Hawks vs. Pistons Game Preview

Ben Ladner

The last time the Hawks visited Little Caesar’s Arena, it resulted in a night the Pistons would rather forget. They will remember, however, the damage Trae Young did – 38 points and nine assists on 11-of-21 shooting – in his first game of the season and the resulting trouble that gave a helpless Detroit defense. The Pistons know what Young is capable of, and will make likely be more dialed in on stopping him this time around. With fewer players available to take pressure off of Young, Detroit can more liberally send extra defender at the point guard and shade toward him when he has the ball.

Game Time: Friday, November 22, 2019, 7:00 p.m.

Location: Little Caesar's Arena, Detroit, MI

TV: FOX Sports South, FOX Sports Detroit

Streaming: NBA League Pass, FOX Sports Go

Much has changed for both teams since that night in October. Young remains potent as ever, but the Hawks have sunk to 29 in offensive efficiency. Detroit only recently got Blake Griffin back from a dual knee and hamstring injury that cost him the first 10 games of the season, while Reggie Jackson hasn’t suited up since the first time these teams squared off. The teams own identical 4-10 records – the second-worst mark in the Eastern Conference – and bottom-10 point differentials in the NBA. Both have felt the strain of missing key players from their rotations with no way of replacing them.

Still, the Pistons have pieced together an average offense in Griffin’s absence. He has yet to get up to speed after just three games, but Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard, and Derrick Rose have provided enough collective punch to keep Detroit above water. Every rotation player but Griffin and Bruce Brown scores efficiently, and the Pistons own the sixth-best effective field goal percentage in the NBA. Kennard, Tony Snell, and Langston Galloway all provide capable 3-point shooting (Kennard has played more as a primary ball-handler with Jackson out) and Rose is having perhaps his best season since he won the MVP award in 2011. Drummond remains a rock-solid roll man and rebounder.

Adding Griffin back into the mix should only strengthen Detroit’s offense. His is one of the more remarkable transformations an NBA player has ever made. After injuries robbed him of his nuclear athleticism – and thus his ability to dominate the game through sheer power – Griffin rounded into one of the most complete big men the NBA has to offer. He is an elite passer for his position and has developed into a dangerous outside shooter. Rather than trying to go over and through defenses, Griffin now unleashes slick one-handed bounce passes or smooth stepback 3s. His return should help clarify the Pistons’ offensive hierarchy. Role players can fall back into more suitable roles, and everyone should benefit from his shooting and playmaking. Some Pistons will regress soon, but Detroit will handle it better with its star back at the helm of the offense.

The Hawks have longer to wait before getting their full complement back. Kevin Huerter’s shoulder injury and John Collins’ suspension could not have come at a worse time; the Hawks have played by far the most difficult schedule in the league thus far and struggled to keep up with elite opponents without two of their most dynamic offensive players. Those issues could continue Friday night against the Pistons, when Jabari Parker will likely be tasked with defending Griffin – a tall order for anyone, let alone someone as inconsistent as Parker. Atlanta did a nice job keeping Drummond off the offensive glass in October, but repeating that accomplishment will be more difficult. Both De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish are coming off perhaps the strongest game of their young careers, but consistency can be elusive for rookies.

The game could ultimately hinge on turnovers. Atlanta and Detroit rank 28 and 29, respectively, in turnover percentage, and the Hawks have been the 8-best turnover-forcing team in the NBA. If they manage to create a lopsided margin in their favor, they could hold the Pistons at bay just enough to grind out a low-scoring win. Atlanta will, once again, rely heavily on Young, who has proven capable of lifting his team to victory almost singlehandedly. Another incandescent performance could outweigh the lack of infrastructure around him. This time, however, the Pistons will know what’s coming. 

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