The Atlanta Hawks’ first preseason game of 2019 was a doozy. As is the case with most preseason games, the pace and intensity slowed down after the first quarter. But, man, the first quarter was one heck of a show. Both teams were up-and-down — in the words of the great Bob Rathbun, it was “windshield wiper” offense. Back and forth. Back and forth.
The Hawks led 34-29 after one, in no small part due to Trae Young and John Collins’ vivacious presence on offense. There was concern over Collins’ recent injury designation due to a hip issue, but he was as springy as ever, soaring for a couple impressive jams off Young dimes.
Atlanta’s bread and butter is pace. They’re a young group, and the Hawks spent media day hyping up the benefits of fresh legs on the court. Lloyd Pierce wants to run opposing teams into the ground, a methodology not too different from the one employed by their opponents. The Pelicans are also an up-and-down team.
This was a battle of elite League Pass teams. Zion Williamson looks every bit as explosive as he was at Duke. Lonzo Ball’s new 3-point stroke passes the eye test for now, as his final tally (3-for-8) was preceded by a scorching start to the game. It looks clean, fluid, and confident. Ball overall looks more spry than he was in L.A. last season.
Jrue Holiday was the true star of the contest, making a couple impressive blocks on the perimeter, clogging passing lanes, and scoring 21 points on an efficient 77.8% shooting. It’s too early to proclaim the Pelicans as a postseason contender, and the Hawks were mostly competitive in minutes that mattered. But New Orleans, if nothing else, will be eye candy all season.
Up(s) and Down(s)
For the Hawks, there were positives and negatives throughout. Turnovers were a big issue last season, something Lloyd Pierce was certain to point out in training camp. It wasn’t much better in this game, as Atlanta’s youthful jitters led to a whopping 29 turnovers.
Mixed with the errant passes and clunky dribbles, however, were moments of sublime ball movement. Trae Young remains a special passer, and it stands to benefit newcomers De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish in a big way. Neither were proven creators in college, so the luxury of playing off Young in a high-tempo system is a great burden lifted.
Young and Collins continue to build on the chemistry established last season. Hunter got the start and scored 10 points, including a perfect 2-for-2 start from 3-point range. DeAndre’ Bembry provided solid minutes as both the starting two and the backup point guard in the absence of Kevin Huerter and Evan Turner.
As expected, Cam Reddish was a mixed bag in his first NBA game, but the end results were solid. Jabari Parker, Vince Carter, and Alex Len all contributed in reserve. Bruno Fernando had flashes. On the whole, even in what devolved into a blowout loss, there were positives for Atlanta.
Takeaway #1: Patience with Cam Reddish
Expectations have run rampant for Cam Reddish leading up to the season. The former top recruit was thoroughly underwhelming at Duke, but that hasn’t stopped fans from propping up the #10 pick as a budding superstar. The hype is understandable to a degree — I had Reddish #6 on my draft board — but it’s clear patience is a necessity when evaluating Reddish.
It was a strong first outing for the 19-year-old. For the most part, he looked comfortable as a spot-up shooter, benefiting from the dribble penetration and ball movement of his teammates. He also made a couple nice reads as a passer, showcasing his potential as a 6-foot-8 secondary creator.
On the flip side, Reddish’s first career shot attempt was a mid-range jumper that Jrue Holiday stuffed down his gullet. He also turned the ball over on a mistimed lob to John Collins. There was obvious rust from someone who hasn’t been healthy since high school.
After the game, Reddish spoke about his health. He said it’s the first time in a long time that he hasn’t felt pain on the basketball court. There’s reason for optimism, as Reddish is a supremely talented and intelligent young player. Just have patience.
Takeaway #2: High highs, low lows for Trae Young
There’s a constant debate brewing over who the Hawks’ best player is. Some point to Trae Young’s immaculate offense and crown him Atlanta’s king. Others point to John Collins’ diverse scoring package and burgeoning defense and dub him the Hawks’ top dog.
We can’t gather too much information from a single preseason game, but the Hawks’ opener was a reminder that Young is an imperfect product. For all his unique gifts, there are still games where Young is turnover-prone and inefficient. He’s also a bad defender, something 10 extra pounds of muscle won’t automatically solve.
Young scored nine points on 10 shots, including a 1-for-6 mark from deep. He had 11 assists, but also committed eight turnovers. As the undisputed bell cow in a high-tempo offense full of young, inexperienced players, Young is going to commit turnovers. It’s an evil the Hawks will have to live with during the rebuild. But as massive responsibilities are thrust onto Young’s slim shoulders, don’t set the bar unreasonably high. He’s 21.
Takeaway #3: Early hints at the rotation
Lloyd Pierce rolled out a starting five of Trae Young, DeAndre’ Bembry, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, and Damian Jones. Once he’s healthy and cleared for action, Kevin Huerter will assume his role as starting two-guard. Even with the injuries, though, Pierce gave us a potential glimpse into his rotational choices.
Obviously, Young and Collins will receive significant minutes. Well over 30 per game each. Hunter will probably get a similar workload, but he’s a less proven asset and, in year one, probably won’t have the same impact on winning.
Huerter’s absence makes it hard to get a read on the exact layout of the wing rotation. Reddish was the first player off the bench, but he replaced Bembry, who will soon move to the second unit. Bembry is the longest tenured Hawk and looked comfortable, both as a two-guard and as a backup point guard in Turner’s absence. It’s safe to assume Bembry is in line for more playing time than Reddish, at least early in the season.
Jones getting the start over Len was an interesting choice. Len is the more complete offensive talent, with a shiny new 3-point shot unveiled last season. But Jones is a shade younger, is a more dynamic athlete, and could help fill Dewayne Dedmon’s void as a rim protector. As Len works back from an injury, it will be interesting to see how his timeshare with Jones plays out.
The Hawks’ next preseason game is Wednesday at 7:30 PM E.T. — a home matchup against the Orlando Magic.