San Antonio Spurs (27-6) at Atlanta Hawks (17-16)
Jan. 1, 2017 | 5:00 pm CDT
Watch: FSSW; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI
This season, the Atlanta Hawks have teetered between brilliance (a 9-2 record to start the season) and mediocrity (8-14 since). This inconsistency can be attributed to a mixed bag of performances from their key players; some have been horrible and others have been great – to an extent.
The Good(ish) – Dennis Schröder and Dwight Howard
Both of these two have been incredible at times, but haven’t been able to live up to that standard throughout the season for one reason or another.
The Hawks handed Schröder the keys to the starting PG position after trading Jeff Teague in the offseason. He had a rough go at his expanded role to start the season with several high turnover games, but has tempered some wild play lately. He’s running the offense well and is now playing how Coach Bud envisioned he would in the summer.
But in terms of offseason decisions, Dwight Howard was the FO’s biggest one. While several pundits ragged on the move and considered him a major downgrade over Al Horford, Dwight has looked great, averaging 13.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg and 14.5 ppg on 65% shooting. Of course, the problem with Dwight is his ailing back that has plagued him since the end of his Orlando days. He’s playing the fewest minutes of his career, so hopefully he can stay healthy.
The Bad – Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore
Bud has gotten little out of his shooting guards, even though it’s probably his deepest position. The bulk of the blame can be directed towards Korver and Bazemore.
If you compare a regular season Hawks game from this year to one two years ago, it’s easy to see that Korver just doesn’t seem to have the same gravitational, floor-bending effect he did on defenses in the past. It’s not that Kyle has all of a sudden become a worse player (though his defense has taken a dive) – it’s that his skillset no longer aligns perfectly with the makeup of the roster and that he now has to take nearly 13% more of his shots from inside the arc than he did with that 2014-15 pass-happy team.
But Korver’s drop-off has nothing on Kent Bazemore’s. The Bazedgod is taking nearly 7% fewer wide-open shots relative to last season (as defined by NBA Stats), which has led to a precipitous decline in his shooting percentages from all over the floor. He’s hitting 28% of his threes and 36% of his shots overall, which is, simply put, terrible. You would expect those numbers to progress closer to his career averages as the season goes on, but we’re well-over a third of the way through the season and no longer in the realm of the small sample size.
The Ugly – Tiago Splitter and Mike Scott
Former Spur Tiago Splitter has yet to play a minute this season with that darn hamstring strain that’s been a recurring issue for years. Without Splitter, the Hawks seriously lack big man depth, especially because of the health risks surrounding Howard playing heavy minutes. It certainly doesn’t help that their backup forward Mike Scott missed the first 18 games of the season with a knee injury. He currently averages 3 ppg on 26% from the field in an albeit small sample size. His play has been so poor that he’s fallen out of the rotation and into the D-League for temporary assignment.
The Spurs have had trouble running the offense against athletic big men, so the Hawks should be a tough matchup, theoretically. I say theoretically, of course, because Atlanta is a far cry from where it used to be on the other end of the floor. Korver and Mike Muscala are the only two rotation players who shoot above-average from deep, and it shows – the Hawks currently own the second worst three-point percentage in the league. For Atlanta to win this game, they need to hit the long-ball and limit turnovers (currently 25th in the NBA). That hasn’t happened often for them this season.
Matchup to watch: Paul Millsap vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. Since the Spurs played the Blazers last week, Aldridge appears to have flipped a switch; he is averaging 9.3 boards and 21.5 points on 64% shooting from the field. This hot stretch will be put to the test against Millsap, one of the league’s finest defenders. Despite Paul’s defensive ability, LMA does have the size advantage on him, so it will be interesting to see whether or not this is one of those games where Aldridge defers to his teammates.
Vegas line: Spurs by 4.
Game prediction: Spurs by 8.
For the Hawks fans' perspective, visit Peachtree Hoops.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher.
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