Hawks look to improve execution on the boards

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots against Atlanta Hawks forward Saddiq Bey (41) during the second half of an In-Season Tournament NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots against Atlanta Hawks forward Saddiq Bey (41) during the second half of an In-Season Tournament NBA basketball game, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Credit: AP

The Hawks have not had the easiest time battling on the boards over the last two games. As they look to shore up their defense this season, stronger rebounding could be a good place to start.

Though the Hawks have done a solid job fighting for rebounds early in the season, the faced some tough, big and physical opponents on Wednesday and Friday. Over the last two games, they’ve had matchups against the Knicks and 76ers, both of whom prioritized keeping the Hawks off the glass.

It opened up plenty of offensive rebounds for both teams, allowing them to capitalize on second-chance points.

Through the Hawks’ first 10 games, they ranked in the top 15 teams in the league in defensive rebounding percentage. They grabbed 71.9% of the available defensive rebounds that a player or team has while on the court.

But they struggled against Knicks center Mitchell Robinson and 76ers center Joel Embiid in those respective matchups. Robinson leads the league in offensive rebounds per game and Embiid wreaks havoc all over the floor.

They gave up a league-high 24.5 second-chance points over the last two games after averaging just 12.6 opponent second-chance points per game over their first 10 matchups.

So, the Hawks took some lessons away.

“We got to rebound with five guys,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said following practice on Sunday. “And sometimes, who you play helps you get better. Robinson is, he’s the most elite of the elite rebounder is in the league right now. It just requires even more commitment. And as you said, there’s Robinson, who takes one of our big off, two guys off, everybody’s gotta be there. We have to get hits, contact, all those things you have to do to get a rebound. Sometimes it’s a loose ball rebound, but we have to be more committed to rebounding more consistently.”

That means all guys on the team have to step up their communication, not only when it comes to helping their bigs down low build a wall to help them secure a rebound, but also before their opponents can make an attempt at the basket.

The Hawks have looked to use their defense as a driving force for their offense so that they can get out in transition and take advantage of the numbers. But so far this season, consistency has eluded them, and they know that having it will take them to the next level.

When it comes to cutting off opponents at the rim, the Hawks have started off defensive possessions on the right foot, forcing misses or turnovers. They rank among the top ten teams in the league when they do finish defensive possessions and score points off their takeaways. They average 18.6 points off of turnovers per game, which is good for ninth in the league.

But over the course of the season, they have not finished enough defensive possessions which has allowed opponents to beat them out on the offensive glass. The Hawks have the seventh-worst opponent offensive rebound percentage, with their opponents grabbing 30.6% percent of the available offensive boards.

So, the Hawks know that they’ll have to continue improving their execution, particularly on defense.

Hawks center Clint Capela echoed, Snyder’s statement about all five guys on the floor committing to rebounding. For Capela, that starts with communication.

“We’ll just have to participate and communicate,” he said. “It’s just part of the defense. You need everybody. Whenever I go block a shot, I need them to have my back in the paint. So, it’s something that has to work both ways and it’s something most of all, that we have to be consistent with.”

Capela said that they have all spoken about the importance of effective communication but now it comes down to action.

“It takes action,” he said. “So, we talked about before we have to be able to take actions. Obviously, gotta get hits, that can be better, too. We all can, as well. So, it’s actions.”

On Tuesday, the Hawks face the Pacers, who have the league’s most efficient offense. They have the best offensive rating in the NBA through their first 11 games and rank fourth in the league in 3-point percentage.

So, for the Hawks, making sure every defensive possession counts. They’ll have to make the Pacers work for every opportunity and finishing out possessions and grabbing defensive rebounds will be one of the keys to Tuesday’s game.

It will also be one of the last few chances for the Hawks to make their bid for a spot in the quarterfinals of the new In-Season Tournament. After they dropped Friday’s game against the 76ers, the Hawks took a nosedive in the standings and sit one game behind in the tournament standings.

But Capela and his teammates know that they’ll have to continue executing beyond Tuesday’s game.

“It is good if we can do it against the Pacers,” he said. “But if we’re trying to take that step, we have to be able to do it the next game and the next game. We have to find a way to tell ourselves ‘this is what we got to do, let’s focus on that.’ But with the Pacers is a team that’s going to try and run us out of the gym whether we score or not.”

About the Author