The Atlanta Hawks’ preseason record dropped to 0-2 on Wednesday night. Faced with a long-armed and forceful Orlando Magic team, the young Hawks — who struggled immensely in the season series against Orlando last season — faltered once more.
Finding a Winning Combination
Lloyd Pierce mixed and matched lineups all game, even switching up the starters. De’Andre Hunter and Damian Jones, who started in Monday night’s loss, went to the bench in favor of Cam Reddish and Alex Len.
With Reddish in the starting five, Pierce was able to explore different matchups. He tabbed Reddish to defend Aaron Gordon, Orlando’s primary scorer in the frontcourt. If Reddish can consistently defend stronger fours, his upside as a multi-positional defender skyrockets.
Len is the favorite to start once the regular season hits, but it’s no guarantee. Both Jones and Bruno Fernando converted their first NBA 3s Wednesday night. Jones got the start Monday, and arguably outperformed Len against Orlando. It’s a compelling battle.
As for the rotation as a whole, Pierce wants to establish a concrete group before the season opener on Oct. 24th. “I hope I’m not playing musical chairs with our lineup,” he said. He also wants to keep the rotation below 10-11 players: “I don’t want to just get guys minutes.”
Turnovers Haunt Again
During the game, pace seemed to favor Orlando from the get-go. The Magic rely on size and physicality, a vastly different approach to that of Atlanta. Whereas the Hawks want to run, the Magic want to plod and win the possession battle. When things did move up and down, it was due to the Hawks’ 27 turnovers.
The Hawks have now committed 29 and 27 turnovers, respectively, in their first two preseason games. Some are chalked up to youth, others are chalked up to “crowded plays,” as Pierce put it. But regardless of the reason, it’s something Atlanta must improve.
Trae Young is holding himself accountable. “As far as turnovers, I’ve been playing like [crap].” Young committed nine on Wednesday, a step in the wrong direction after a paltry eight turnovers against New Orleans on Monday. “It’s embarrassing,” he said. “I’ve been playing bad as far as taking care of the ball … It’s preseason, but I don’t want to use that as a tool, just an excuse for me to turn the ball over.”
Atlanta paired turnover woes with a 33.8% shooting performance. It’s difficult to turn the ball over 27 times, hit one-third of your shots, and still win an NBA game. John Collins went 0-8 from the field and regarded it as “one of [his] tougher nights as a professional.” Reddish went 0-5 from deep.
There were, however, some positives buried beneath another clunky preseason performance. The Hawks held Orlando to 37.6% shooting and 97 points — both strong numbers after bloodletting 133 points to New Orleans the other night. Young was active and engaged on the perimeter, Hunter turned in another strong performance, and the reserves brought energy. Improved communication was a key talking point in the locker room post-game.
If Atlanta had cut down on turnovers, I would probably be recapping a Hawks victory. Pierce dubbed it “baby steps,” noting there’s still plenty of room to grow as the season edges closer.
The Hawks will travel to Miami for their next preseason game, which takes place Monday, Oct. 14th at 7:30 PM E.T.