Real Test For The Atlanta Hawks Starts Now


Great teams have always found ways to overcome adversity. Be it in the form of a great loss (the Spurs from recovering from their Finals loss in 2013 to win the next year) or losing a key player or two to an injury (the Chicago Bulls multiple times over the last few years). The “great team” trial for the Atlanta Hawks has come in the form of multiple injuries to its players.

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The recently named Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer, is more than capable of handling such challenges. A disciple of Greg Popovich, we can expect Budenholzer to find a solution which helps everyone.

Paul Millsap played game 1 with an injured shoulder. The impact of the injury was evident as he was an unimpressive 2-11 from the field. His shooting is what separates the Hawks from the rest of the league and makes their offense hum. Without Millsap sucking defenders away from the rim, the defense does not open and the Hawks cannot move as well as they usually do.

To make matters worse, Al Horford dislocated his finger in the fourth quarter of game 1. The X-rays were negative but he isn’t technically 100 percent either. Oh and Thabo Sefolosha‘s already out for the playoffs with a broken leg.

That’s two of their starting five playing at less than 100% and a crucial bench player whose defense is irreplaceable. All three are important cogs of the Hawks machine. Horford, while undersized, provides great defense around the basket. The Hawks pack the paint and depend upon help defense to cover up lack of size.

Paul Millsap does a bit of everything. He can rebound, shoot and D-up. Whatever the Hawks need, he provides. With him playing at less than full strength, his impact across all areas suffer. The Hawks suffer.

With their power forward and center not playing at their full, the defense has to suffer. The Hawks are already a bad rebounding team, they compensated this with great half court defense.

Fortunately, the Hawks’ style of play is specifically designed for such situations. Situations where the whole is always much much more than the individual. If Millsap and Horford aren’t 100 percent on the boards, put someone in who is; like Mike Muscala. I’m not saying Muscala is a better rebounder than both, I’m saying a healthy Muscala is better than an unhealthy Millsap or Horford.

You put Muscala in for a few minutes, suddenly your rebounder isn’t playing cautiously. He isn’t thinking twice about going after the ball because now he isn’t worried about aggravating his injury. That added half second changes the whole game. One play to another, the Hawks are running away. You put Millsap or Horford in again, suddenly they may not be as cautious anymore either. With a lead as a cushion, his mind is relaxed.

Similarly, you decide to put Antic in. Now, Antic can really shoot the three-ball. The same thing happens, he isn’t thinking twice about his shot because his shoulder isn’t injured. He lets it fly. That split second changes the whole offense.

The question is, what will Coach Bud do? Will he sit Millsap out to rest his shoulder with the hopes that his replacements can more than make up for his absence? Pero Antic and Mike Muscala are capable big men who can fill in when needed.

Perhaps Coach Bud decides to lean on his guards more. He puts in Muscala and Horford to crash the boards and depends upon his guards and wing to carry the game.

Horford, on the other hand, provides valuable midrange game which keeps opposing defenses honest and sucks them out from the paint; opening driving and cutting lanes for Hawks’ guards. With his hand less than 100 percent, his shooting will suffer.

Maybe Coach Bud starts a healthy lineup of Antic-Muscala. Antic has a more than capable outside shot and Muscala can muscle inside.

Or Coach Bud decides to go really small and run the Nets out of Atlanta. With a lineup of Teague-Schroder-Korver-DeMarre-Horford, you can’t expect them to rebound and defend as well as other lineups but you can get great ball movement on offense. With this lineup, the Hawks could try and get out there quickly too. Early offense.

This is the beauty of the Hawks’ system. There are so many lineups you can throw out and every lineup can provide something. You can always redesign your offense as needed and keep fighting.

Adapt and advance. That’s what great teams do and the Hawks are the most versatile team in the league. Combine that with their unselfish basketball, they can adapt to anything.

In last night’s Game 2, the signs were positive as both Millsap and Horford looked closer to a picture of full health. That doesn’t mean that it still isn’t something the Hawks will monitor though.

Only time will tell what the Coach Of the Year has in mind, but we know this much, they will adapt and they will advance.

Next: Report: Atlanta Hawks Bought By Antony Ressler

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