For the first practice after the All-Star break, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he added a “wrinkle here or a new play there” but doesn’t anticipate making any “drastic changes” to the way his team plays over its final 23 games. That includes how he distributes playing time among his veteran and young players.
Some other teams near the bottom of the standings have publicly proclaimed they will favor youth over experience for the final four-plus weeks of the season, but Budenholzer said he will stay the course.
“I think we’ve been a mix of young and veteran guys all year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the way we progressed through the season — of course when you start the season you think it could be a little different — (but) right now but I think the way we’ve played, and the way we continue to play, won’t be that much different.”
If that approach holds, it means the Hawks (18-41) will continue to use essentially the same playing rotation as they did while posting an 11-16 record in the seven weeks prior to the All-Star break. The Hawks are tied with the Suns for the worst record in the NBA but they’ve shown that improved health for veteran players makes them more competitive.
The Hawks have especially made strides defensively, improving their efficiency rank from 29th in the league on Dec. 23 to 24th now. Their offensive efficiency slipped during that time, in large part because they didn’t shot the ball nearly as well as they did for the first 32 games.
“I think we’ve been building and getting better on both end of the courts,” Budenholzer said. “We want to continue to get better offensively (and) kind of reemphasize some things from the beginning of the year, from training camp. Just keep trying to get better.”
If the Hawks keep winning at a higher rate, it could imperil their standing in what’s been a parallel track this season: angling for a high pick in the next draft. Eight NBA teams have 20 or fewer victories so there’s a lot of competition for finishing last in the standings and thus securing the best odds to win the lottery for the top pick.
At least three teams near the bottom of the standings haven’t been shy about expressing a change in priorities after the All-Star break.
The league fined Mavericks franchise owner Mark Cuban $600,000 after he said in an interview that “losing is our best option” because it improves the odds of Dallas (18-40) getting a high pick. The Bulls (20-37) announced that Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant will no longer start or get regular minutes as unproven players take on bigger roles. The Kings (18-39) already proclaimed they were favoring young players over veterans before they traded away George Hill before the deadline.
The Hawks didn’t trade any veteran rotation players and they bought out the contract of just one, Marco Belinelli. Ersan Ilyasova remains the Hawks’ starting power forward after he invoked his right to reject trade offers that were presented to him and indicated he doesn’t want a buyout.
Dewayne Dedmon still is starting at center ahead of John Collins, one of the top rookies in the NBA. Rookie wing Tyler Dorsey has earned a spot in the rotation but starter Kent Bazemore is playing a career-high minutes per game. A similar dynamic applies with starting point guard Dennis Schroder and backup Isaiah Taylor, who has played 48 career games.
Collins represented the Hawks in the Rising Stars game during All-Star weekend, along with teammate Taurean Prince. Collins stuck around for the weekend and said veteran players told him what to expext after the break.
“They always tell you right now is a weird part of the season because you either have teams that are in limbo (and) don’t know whether they are going to make the playoffs, teams that are rebuilding or teams that are going into the playoffs and trying to get ready,” Collins said. “It’s about knowing your situation and just trying your best. For me, as a young guy I’ve got to keep getting better, keep working, pushing. My time will come.”