Three Observations From the Hawks' Win Over the Knicks

Ben Ladner

The Hawks’ penultimate preseason contest was a much tidier affair than the team’s first three. The final result (100-96) wasn’t as important as how it was achieved. The two sides played a surprisingly clean game for teams in the early stages of their respective rebuilds, and Atlanta put together its most coherent outing of the month. 

New York, despite being a poor NBA basketball team, plays hard and set the terms of engagement Wednesday by slowing the pace and constantly, physically attacking Atlanta inside. The final minutes turned too slowly for Atlanta’s liking, and the Hawks found little to offer aside from contested shots and turnovers. Only late intervention from Vince Carter and DeAndre’ Bembry rescued Atlanta from the jaws of defeat.

Still, the Hawks – who typically play at warp speed and from the perimeter – mostly responded to the uncomfortable conditions New York imposed, providing compelling basketball and an encouraging data point for a young team that still has plenty to clean up.

Here’s what else stood out from Wednesday’s tune-up:

11 Turnovers

Atlanta’s inability to take care of the ball has been a defining theme of the preseason. The Hawks committed 29, 27, and 25 turnovers, respectively, in their first three games, but on Wednesday sliced the figure to 11 (and just two in the first half). Slowing the pace and running more offense in the halfcourt helped cut down on loose, careless giveaways, but there was more at play. The Hawks seemed to have made a noticeably more concerted effort to value the ball and ran their offense with more precision than usual. Trae Young, who chided himself a week ago for his sloppiness with the ball, had just one turnover in 35 minutes of work while only Vince Carter had more than two.

That sort of attention to detail goes a long way for an offense that creates remarkably efficient looks when it actually attempts a shot. Trim some of those empty possessions, and the Hawks become markedly more dangerous. That requires a team playing under control and in command, which Atlanta simply won’t be able to do from game to game, or even quarter to quarter. The team lost some of its poise late in the game as New York’s newfound energy down the stretch hurried Atlanta into nine second-half turnovers, but relatively little of that damage was self-inflicted.

The Hawks have, by no means, resolved their most pressing issue. Some recklessness is to be expected from an inexperienced team playing at the fastest pace in the league. But – with the caveat that it came in a preseason game against the New York Knicks – Wednesday’s effort may have been a starting point.

Trae Young, Working the In-Between

Young made clear from the start of Wednesday’s action that if the Knicks would concede open shots in the lane, he would take them. New York’s bigs dropped back into the lane on pick-and-rolls, giving Young ample time and space to set his feet and loft floaters over them. To some extent the gambit worked; Young finished just 6-of-15 from two-point range, largely due to misplaced short mid-rangers.

That shot will be crucial for Young not just this season, but likely for his entire career. In lieu of size or physicality, small point guards must create advantages through other means, and as defenses orient around preventing threes and layups, lead guards may often have only the space in between with which to work. In Young’s case, many opponents will do everything possible to neutralize his lob passing out of the pick-and-roll – his most dangerous weapon in those scenarios – and surrender the short mid-range.

Young knows this, and has clearly made it a point of focus entering the season. He isn’t surprising the rest of the NBA anymore, and teams will begin taking away his biggest strengths this year. Now it’s on Young to counter. Nearly every star point guard undergoes this developmental process, which only serves as another reminder of how dangerous Young already is.

Cam Reddish, Still Finding the Right Balance

There were two contrasting plays Wednesday night – both in transition – from Cam Reddish that at once displayed his readiness for NBA minutes and how far he still has to go. In the first quarter, the rookie received the ball on the run from Trae Young at halfcourt, unleashed a smooth in-and-out dribble on his way to the paint and finished easily at the basket. It was a decisive move made under control and with plenty of space to operate.

Later, in the third quarter, Reddish swiped the ball from Wayne Ellington and darted down the floor with three teammates flanking him and just one Knick (Frank Ntilikina) ahead of the play. Rather than hitting Brandon Goodwin for a layup or leaving the ball for Bruno Fernando, Reddish crossed over and had his layup attempt stripped.

In most of his minutes this preseason, Reddish has been assertive and unabashed about making himself at home within Atlanta’s offense. He so clearly has confidence in his shot and reason to believe in his own ability to finish plays. But growth comes in fits and starts for rookies. The game will slow down for Reddish, it just hasn’t happened yet.