The Hawks once again find themselves adjusting to another injury to the their frontcourt. Coach Mike Budenholzer now has one less body at his disposal with Pero Antic out with a stress fracture the next few weeks. Pero was given the opportunity to shine due to the loss of Al Horford for the remainder of the season and he produced well, averaging 11.4 points per game in the 8 starts leading up to last Wednesday. The Hawks have started Gustavo Ayon in Pero’s place since then and the team has shown some signs of struggle offensively in Ayon’s two starts. It shouldn’t be a knock on Ayon however, who is 8-12 from the field the past two games, but there is growing support for the idea that starting Mike Scott and pushing Paul Millsap to center is the better option to help reconstruct the offense in Pero’s absence.
Mike Scott has been a bright spot on the Hawks’ roster this season and, along with Pero, has stepped up in the absence of Al Horford over the past month. Since Horford’s injury, Mike has averaged 12.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in 21.6 minutes a game. Placing Mike Scott into the starting rotation would add another offensive weapon to the floor, giving the rest of the lineup more opportunities in the process. Ayon’s isn’t seen as much of an offensive threat and it has become obvious that teams are willing to leave him open and focus on guarding other players on the floor. Pairing Mike and Paul Millsap would be the most interesting development of Scott starting; Mike and Paul have been on the floor together a total of 93 minutes this season, roughly 14 percent of the minutes Mike has played. The two would bring an interesting combination offensively that hasn’t been seen since Al’s injury. Mike has shown signs of being a fairly proficient pick and roll option in the past, an aspect of Budenholzer’s system that has somewhat disappeared with the removal of Al from the equation. Al’s pick and roll style brought defenses off of Paul, giving Paul more looks than what we have seen since. Paul has been shooting 42.5% from the field since Al’s injury, he had been shooting 49.2% up to that point. Mike won’t be able to fully replace Horford’s ability in the Hawks’ offense, but could help keep the offense stable, as they have looked more to Lou Williams and DeMarre Carroll the past two games, and the two have both been inconsistent options this season.
The question of starting Mike is on the defensive end. Mike and Paul Millsap would be the tallest players on the floor at 6’8″ and Millsap at Center would be worrisome in some situations defensively. Paul may have the strength to keep up with most power forwards in the NBA, but some Centers would give him trouble. So the focus should be on how long do the Hawks roll with this starting five and who do they face in the process?
So let’s take a look at the Hawks upcoming schedule, leading up to the All-Star Break:
@ Oklahoma City Thunder
vs. Detroit Pistons
@ Philadelphia 76ers
vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
vs. Indiana Pacers
@ New Orleans Pelicans
vs. Memphis Grizzlies
@ Chicago Bulls
@ Toronto Raptors
The smaller lineup wouldn’t have a lot of trouble against teams like the 76ers, Pelicans and Raptors, but it’d be tough to envision success with Paul Millsap guarding the likes of Nikola Pekovic, Marc Gasol and Andre Drummond or even Mike Scott covering David West. The Hawks would also have some trouble on the boards, but this has been a common attribute to the team all season as they tend to focus more on transition defense. The Hawks have been in the bottom half in the league in rebounding and are currently second to last in offensive rebounds per game. The fact the Hawks have stayed above .500 with this should show the team doesn’t require above average rebounding to be successful.
Saturday night’s victory over the Milwaukee Bucks is a positive sign with the current lineup, but the performance against the San Antonio Spurs could end up being repeated when the Hawks face the better teams in the league, such as the Pacers and Thunder in the coming days. Pero will likely be back in the starting five upon his return sometime around the All-Star Break, but with the Hawks in the top half of the East Standings, putting out the best five on the floor every night should be the priority and Mike should be considered one of the best options at the moment. Whether or not this move is likely is hard to tell; Coach Budenholzer may be more willing to give it a try when the Hawks face the 76ers next Friday in Philadelphia.