Dwight Howard brings something to the Atlanta Hawks that they’ve never had in this era. A big man who is elite at scoring off pick-and-rolls.
The Atlanta Hawks offense is of course a work in progress here in the early parts of the season. Since they are already a top-5 defense in terms of points allowed, they can rely on that as their calling card for pulling out some of their victories.
I actually have enjoyed looking on as many experts in the mainstream media have started to backpedal on the type of predictions they put out there during the summer in regards to the south east division leading Hawks. Magazines and insiders, projected Atlanta to win like 38 games and miss the playoffs.
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While there is still a possibility that could happen, the only foreseeable bumps in the road of the regular season are definitely the Cleveland Cavaliers [have beat the Hawks like 12 games in a row], the Toronto Raptors and maybe the Chicago Bulls in the East. The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and the Los Angeles Clippers have the type of teams that will be tough to beat any given night. But the pedigree that Mike Budenholzer gets his team to buy into will keep the Hawks out in front of most all the other teams during the marathon.
Oct 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) controls a rebound between Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay (8) and center DeMarcus Cousins (15) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Kings 106-95. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
All of a sudden, those same critics are saying that this same team will look more and more like a contender with each passing day. So nobody’s perfect though, I’ve been wrong about any number of things here. It just was hard to understand how anybody could see the Hawks winning less than like 50 games.
The offense has not reached its peak of performance yet, and likely will not do so for quite a while. One of the top and most important staples of Budenholzer’s offense for the last several years has been the point guard, center pick and roll.
It’s true that Dennis Schroder’s numbers for the start of the season aren’t very flashy and won’t be found near the top of many leaderboards, but what he has been doing is efficient. He shoots nearly 48 percent on all his two-point attempts, and a squeaky clean 40 percent on his 3-point attempts.
Needless to say, it becomes increasingly difficult to go under a pick when Dennis is the ball handler if he is that accurate from the outside. All of his shots combined, he has a .455 field goal percentage.
Oct 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder (17) shoots against Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Kings 106-95. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
In order to prevent Schroder from making the defense pay with long range daggers, what many teams will go ahead and do is switch the screeners man right onto the point guard. That will actually cause them more serious problems though since he can dribble right past the slower defender and get directly to the front of the rim. It also obviously creates another miss match with a point guard stuck trying to guard Howard. It will be interesting to see whether or not Schroder can maintain that 3-point rate, because stopping him in the pick-and-roll becomes a real nuisance.
Since Dwight Howard’s offensive repertoire is rather limited to attempts in and around the hoop, the Hawks will have countless opportunities to perfect his effectiveness as a pick-and-roll specialist. When it’s timed perfectly, the alley-oop slam dunk play is arguably the most beautiful play in basketball.
Now I know the following video is from the pre-season, and teams want to just get through those games without suffering any injuries, but this particular one shows how the Hawks would like to use Howard. Check out how he comes to the top of the key to act like he is about to set a pick, and before making any contact, slips towards the basket for an easy lob dunk.
He can also accomplish the same type of results screening a man that doesn’t have the ball. It’s these sort of strategies from Budenholzer that forces his counterpart to have to make some tough decisions. Often times, there is a lot more going on than just a simple pick-and-roll.
The wing on the opposite side of the ball is usually sprinting around some of those screens looking for a clean catch and shoot perimeter opportunity. The ball handler wants to turn the corner off the pick and the other wing is slashing hard to the cup for an easy two by cutting back door.
This is just one of Budenholzer’s offensive philosophies in it’s absolute simplest forms. Whatever Atlanta attempts to do on that side of the ball, Howard as the screener will often be at the heart of it. The Schroder/Howard combination is going to cause a lot of headaches for the competition this season. The question is, how soon will it be perfected?