‘The gym is a lot louder:’ Veteran voices already helping out Hawks

Hawks forward John Collins.
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Hawks forward John Collins.

Credit: Atlanta Hawks

Quiet gyms are losing gyms, John Collins has always heard.

But he’s also heard that in basketball, talking is contagious. On both counts, the first few days of Hawks training camp have been encouraging for the power forward, who will enter into his fourth season with the team.

“The gym is a lot louder,” said Collins, 23. “... If I can say one thing, it’s that we’re trying to take that next step, going to another level in terms of our communication, and I think that’s going to be big for us. I feel like our older guys are sort of leading.”

Overall, the Hawks added nine new faces as they revamped their roster this offseason with an eye on winning now, as opposed to gathering assets and rebuilding for the future as they’ve done in recent years. Some of the most notable additions include a handful of experienced veterans (Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, Tony Snell, Solomon Hill) who will be expected to contribute from the get-go, but also share what they’ve learned with the Hawks’ young core of players, most of which is still quite young.

Some of that may be X’s and O’s-related, some of that may be more intangible.

Immediately, though, many returning players have noticed an increased amount of team communication, which is a good sign on a team that often struggled to talk enough on the court last season. Some of that came simply from having quieter players on the roster, and some of it was because the Hawks had several rookies and young players getting heavy playing time while still learning the NBA.

Even before the offseason additions, the Hawks knew that being more vocal was crucial if they wanted to achieve success this season. But it seems that combining older veterans with the Hawks’ young players who got ample playing time last season has helped push the team in the right direction.

“I think it’s a mixture of guys getting older that have already been here and getting probably more comfortable using their voice, myself included, and then bringing in guys that are used to using their voice and have been doing it for a long time, and the mix you get is a louder gym,” said wing Kevin Huerter, 22, who will enter his third season with the Hawks.

And the communication is quality, Huerter added, players talking because they’re discussing the offense or defense as the team scrimmages, without coaches having to prompt them to do so.

Although the Hawks did have experience on the roster last season, those were players who seemingly weren’t going to stick around for seasons to come, as the franchise took on bad contracts while rebuilding or sought out assets in return. They didn’t get much on-court contribution from Evan Turner, Chandler Parsons or Allen Crabbe. They ended up renouncing their free-agency rights to DeAndre’ Bembry, Treveon Graham, Damian Jones, Jeff Teague and Vince Carter, among others, though Carter was a valuable locker-room presence and mentor.

Overall, though, the Hawks didn’t have many veterans both playing at a high level and helping the young players develop, showing them how to win.

There’s a different vibe around the team this year, per Huerter, with many players feeling the teams has the right combination of skilled veterans and young talent to succeed.

“In past years, with some of the different moves we made, kind of, there were players there, possibly guys we weren’t going to have here long-term,” Huerter said. “We brought in four, five, six, seven, however many, good guys that we expect to help us win, and a lot of guys that (can play) in any sort of game, and we’re probably not going to drop off too much, and guys that have been around, a lot of vets. So the make-up of the team this year, it’s definitely different, but there’s a really good feeling in the gym.”

When it comes to team communication, the Hawks did have the outgoing veteran Dewayne Dedmon last season, who they recently traded to Detroit in return for Snell.

Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce used to think Dedmon was loud — then, they signed Hill (who has a “booming voice,” per Huerter). Hill, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn were the three guys Collins mentioned who have been the loudest and most communicative so far.

“He’s been good, and I think more than anyone, he’s set that tone for us already,” Pierce said of Hill. “He’s constantly communicating, constantly talking. Bogi and Gallo, they speak often. They’re not loud, but they speak often. Rondo is not loud; he’s competitive. You’ll hear him get loud as he’s competing. … There’s so much variety with how we communicate with each other, but I think everyone has been communicating.”

There has also been a lot of talking and question-asking as the team gets organized and new guys learn the Hawks’ system, Pierce added.

The new veterans using their voices during practice has been helpful for the young guys, per Cam Reddish, as everyone adjusts to one another. Reddish, 21, will enter his second year with the team.

“Guys like Rondo, Gallinari have been speaking up, speaking their minds and I feel like from a player’s perspective, that’s what we want and that’s what we need,” Reddish said. “It just makes you feel better. If those guys continue to use our voices, it will be a big (help) for us.”

From a veteran player’s perspective, communication is key, but it’s pretty easy to do during practices.

It’s much harder to do during actual games, when so much is going on, according to Gallinari, who is 32 and has played 11 seasons in the NBA. Last season, Gallinari helped a young Thunder team to the playoffs.

“When the game comes, I’ve seen a lot of players, all of a sudden, they’re not talking anymore,” Gallinari said. “So I’m a game guy, and I like to be very vocal during games.”

Having a high level of communication is also helpful for teams when something goes wrong during a game, or when conflict arises, Gallinari added.

“Being unselfish first and being uncomfortable in situations and just being willing to talk about it,” Gallinari said. “The more you don’t want to talk about situations and solve problems, the worse it is for the team. We’ll have problems just like every other team has, especially a new team, and the more we talk about it, and we work on it and just find solutions during practice and during games, I think that’s the fastest and best way, best path to success.”

Young players taking after veterans doesn’t stop at communication, per Huerter, though obviously that’s a big area the Hawks needed to improve in, and one they’re already starting to see change for the better.

It’s also about forming good habits — for example, Snell, Bogdanovic and Hill always stay after practice to get in some extra reps.

“They kind of bring all of us along,” Huerter said. “Myself and a couple other guys included, we’re used to staying after and shooting and there’s nobody else really in the gym. Now, it’s almost the whole team staying in the gym and getting extra work in. ... They all bring something different, but the professionalism that they have brought to the team is something that really sticks out.”

Collins, who is now the longest-tenured Hawk on the roster, welcomed the Hawks adding a “much-needed veteran presence.”

He also welcomes the raised expectations for the team that are a result of the moves.

“We’ve shown potential and we’ve shown just flashes of greatness, and now we’ve added other solid NBA players, veterans who have proven themselves in this league, so I just feel like when you look at our team on paper, and you look at our ages and you look at all the positives, your mind just starts to race and I feel like we’re there, too,” Collins said.

“We’re excited. We need for our young guys to grow up a little bit and the older guys to give that experience and lend their knowledge to us.”

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