The Hawks had to get creative as they navigated Friday’s game against the Nuggets without guard Trae Young and two of their top frontcourt players. But the team welcomed the return of sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic to the lineup.
The Hawks ruled out Young (right shoulder soreness) ahead of Friday’s game. On Thursday, the team ruled out forward De’Andre Hunter for at least one week, while forward John Collins could miss at minimum two weeks.
Both Hunter and Collins exited the Hawks’ matchup against the Magic on Wednesday in the first half. Hunter left in the first quarter with right thigh soreness, which was later confirmed to be a right hip flexor strain. Collins needed assistance to the locker room after landing awkwardly. An MRI confirmed a left ankle sprain with associated joint swelling.
Now, the Hawks move forward despite multiple players nursing injuries, leaving the team with the puzzle of finding the right matchups.
“We’ll just have to see who will be in uniform and pretty much we have to use guys we have,” coach Nate McMillan said before the game. “I thought our guys stepped up last game and did a nice job filling in for JC and Dre.”
On Wednesday, the Hawks turned to Jarrett Culver and Vit Krecji in the absence of Hunter and Collins.
Bogdanovic made his season debut on Friday after recovering from offseason knee surgery. He scored five points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor and 1-of-6 shooting long range as the Hawks beat the Nuggets. Bogdanovic averaged 15.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and four assists per game last season, while making 38.4% of his shots from long range.
The Hawks have struggled in 3-point shooting this year, ranking 29th in 3-point attempts per game and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage.
With Bogdanovic’s return, the Hawks have another player that can help them not only space the floor but also help with ball movement.
The Hawks’ offense has often dropped off throughout games and they have struggled to keep up scoring through all four quarters. McMillan did not seem too worried that the lack of consistency would be affected any further with a number of players getting their first cracks at the rotation.
“The thing with this is, guys that don’t play a lot, they’re preparing themselves the entire time to try to keep themselves in the best shape they can be in condition-wise,” McMillan said. “They’re constantly working on their game and really preparing for moments like this. You never know when it’s going to come. But you have to be ready for that.”
With Collins out, the Hawks lose one of the more effective players on the glass. Collins has averaged 7.5 rebounds per game and stepped up in the absence of Clint Capela to keep the Hawks active on the boards.
Culver, who averaged 1.7 minutes leading into Wednesday’s game, took up the mantle that Collins held. He pulled down 12 rebounds in 30 minutes to help the Hawks limit the Magic’s second-chance opportunities.
“Just be aggressive on the boards,” Culver said. “I know JC went down and Dre, two of our bigger guys. So, me coming in, making sure I box out, making sure I crash the glass, coming in and trying to get as many rebounds as I can so we can get out and run. I could dribble too. So, pushing that pace when I get a rebound and just getting out there doing the little things.”
That’s what McMillan has encouraged the team to do.
“I’ve always told our guys you know, bring your game, bring your ego,” McMillan said. “You know, I would much rather those guys be aggressive, than going out there and being passive. So if you’re gonna make some mistakes, I think we can overcome the aggressive mistakes.”
Despite not having three of their key starters, McMillan has encouraged the remaining active players to seize this opportunity and make the most of it.
“It’s an opportunity for guys who haven’t gotten minutes or a lot of minutes to step in and play,” McMillan said. “And, I’ve been talking about this to them and pretty much at the start of the season, you know, have yourself prepared because you never know when it’s going to happen. And it’s happening. So you got to be ready to go.”
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