Atlanta Hawks forward Taurean Prince (12) scores against Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Hawks mailbag: To switch or not to switch and more

To switch or not to switch?

The Hawks’ tactic on screens was the biggest question of the week – and that was before the dramatic change in Monday night’s win at the Thunder.

So let’s open the #AskViv mailbag and start there.

Q: Even if we think going over screen is best, why not go under or switch at times? Teams know how to prepare for us.

#AskViv: The Hawks main focus when faced with a screen, under Mike Budenholzer, has always been to have their player first try to fight through it. If the Hawks defender can get through, there is no need to rotate other players to help. If the Hawks defender can’t get through, there is a line and order of defense to help. First and foremost, cut off the path to the basket.

The Hawks don’t want to give up the open jump shot that comes when a defender goes under the screen. Look at Dennis Schroder when the Hawks have the ball. Teams are going under the screen and he has made them pay of late by hitting the open jump shot.

That is the simple answer.

The Hawks do indeed adjust the screen strategy during games. You will often hear Budenholzer or players say after games that they tweaked their coverage, which is usually a change of where the help comes from. So it is something the Hawks do game adjust.

However, then comes Monday night and the Hawks choose to switch on every screen when Russell Westbrook had the ball. The Hawks have do this before but not to the extent they did Monday. The strategy was in part to cut off Westbrook’s drives to the basket where, as Kyle Korver said, he is very good at making the most of a crack in the defense. Westbrook could either continue to the rim or pass to a big rolling to the basket. The strategy also helped the Hawks defend the Thunder big men since they were at a size disadvantage. With no Hawks big helping on the screen, the Thunder big men was still accounted for and never left open.

I expect the Hawks will go back to the strategy of first fighting through a screen. The change against the Thunder was based on circumstance.

Q: In the 2015-16 season, no team scored more than 117 points on the Hawks during the regular season. However, in just the past two weeks, we’ve seen teams score 131, 128, and 121 against us. Has something changed in our defensive scheme that is allowing teams to drop these big numbers on us? Are the players not executing? Or, is some of it just attributable to the fact that we’re running into hot shooting teams?

#AskViv: The answer is all of the above.

The Hawks started the season with, again, a solid defense. However, there is no question that the defense has slipped during after the first 11 games. Some of that can be contributed to adjusting to new personnel, notably Dwight Howard. He needs to learn where to be in the Hawks system and teammates need to trust that he will be there. That, I think understandably, takes time.

Some teams have had good shooting nights against the Hawks, no question. There are times you have to tip your hat. However, I go back to something Tim Hardaway Jr. said recently. To paraphrase, you have to make it tough on a shooter. If he makes the shot, you didn’t make it tough enough.

The Hawks have always given up too many 3-point attempts for my liking. However, they are doing it at a more alarming rate during their recent slide. Both the opponents’ attempts and makes are up.

I think the defense has slipped but it should be correctable. Al Horford was a very good defender. He has been replaced by Howard, a top defender in the league for years. There have been some growing pains.

Q: How does Coach Bud balance being the head coach and the main decision maker? I’m sure he gets close to his guys being coach, but that does not give him the outside view that a decision maker needs to have. Is there any chance that he thinks he can just coach the guys up he currently has and doesn’t think about possibly trading guys? Mike Muscala is definitely not first big off the bench caliber, but Coach Bud seems to trust him immensely.

#AskViv: You may have a point if Budenholzer was the sole decision maker. While he may have the final say, there is a large staff in basketball operations including general manager Wes Wilcox that gather information and make plans. I take the organization at its word that decisions are made as a team. I’ve been told several times that there may be “heated” discussions about certain aspects of the team or roster but in the end they will come out of the room with one decision.

If there are trade talks, a lot of the ground work or due diligence is being done by basketball operations. Budenholzer is certainly kept in the loop but he’s not concerned with much of the details until the organization has a decision to make.

I would disagree on your point about Muscala. I think he took a major step forward in his development this summer. I think him being the first big off the bench – usually at power forward – has worked out. He stands to get a substantial raise this offseason, from the Hawks or someone else.

Q: Does Bud agree with the blog consensus that the wings have been bad, and if so, why doesn’t he play Prince more?

#AskViv: I would say Budenholzer does not agree that the wings have been bad – at least he hasn’t said it publically or privately that I’m aware. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe they can, and must, play better. I think that’s the case with everyone on the roster considering their record. In game situations, Budenholzer is going to ride with Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Kyle Korver.

Concerning Prince, I know he’s a first-round pick. I think the Hawks got a steal in selecting him at No. 12. He’s going to be good. You can see glimpses of his potential. He needs development. You can also see glimpses of him being not so good. It will come with time and experience. I expect Prince to be a part of the regular rotation, maybe even a starter next season. He’s not ready yet over the likes of the current wings.

Q: Who is the most likely assistant coach to be a head coach soon, as it’s become customary for the Hawks to lose an assistant every summer, it seems?

#AskViv: Darvin Ham and Taylor Jenkins. They are Budenholzer’s top assistants. I suspect you are right that the Hawks could lose somebody in the future, especially if they are successful. There is a Budenholzer coaching tree developing with Quin Snyder and Kenny Atkinson.

You can e-mail questions to cvivlamore@ajc.com or post on Twitter using the hashtag #AskViv. Until next week.

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