The Atlanta Hawks need to shake things up in their playoff series against the Washington Wizards. Should they make a change at backup point guard?
The Atlanta Hawks are down 0-2 in their playoff series against the Washington Wizards. Things are looking bleak for the Hawks. Aren’t things always bleak for Atlanta sports?
The Hawks let a winnable game slip away in the fourth quarter, due to suspect perimeter defense and long stretches where their offense couldn’t buy a basket.
One disappointing stretch came early in the fourth quarter. The Hawks held a four-point lead entering the fourth quarter and looked prepared to take control of the game against a Washington lineup comprised mostly of bench players.
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Atlanta is supposed to have a depth advantage in this series. The Wizards have a far superior starting five, but the Hawks could go 11 or 12 deep if they wanted to. Taking advantage of bench units is how Atlanta is supposed to keep this series close.
A Taurean Prince basket gave the Hawks an 84-78 with 9:14 remaining in the game. An 8-0 Wizards run swung the game back in Washington’s favor, paving the way for the John Wall, Bradley Beal explosion that would give them a 109-101 victory.
Six of those eight points were scored by or assisted by Brandon Jennings. He exploited his matchup against Jose Calderon and gave the Wizards the spark they needed to prevent the Hawks from extending their lead. It was arguably the turning point of Game 2.
It’s clear that Mike Budenholzer is adamant about a backup point guard being part of his 10-man rotation. Jose Calderon has gotten that responsibility in the first two games. For defensive purposes, it would be best to play lineups with Thabo Sefolosha or Kent Bazemore as the primary ball-handler for short stretches.
That’s not going to happen. Budenholzer is going to play one of his backup point guards. It’s time to see if Malcolm Delaney can make a positive impact on this series. It certainly can’t hurt to give him a look.
Calderon has had a long and impressive NBA career. His best days are behind him, however, especially on the defensive end. Calderon can’t stick with Washington’s guards, as Brandon Jennings proved last night. His superior offensive ability isn’t making up for his defensive struggles in this series.
Calderon shot 26.7 percent from three-point range in 17 games as a Hawk this season and has scored four points on 2-for-5 shooting over two playoff games. Calderon has only played eight minutes in each game against the Wizards, but his plus/minus rating is minus nine over those 16 minutes.
If a backup point guard is only going to play 8-to-10 minutes per game, the Hawks might as well find out if Delaney can give them more consistent defense for those brief moments when Dennis Schroder isn’t on the floor.
Delaney had an up and down first NBA season. The 28-year-old rookie showed flashes of being a reliable NBA point guard. He also had stretches where he struggled with his jump-shot. He averaged 5.4 points and 2.6 assists per game on 37.4 percent shooting and 23.6 percent from outside.
His jumper has been inconsistent, but he’s proven to be an excellent passer and a solid defender. He could thrive in this series as a caretaker for 8-to-10 minutes per game. He doesn’t have to be anything more than that. He would have two jobs in this role; don’t turn the ball over and play tough perimeter defense.
Delaney had a positive impact on Atlanta’s defense during the regular season. The team allowed 103.5 points per 100 possessions with Delaney on the court, compared to 107.6 points per 100 possessions without him. I’m not saying he’s a lock-down defender, but he’s certainly capable.
His absence from the rotation early in this series is a bit confusing. Delaney played well during the final week of the season, including in Atlanta’s back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 8th and April 10th.
Have I spent too much time diving into a role that so far has totaled 16 minutes of playing time during this series? Probably, but that’s postseason basketball. Everything in a playoff series is worth discussing.
Is it a change Mike Budenholzer will make? I’m not sure if anyone knows the answer. Budenholzer showed a tendency in the regular season to decide on backup point guard minutes based on matchups. It’s now obvious that Jose Calderon against Brandon Jennings is not a matchup that goes in Atlanta’s favor.
The Hawks have bigger fish to fry in this series, but I’ll still be interested to see how Budenholzer handles the backup point guard minutes in Game 3.