San Antonio Spurs vs Atlanta Hawks 2019-20 Season Preview
By Damien Bartonek
After nailing their last two drafts and assembling one of the best young cores in the NBA the Atlanta Hawks are ready to take on the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the league.
After arguably doing the best job at the 2019 NBA draft, the Atlanta Hawks are one of the hottest teams in the league. With the selections of De’Andre Hunter, Bruno Fernando and what many believe might be the most underrated prospect from the Duke draft class, Cam Reddish, Atlanta is ready to push themselves into the playoff hunt this upcoming season. They’re good, but are they good enough to win the season series with the San Antonio Spurs?
All of their great draft selections are augmented by their star point guard, Trae Young. Young’s unique combination of shooting and playmaking, combined with all the talent around him, is enough to put any team behind the 8-ball quickly. The Spurs and the rest of the league need to take notice.
San Antonio won both games against the Hawks last year by an average of six and a half points. In those games, the Trae Young led-bunch shot an average of forty-two percent from the field and thirty-two percent from three. Those were lower percentages than their season averages. We can only hope that they repeat those performances last year.
The Spurs and the Hawks don’t have much of a rivalry, as the Spurs own the record against Atlanta of 55-38. That being said, this Atlanta team cannot be taken lightly. One minute you can be up by seven points and the next thing you know, due to their high pace of play, you can get hit with a pair of long balls and an alley-oop to one of their rim running big men and the momentum is completely shifted.
For the Spurs to come home with the W, they must be prepared to get those track spikes on and run. Thankfully this Spurs team does have the defensive arsenal to keep up. Solid defenders like Dejounte Murray, DeMarre Carroll, and Lonnie Walker IV will be critical in these matchups. Before we get into exactly how the Spurs will beat the Hawks, let’s take a deeper look at this 2019-20 Atlanta team.
Next: The 2019-20 Atlanta Hawks
The 2019-20 Atlanta Hawks
This Atlanta team is full of young cats loaded with potential. Even after trading away a promising young wing talent in Taurean Prince, Atlanta seemed to gain that talent back and much more with their 2019 draft class.
The Atlanta Hawks are coached by Lloyd Pierce, one of the youngest head coaches in all of the league. After being an assistant coach in Cleveland, Oakland, Memphis, and Philadelphia, he finally found his head-coaching home with the Hawks. Lloyd is a fantastic defensive mind, one that will surely look to improve the Hawks defense which was ranked in the bottom five last season.
Offensively, Atlanta is a bunch that loves to run. They played at the fastest pace in the NBA last year. On that side of the floor, they are led by Trae Young. This group loves to use Young to initiate the attack with speed, athleticism and a side of excellent shooting. With Young’s ability to dish the rock, his elite ball-handling skills, and his phenomenal deep shooting, he adds a dimension that is much needed to this squad.
Young can be one of the best passing guards in all of basketball but is also being able to pull up from 35 feet and hit nothing but straight net. That’s why this offense can very well call upon Trae to make a play when needed most. Atlanta runs a lot of pick & roll and looks to double down on that with the draft selection of Bruno Fernando.
Fernando will back up one of the most explosive forwards in all of the league, who is also superb in pick & roll. John Collins is a disruptive athlete who can give the Spurs problems. He could have easily been an All-Star last year. He’s one of the best players that not enough people talk about.
Another dimension of Atlanta’s offense which they rely heavily on is their three-point shooting. The put up the third-most attempts from beyond the arc last season. However, their accuracy could improve. They ranked 16th in terms of three-point percentage last year. Looking to improve upon that, they added guard Allen Crabbe who shoots a career 39.9 percent from deep. And they weren’t done there.
This summer the Hawks drafted two great shooting forward’s in Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. These two have prototypical three-and-D attributes and could end up being the perfect compliments to Collins and Young.
The Spurs, who allowed teams to hover around 36 percent from three last season, must communicate effectively and stay on top of these wing players. Hard close-outs are a must. If not, it might be raining three’s at AT&T and the State Farm Arena.
As impressive as their offense is, defense is what Lloyd Pierce values most. After a mediocre defensive season last year, the Hawks attacked that side of the court hard in the offseason. Drafting two of, if not the best defensive and versatile wing in all of the draft in Hunter and Reddish. Reddish, while being known for his versatility offensively, is equally versatile defensively. The addition of Evan Turner, while not much on offense, will help mightily defensively, as the 6’7 guard has always been a solid defender.
