Hawks seem ready to push Budenholzer’s system to the max offensively

Atlanta Hawks guard John Jenkins (12) reacts after a collision with New Orleans Pelicans forward Patric Young (4) during the second half at Philips Arena. Jenkins led all Hawks scorers with 13 points and showed a new-found speed to his game.

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — If you subscribe to the mantra "the best defense is a good offense," the Atlanta Hawks may have solved one of their biggest offseason focal points, improving on defense.

The Hawks brought in a number of free agents to help in part on the defensive side of the court. Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha are supposed to help on the perimeter, while Atlanta re-signed its frontcourt and hopes improvements are made down low on defense.

If the Hawks score in the regular season like they did on Monday, defensive improvements will help, but won’t be completely necessary.

Atlanta gutted out a preseason 93-87 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday, and did so without two huge pieces of the offensive puzzle. Al Horford and Kyle Korver both missed the game, and anytime the Hawks can score 93 points without those two, the offense was doing its job.

"We got into a good rhythm to start the game off," said Paul Millsap. "The basketball was moving. When you move the basketball like that, it makes the other team’s defense move a little bit. When we do that, we’re able to drive, kick and knock down shots."

An early rhythm was a bit of an understatement.

The Hawks scored 59 first-half points on 50 percent shooting (19 for 38) from the floor and 50 percent from the three-point line (6 for 12). Atlanta was also hot from the charity stripe. A 15-for-17 showing was phenomenal in the first half, but knowing that the team was 15 for 15 and didn’t miss a free throw in the first 23 minutes of the game must have made the coaching staff smile.

Mike Scott, who shared the first-half team lead with Jeff Teague with nine points, credited familiarity with the offense as to why the Hawks were able to jump out quickly in the game. Head coach Mike Budenholzer said it was a team first mentality that paced the team early.

"I thought the unselfishness was very good," said Budenholzer. "The people movement, the ball movement in the first quarter and the first half overall was excellent."

John Jenkins, who led the Hawks on Monday with 13 points, was the benefactor of a lot of that movement.

Jenkins spent a large portion of his just-more-than 24 minutes on the floor driving the lane to create opportunities. He was forced into penetration moves because the Pelicans were pressing him on the perimeter. Jenkins saw this as a perfect time to show off what he calls his new game.

"I’ve been doing that a lot all summer," Jenkins said about driving toward the basket. "I’ve just gotten faster because I lost a little weight. I worked on my core and all that stuff, and I just got faster. So I decided to use it to my advantage."

ATLANTA HAWKS: UP NEXT

Frequently driving down toward the hole helps with more than just creating shots under the basket. Jenkins said it opened up the perimeter to shoot, as was apparent when he connected on a 3-pointer from the corner with just fewer than two minutes to play.

Jenkins played just 158 minutes in 13 games last season as a back injury derailed his season. He was thrilled to be in the court and playing with confidence after such a tough road back to health.

Mike Muscala was another Hawks player that saw very limited action last season. He played in just 20 games, and only scored in double figures once. His high rebounding total was eight. But in his first 2014-15 action, Muscala recorded a double-double.

With 10 points and 10 rebounds against the Pelicans. Muscala foreshadowed what kind of player he could be as he offers depth in the frontcourt. Even though he broke out offensively and was a force on the glass, he said he still needs to work on finishing under the basket (an issue for the entire Hawks’ team on Monday).

Muscala wants to show this season that he doesn’t have dunk to score. He’s been working during the offseason on multiple moves around the glass. On Monday, that hard work showed.

What showed the most, however, was that this team learned last season that completely buying into Budenholzer’s offensive system is the only way to work it to perfection. The Hawks, with a year under their belts, are ready to push the envelope offensively.