Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks
Time: 11 AM (CT), NBA LP
Spread: ATL -2.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Atlanta Hawks are 9-3 and trail only the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference standings. The Hawks had a six-game win streak snapped by the Charlotte Hornets Friday night, falling 100-96 despite getting 22 points and 13 boards from Paul Millsap. The Hornets shot just 41 percent from the floor but hit 10 three pointers and had just 11 turnovers with 25 assisted baskets. Dwight Howard turned in another strong game with 10 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, but the Hawks starters all finished with negative differentials, and Howard was -7.
Atlanta has been very good and deserving of the “Spurs of the East” moniker occasionally ascribed to them. They rank No. 9 in the NBA in scoring at 106.8 points per game, but give up just 98.3 points per game, the No. 7-most stingiest defense. Atlanta is No. 2 in the NBA in assists per game at 26.1, and the team often plays smart basketball, which leads to taking high percentage field goals. Atlanta has returned to the 60-win form it exhibited two seasons ago, despite having three new starters at the 1, 3 and 5 spots. Gone is Jeff Teague, DeMarre Caroll and Al Horford, in are Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Dwight Howard. It has to be considered an upgrade in all respects.
While the Hawks did get younger outside Howard, who is now a grizzled 12-year veteran, the thing that makes it work is having so many capable shooters around the playmaking and penetration of Schroder. Millsap leads the team at 17.3 points per game, while averaging 8.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists as well. Schroder is good for 15.7 points and 5.9 assists per game, while hitting a surprising 38.6 percent from three. Howard has been his usual model of efficiency, shooting 60.6 percent from the floor and averaging 14.4 points and 12.9 rebounds per game in just 28 minutes a night. With Tiago Splitter still to join the picture, the chance will be there to keep Howard’s legs and back fresh for the postseason. He has thrived in seeing less than 30 per game, and after the milage he logged in Orlando earlier in his career, Howard certainly has plenty of wear on his body.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kent Bazemore are both underrated swingmen who average double-figures, and Mike Muscala is a rugged and tough defender in the mold of a Luis Scola type. Korea is still a marksman, and is connecting on 40 percent from three at 4.7 attempts per game. Rounding out the bench is the lockdown defender Thabo Sefolosha (has missed last two games and is uncertain for today’s game), and a scoring rookie point guard in Malcolm Delaney. The Hawks have plenty of depth and a strong 11-man rotation.
While that will invariably tighten up some as the season goes on, it is allowing Mike Budenholtzer to find plenty of rest for his star players at this early juncture of the season while having compiled a 9-3 mark.
The New York Knicks have been something more of a disappointment, meanwhile. New York is 5-7 on the season and is coming off a 119-112 loss to the disappointing Washington Wizards. The Knicks have not been really pleased with Derrick Rose, and Kristaps Porzingis’ involvement in the offense needs to increase at the cost of Rose giving him the ball more.
Porzingis is averaging 20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game while attempting 14.9 shots per night. He is shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and 40 percent on threes (on 54 attempts per game) while hitting an affected field goal percentage of 56 percent. Yet Pos is attempting 14.5 shots per game while knocking down an aFG of just 46 percent. Carmelo Anthony leads the way at 22.3 points per game while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three, but this has to become Porzingis’ team.
At 7-foot-3, he is a once in a generation transcendental talent that can make the Knicks better than the sub-.500 team it has been.
Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee have both been mild disappointments, and the Knicks are really hoping Joakim Noah rounds more into form, too. Noah is seeing 23 minutes a night and averaging four points, nine rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, while Jennings is shooting just 37.8 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three. Lee has been solid, but is attempting just 8.5 field goals per game and has a PER of just 8.5.
The Knicks need to entirely change their schematics to make the most of their talent, but it does not seem to be happening. The results of riding Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose will most certainly be mediocrity, while Porzingis promises the hope of something, well, bigger. The Latvian is going to work with Dirk Nowitzki this summer, which should outfit him with a few more unstoppable moves to only further solidify his arsenal. 14.9 shots per game is a start, but it really should trend closer to 18 per game as he becomes the No. 1 option in a reformed Knicks offense.