This group of Atlanta Hawks looks to gain length and lateral ability that hasn’t been seen on that side of the court since the Budenholzer days. DeAndre Bembry, who posted some great defensive tape, is one player on this Hawks team that’ll also benefit from the new rookies in town. This team looks to make every possession uncomfortable for you.
Rim protection is a big question mark though. Centers Alex Len and Damian Jones aren’t very stout in that category. Their pick and roll defense got eaten up by opposing teams. The weaknesses in the defensive games of guys like Young and Jabari Parker will be regularly attacked by other NBA teams.
Atlanta, while being improved on paper defensively, must prove it on the court. With such an inexperienced group, it’ll be very tough for them to defend at a high level right off the bat. Look for them to get better on that end as the season progresses. Against San Antonio though, inexperience is your worst enemy. Coach Pop and the crew will look to exploit their unproven defensive ability in both matchups to bring home the win.
Next: Season series prediction
Season series prediction
To beat Atlanta the Spurs must make Hawks play at their pace. With the Hawks playing at the fastest pace in the NBA, there’s too much benefit for San Antonio to slow the game down for them not to take that plan of attack.
Making the game a battle in the half-court and funneling the offense into an arsenal of pick and roll, high screen action that involves weakside exchanges to spring open shooters, and even sprinkle in some DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte, Rudy, LaMarcus Aldridge isolation/post-up plays. By doing this, it limits the opportunities for Atlanta to get out in space, forces them to make every possession count, and entirely slows the game down which works in San Antonio’s favor.
Another piece to solve Atlanta’s puzzle is to defend Atlanta’s pick and roll like an angry Texas rattlesnake. Trae Young lights teams up all across the country in pick and roll. Alex Len and John Collins are the main two roll-men involved with Young. Len finishes between 0-3 feet at a sixty-four percent clip, while Collins finishes between 0-3 feet at a seventy-three percent clip. The chemistry between these men and Young is evident.
Defending this will be difficult to stop but San Antonio can do it. LaMarcus and Jakob Poeltl defend the pick and roll strongly. Jakob’s defense presence in this area has been felt since his Toronto days. After leaning down over the summer, LaMarcus should have better lateral quickness and ability to defend the pick and roll along with Poeltl.
Lastly, the Spurs must defend the three-point line. With the Hawks bringing in shooters even after already shooting the 3rd most three-pointers last season reiterates that they’re looking to keep shooting the lights out of the ball. That’s tough on a defense. Dragging defenders out to the three-point line just opens more passing lanes for a skilled passing guard like Young.
Spurs defenders must communicate at a high level and always be aware of the offensive exchanges and rotations to free up open shooters as the driver goes down the lane. There’s also an offensive benefit to this for San Antonio. If they lock in defensively and have that attention to detail during the drive and kick, opportunities to come up with a steal or jump a passing lane to disrupt the play becomes more available than ever.
The Spurs’ ability to control the pace is evident in many games, especially against such an inexperienced group with some high minutes going to such young players. While the youth can be a blessing it can also be a curse, especially when playing against Popovich.
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Matchup to watch: Dejounte Murray vs. Trae Young
That Trae Young guy is pretty dang good. However, Dejounte Murray is a proven All-NBA caliber defender. Dejounte must defend Trae at a high level if the Spurs want a chance to win. Out of the 29 games, Atlanta won last season, when Trae hit his average PPG or more (19), the Hawks were 17-12. His scoring is one thing, but his passing is something else.
Out of those same 29 wins, in all but 3 games, Trae had five or more assists. Very telling that his offensive success leads to wins. If he’s not scoring, he’s at least putting his teammates in positions to succeed. Dejounte must take that challenge of not only defending his scoring ability at a high level but also being very much aware of when Trae is looking to pass.
Offensively, Dejounte must put the ball in the bucket. He’s shown the ability to hit some deep three-pointers and his explosiveness is still there even after a torn ACL. Young isn’t a strong defender. Dejounte can drive right by him and use his impressive wingspan to finish at the rim far beyond Young’s reach. He will be the key player in these matchups for San Antonio. It’s a big task for Dejounte, but I’m sure he can get it done.
My season series prediction: the Spurs will sweep the season series against Atlanta once again.
This Atlanta Hawks team is an up and comer. They’re going to be very dangerous for years to come. But that’s for the future. This year, in this season, the San Antonio Spurs are still the better team. They’ll prove that in both matchups.