Hawks’ second unit continues to round into form

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — The Hawks needed a jolt of energy from their second unit Wednesday night, a unit that has been providing the Hawks with plenty of juice as the team has settled on a consistent rotation.

“O (Onyeka Okongwu), playing with (four) fouls but staying aggressive, and also being disciplined,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said. “And Jalen (Johnson) came in, obviously, and did some really good things. And I thought Bogi (Bogdan Bogdanovic) gave us the lift. That group really gave us a lift.”

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Over the past seven games, since the team has returned from the All-Star break, the Hawks have reaped plenty of benefits from their bench. In that span, the bench ranks ninth in the NBA in points per game, while being the league’s most efficient in field-goal percentage (52.4%).

Part of that has been because the team has had some strong scoring nights from Bogdanovic and Saddiq Bey, whom the team acquired last month at the trade deadline.

Bey and Bogdanovic have made over 45% of their 3-point shots during the past seven games. Bogdanovic has benefited from the rest during the All-Star break, as he has sunk roughly 56% of his shots from long range.

But it isn’t only the second unit’s wings who have given the Hawks a lift, as Snyder noted. They have gotten some big performances from their young frontcourt in Johnson and Okongwu, who have carved out a defensive presence.

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The two, of course, have had some tough assignments over the past three games. They matched up against the likes of Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler and Kristaps Porzingis, to name a few, all while trying to match the size and physicality.

It’s been a part of the learning curve for the two young players. But the consistency of being in the rotation, particularly for Johnson, has helped them to find a rhythm that will serve them in the final 16 games of the regular season.

“Yeah, just building confidence and me just playing more,” Johnson said. “I think that’s all it comes down to essentially.”

Since the All-Star break, Johnson has played six of the games but has been more of a fixture over the past four, as Snyder has come to lean on his defense. Johnson has averaged 16.4 minutes per game over the past four games, while averaging 14.3 over the 57 games before that.

He scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, one of which included a monster one-handed putback dunk over the head of the Wizards’ Deni Avdija.

Snyder has talked about the Hawks’ need for Johnson’s skills since the coach joined the team last week, and he’s made sure to work on instilling confidence in the 21-year-old.

“It’s part of the growth process,” Snyder said. “One of the things, you know, you make a mistake and you learn from it, and if we frame it that way, I got a lot of confidence. And, hopefully he feels that and (that) his teammates have a lot of confidence in him.

“So, mistakes are gonna happen. It’s a game of mistakes. And it says a lot more about how you respond to, and that’s just the part of the growth process. He’s a young player. He loves to play, you know, he was taking matchups (Wednesday), and it’s fun to see.”

The Hawks face the Wizards again Friday, and the team will, of course, look to its second unit to continue giving it some energy. They’ll continue to process and clean up the mistakes from Wednesday’s win as they try to make their push down the stretch.

One of those things is continuing to improve on defense. That’s one of the things Snyder has charged the entire team with doing. Snyder already has talked of the Hawks’ tendency to overhelp, and the team will have to learn to trust each other on defense.

“You want to help your teammate, but really, you can help the team by not giving up those shots,” Snyder said. “And (opponents are) gonna make some. Some of them aren’t breakdowns, but the ones that are breakdowns we got to clean those up because it makes it harder and, what, they shoot 56% from the field for the game. Well, that’s pretty good. So, if those shots are contested, that’s one thing. It’s another thing if they’re practice shots.”