Saddiq Bey notches career-high steals as Hawks aim for defensive improvement

Hakwks forward Saddiq Bey (41) poses for a photograph during the Hawks Media Day on Monday, October 2, 2023.
Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Hakwks forward Saddiq Bey (41) poses for a photograph during the Hawks Media Day on Monday, October 2, 2023. Miguel Martinez /

Hawks fourth-year forward Saddiq Bey took to heart the team’s goal to improve its defense this season. In the Hawks’ season-opening loss at the Hornets on Wednesday, Bey nabbed a career-high five steals.

Heading to the new season, the Hawks challenged their players to step up on defense. With the team looking to play with a quick offense, it put an even bigger priority on getting stops.

So, Bey spent his summer getting his mind in the right place so that he could be a bigger contributor to his team.

“So last year was kind of up in the air,” Bey said Thursday. “Like we were trying to learn on the fly what we wanted to do. So, it was a little tougher for just for everyone defensively. But for me, this year, I know and they told me like, ‘Hey, this is how we’re playing this how we’re defending.’ So now going into the game, I know exactly what we want to do, so it’s just easier to be able to understand.”

Bey started Wednesday’s season opener at power forward, but he and forward De’Andre Hunter have enough versatility to slide between that position and small forward.

On Wednesday, the Hawks had plenty of moments where they made the Hornets work for every shot they took. But the Hawks also didn’t stay in front of the ball enough, and often they weren’t shifted enough to give each other help when they needed, and the Hornets exploited it.

But when the Hawks’ defense was “on” and all five guys played connected, the Hawks got the stops that they needed, and it led to good things on offense. They scored 17 points off of the Hornets’ 19 turnovers, and they scored 19 fast-break points.

Roughly 13% of Bey’s points Wednesday came off fast breaks and turnovers.

With 8:51 left in the fourth quarter, Bey defended Hornets rookie Brandon Miller into a trap that allowed Hunter to disrupt the dribble. The ball popped into the air and out of bounds, but Miller tried to save the possession for the Hornets by trying to toss the ball back inbounds to teammate Gordon Hayward.

Bey anticipated Miller’s move and began to move into the passing lane. He picked off the pass and pushed the ball ahead before dunking it in transition to give the Hawks an 88-87 lead.

This summer, Bey spent more hours than he could count watching film on opposing players to learn their tendencies and tells. A self-proclaimed hoops junkie, Bey said he also worked on his body to help his explosiveness and ability to move laterally.

“Just watching the games, studying the games, obviously working on your body, mobility, more explosive, better, just laterally, everything,” Bey said.

The Hawks ended Wednesday’s game with 12 steals, well above the 7.1 steals per game they averaged last season.

So, as the Hawks move on from their season opener, the team will, of course, want more of that from Bey and everyone else. They’ll want to finish defensive possessions and avoid shifting too much so that they can’t provide help to contain the ball.

“I think the way that you said, defending with five guys and the way that we’re guarding, we have to have trust and trust that the guys behind you are going to be in a position where they have your back,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s something that you work on and you work on.

“We had a lot of possessions where I thought we defended well in a possession and then we got driven late. So, if there’s one thing defensively, you know, our ability to contain the ball, and not necessarily give up straight line drives, and then again after the back end of a possession to be shifted in help positions where it’s not one guy on an island trying to move out. But we need to do a better job containing the ball, and we need to help each other contain the ball by being shifted.”