficiencies of the Hawks Small Ball lineup
There are three potential weaknesses with the Atlanta Hawks small ball unit. Those are rebounding, rim protection and creating turnovers. John Collins is a superb rebounder, whose rebounding average rounds up to double figures on a per game basis. Unfortunately outside of Collins, no one else excels in the rebounding department. Kevin Huerter averaged just more than three rebounds per game and Cam Reddish grabbed slightly under four boards per contest in college. De’Andre Hunter is a surprisingly average rebounder for his physical build, pulling down just barely over five boards per game. I was shocked to see that both R.J. Barrett and Jarrett Culver were significantly better rebounders, than the more physically mature Hunter.
Both De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish have the physical potential to improve in this area. They are blessed with long wingspans, good leaping ability and standing reaches that rival the famous cartoon character “Inspector Gadget”. Those three qualities alone, should at least make for an adequate “boardman”. The Hawks coaching staff helping both rookies get back to the fundamentals of boxing out, will help correct a lot. Also drills that help timing, will aid both men in improving on the glass. Continuing to get stronger via an NBA level weight training program, will also help both guys better hold their position on the defensive back boards.
Rim Protection and steals
When it comes to protecting the rim, no member of the five man squad thrives in that area of the game. De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish each averaged a miniscule 0.6 shots per game, in the NCAA last season. To make matters worse, John Collins averaged just 0.6 blocks per game in the NBA last season. Collins did show significant improvement in this category in the final 33 games of the NBA regular season. He exploded to post six games with multiple blocked shots during the stretch run, including a three block effort against the Milwaukee Bucks, and a dominant four blocked shots against the New Orleans Pelicans. Similar to rebounding, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter possess the physical attributes to be much better in this department. With the overall length of this small ball lineup, the Hawks should at least be sufficient enough at protecting the rim to prevent the opposition from running a layup drill on their basket.
In the area of steals, only one of the five young Hawks really does well. Cam Reddish has great timing when stealing the ball from his opponent. That will be certainly utilized on this dynamic young unit. Outside of Cam, no one registered even one theft per game at their respective level. De’Andre Hunter has a low steal rate, partially because he is often laser focused on defending the best scorer for the other team. As he learns team defensive concepts, he should improve at creating takeaways. He is athletic enough with a long wingspan, to eliminate this deficiency.
I honestly liked the idea of trading up for Jarrett Culver, as opposed to De’Andre Hunter. I liked the idea enough, that I ranked Jarrett Culver number one on my Atlanta Hawks Big Board. I especially did not want Hunter to be the lone wing candidate drafted to replace Taurean Prince. In Culver I saw a ball handling, creative wing player, that was ready to play now, but also has high upside. However De’Andre Hunter is a much better fit in combination with Cam Reddish, as a combo forward and a wing, as opposed to pairing two true wing players together. Reddish fills the secondary ball handler needs, allowing De’Andre to focus on his strengths. The decision to draft Hunter instead of Culver, made this potentially dangerous small ball lineup possible. I certainly hope to be proven blind when not seeing the Kawhi Leonard comparisons in regards to De’Andre Hunter. Yet I definitely believe that Hunter can be a solid contributor to a championship team one day, even if it is not as a star.
It is abundantly clear that the Atlanta Hawks have the talent and potential, to field one of the best teams in the East in the near future. If All Rookie Team honorees Trae Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter continue to progress, and rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish begin to ascend towards the higher end of their ceilings, the Atlanta Hawks will be a very dangerous team in a couple of years. Often times high school and college stars are told to stay out of foul trouble, so they temper their aggressiveness on the defensive end and conserve energy to carry their teams on offense. Once the Atlanta Hawks coaching staff is able to break those tendencies that have been ingrained into the young Hawks stars for years, it will unlock their full defensive potential. When that defensive potential is realized, don’t be surprised to see the Atlanta Hawks competing for championships sooner than any of the experts expect. The beauty of it all is, the Atlanta Hawks will have the salary cap space, to add two max free agents to the mix starting next offseason. The team also has five first round draft picks in the next three drafts. Travis Schlenk, you are the man sir!