Video: Pierce Talks Injuries, Previews Wolves

Ben Ladner

Lloyd Pierce addressed the media this afternoon ahead of the Hawks' matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday evening. Here are some of the highlights: 

Injury Updates on Reddish and Huerter

Cam Reddish has missed Atlanta's last two games with a sprained left wrist (his non-shooting hand) while Kevin Huerter has sat out the last six with a sprained left shoulder. Each has been a critical blow to Atlanta's depth (particularly Huerter), but Pierce is hopeful the two wings can return to the court soon. Both players got on-court work in on Monday, and Reddish participated fully in the team's shootaround. 

Though Reddish didn't work out on Sunday, Pierce indicated the rookie could be ready to play as early as Monday night if his wrist feels good enough to play. He reported to the training staff after shootaround, and the team will decide whether he'll play sometime this afternoon. 

"He’s shooting and moving and he’s got comfort with the basketball," Pierce said. "I think if he’s fine and he feels like he’s comfortable and it feels good enough he’ll be able to go." 

Huerter has an appointment scheduled with the team doctors this evening to reevaluate the injury, but may still have a relatively long way to go before returning to the lineup. He went through an on-court workouts after shootaround, but used only his right arm to shoot layups and did not attempt any jumpers. Pierce said that Huerter doesn't yet have a full range of motion in his left shoulder, but the team hopes to be able to clear him for more basketball activities soon. 

(Apologies for the orientation of the video. My stupid phone wouldn't shoot horizontally. Yes, I turned portrait orientation lock off.) 

"All signs have been positive," Pierce said. "Tonight is more about whether that shoulder is stable and strong enough." 

Huerter was playing his best basketball of the season before he sprained that shoulder, averaging 9.3 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting from 3 and in less than 24 minutes per game. He had begun to emerge as a key secondary playmaker for Atlanta, which helped stabilize its rotation and take pressure off of Trae Young. 

What To Expect From Minnesota

The Wolves, and their superstar center Karl-Anthony Towns, have looked rejuvenated this season, and will present a difficult test for Atlanta's defensively-challenged center rotation. Towns is averaging 26.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists on a preposterous 66.3 true shooting percentage, and he leads all NBA centers in 3-point attempts and percentage (minimum 3.0 attempts per game). 

"I think he’s looking to shoot the 3 more," Pierce said. "One of the ways to just get him more touches is to put him in the trail spot [at the top of the key in transition]. He’s got a great handle for a five man, and so he can [isolate] all that activity going on and he knows how to get to the foul line. So I think the willingness to shoot more 3s really creates a lot of that from that trail position." 

There's was no effective way of stopping Towns before he became one of the most deadly shooters in the NBA. Now he's just unfair. He might already be the most versatile scoring big man in NBA history. His post game is both graceful and punishing, and he creates his own shot at an elite level. He has improved as a passer, even if he isn't elite yet, which puts him in the conversation for the best offensive center in basketball. 

The Wolves have surrounded him with an active and versatile cast of wings. Robert Covington and Josh Okogie are two of the better perimeter defenders in the Western Conference while Andrew Wiggins may finally be having the breakout season that had eluded him for so long. 

Wiggins is averaging 25 points and 3.5 assists -- both career-highs -- and he's scoring on above-average efficiency for the first time in six NBA seasons. He has cut out most of the worst shots in his diet and replaced them with 3s and layups, and Wiggins has the explosiveness to finish when he gets to the basket. 

The combination of he and [Towns] offensively, there’s a lot you have to deal with," Pierce said. "He’s elusive, he’s quick, he’s athletic, he’s bouncy. And if he gets a couple good looks, the rhythm, the confidence, it increases quickly." 

Defensive Rebounding

Against Utah, Towns used his shooting to pull Rudy Gobert, the NBA's preeminent rim protector, away from the paint, and will pose a similar problem for the Hawks. "We watched the Utah game, I think KAT had seven 3s in that game," Pierce said. "Gobert’s up the floor, he’s not a rim protector anymore, and that’s why it was tough for him. He’s trying to do something he’s not normally doing. Damian [Jones] is going to have that tonight."  

Tracking Towns on the perimeter could also make it difficult for Damian Jones, Alex Len, and Bruno Fernando to secure missed shots. Atlanta has been the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA this season, while the Timberwolves rank 10th in offensive rebound percentage. That will make it all the more imperative for Jabari Parker, De'Andre Hunter, and Atlanta's other perimeter players to crash the boards and keep Minnesota's wings off the glass. "We need De’Andre Hunter and we need Damian Jones and Jabari," Pierce said. "We need all those guys to come in and crash." 

Atlanta's centers combined for three defensive rebounds in the team's last game, and while Young led the Hawks with 10 boards, the team must find a better balance on the glass. 

"Trae leads us in defensive rebounds, it’s a combination. It’s not a knock on Trae, it’s not a knock on our bigs. Sometimes when you’re occupied and you’ve got a one-on-one battle down there, it’s the other guy who gets the rebound.

"I just know we have to be better, our bigs have to be more aggressive." 

The Hawks often found themselves in rotation, flying out at and recovering to shooters, which threw off their rebounding positioning. But with size at every position but point guard, Atlanta should be able to snare more misses than it does. 

"When you’ve got a 6-9 small forward and a 6-9 off-guard, 6-9 power forward, we have the size and capability to go get the rebound when our five is being occupied with elite rebounders," Pierce said. 

Forwards like Hunter, Reddish, and Parker all have the ability to grab the rebound and push, which could give the Hawks an advantage in transition -- if only they could finish possessions with a rebound.