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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Atlanta Hawks

The Spurs look to get off the schneid against the 2nd hottest team in the league

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Two teams heading in opposite directions meet tonight in San Antonio. The Spurs, having lost five in a row, will host the Hawks, who’ve won five straight. Apparently revitalized by the return of Kevin Huerter to the starting lineup, the Hawks’ offense has returned to last year’s form, sparking a run that has completely changed the team’s once dwindling prospects for the season, while the Spurs continue to search for a spark of their own.

Just two weeks ago, the two teams were in similar situations, both with 4 wins, sitting just outside the play-in race looking in. But the Hawks have surged into the conversation and find themselves just a game out of 6th place in the East, while the Spurs have fallen to 3.5 games out of 10th in the West, which is also the exact amount of cushion they have between them and the worst record in the league.

San Antonio Spurs (4-12) vs. Atlanta Hawks (9-9)

November 24, 2021 | 7:30 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports SW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Ankle), Jock Landale (Out — COVID Protocols), Doug McDermott (Day to Day — Knee)

Hawks Injuries: De’Andre Hunter (Out — Wrist)

What to watch for

  • The Spurs will need to carry the momentum of their resurgent, though ultimately unsuccessful fourth quarter against the Suns into tonight’s game. On offense, that primarily means Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl attacking in the pick and roll, but they also need the same aggressive, high-flying version of Lonnie Walker IV and a confident Derrick White. But much of their success stemmed from defensive intensity, ramping up the pressure to get stops and turnovers, which means the team needs to come out of the gate with that same energy tonight.
  • Defensive intensity will be especially important, because the Hawks offense has been rolling, putting up over 122 points per 100 possessions over the 5-game winning streak they’ll ride into San Antonio. They are now the 5th best offense in the league, thanks in large part to Trae Young’s 25 points and 9 assists per game. The Spurs, on the other hand, have been struggling, and currently sit 22nd in the league on that end of the floor, scoring just 105.5 points per 100 possessions.
  • For two teams that have seen drastically different levels of success on offense, the Spurs and the Hawks have remarkably similar shot profiles. Per Cleaning the Glass, both teams are bottom 10 in the league in percentage of shots taken at the rim and bottom 5 in percentage of shots taken from three point range, which leaves both in the top 3 in the league in percentage of shots taken in the midrange.
  • The difference in the two offenses appears to primarily stem from offensive rebounding and three-point accuracy. The Hawks pull down about 2 more offensive rebounds per game than the Spurs and have hit 36.7% from deep this season, compared to the Spurs’ 34.1%. It may not seem like much, but a couple of extra possessions and another made three per game would probably be enough to push the Spurs’ offense all the way up to the top 10. Alas, if only it were that simple.
  • The Hawks starters are a problem. Since Hunter’s injury, the Hawks have been tipping off with the lineup of Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Clint Capela, and so far this season, that group is +59, second only to the Timberwolves’ starting lineup that ran the Spurs off the floor last week.
  • The Spurs offense is story of two lines. They’re 3-0 when they make 16 or more free throws. Unfortunately, they take the fewest free throws and shoot the worst percentage on free throws of any team in the league. A little farther out, the Spurs are 2-2 when they take more threes than their opponent and 2-10 when they don’t. Unfortunately, again, the Spurs take the fewest three-pointers in the league, so it’s unlikely that will happen without a schematic change or a dominant defensive performance.
  • One small change they could make, though, is to find more time and more shots for Devin Vassell. The Spurs’ 21 year old forward is the only player on the team above the 70th percentile in points per shot attempt, per Cleaning the Glass, and his buttery smooth jumper and quick release from deep make him an obvious option for finding more high value looks without sacrificing anything on defense. He’s already the team’s 3rd leading scorer, at 12.8 ppg, despite playing just over 26 minutes per contest, and that number could easily blossom with more opportunity.

For the Hawks fan’s perspective, please visit Peachtree Hoops.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.