There were a lot of problems when the Hawks faced off against the Cavaliers in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. They were decimated with injuries, struggling on defense, but most of all did not have the bodies to compete on the boards. Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov dominated the Hawks on the boards, and allowed the Cavs to cruise past the number one seeded Hawks.
Atlanta made rebounding one of their highest priorities in the offseason. They began by trading for Spurs big man Tiago Splitter. The move all but assured that Atlanta was not going to be able to sign both Paul Millsap and Demarre Carroll. When the Hawks re-signed Paul Millsap, it clearly showed they where trying to get bigger in the paint.
However, despite the additions the Hawks rebounding has not shown any signs of improvement in their opening games. In the Hawks home opener, they were demolished on the boards 59-40 by Andre Drummond and company on their way to a 106-94 loss. Now Andre Drummond can make most people look like dwarfs on the court, but Atlanta was given a tough task and failed miserably. A loss is always tough, but it was the way the Hawks lost that made it that much worse. It is clear the rebounding problem still exists.
Even though the Hawks bounced back with a win in New York, it was their patented free flowing offense and shooting that led to their 112-101 victory. They were still out-rebounded by 9 in the game and had the same amount of defensive rebounds despite the fact that the Knicks missed 14 more shots.
Two games is a very small sample size, but there is enough signs that point to the Hawks still being a poor rebounding team. To make matters worse, Atlanta is currently without Mike Muscala who suffered an injury in the first game of the season. It is unlikely the Hawks make any moves to add more depth, as there is not much quality out there, so Coach Budenholzer is going to have to find other lineups or ways to get even on the boards.
Prior to the season, there was a good amount of talk about the Hawks possibly playing three big men (Millsap, Horford, Splitter) at the same time. They have used the lineup sparingly so far, and maybe for good reason. The offense relies on great shooting, and while Millsap has improved greatly in his three-point shooting, he is not a great jump shooter by any means. Defenses can live with Millsap shooting three-point jumpers. Atlanta would also be taking one of these big men out of the post, where they are most effective. Millsap could also prove to be a liability defensively on the wing, as he is not the quickest defender.
However, Atlanta has a huge problem rebounding and must find a way to improve. Coach Budenholzer should give these guys a chance to play together, especially since whoever is currently playing on the wing is not exactly Demarre Carroll. Bazemore and Sefalosha are nice options, but they are offensively handicapped. Atlanta is going to easily make the playoffs, and this early in the season is a good time to experiment with different looks. If these three could find a way to gel together on the offensive and defensive ends, it could be vital come playoff time. It is always good to be able to mix and match lineups, and Atlanta needs to see if this option is a viable one come playoff time. If not, Atlanta must find another way to fix their rebounding problem or face another early round playoff exit.