Opening Statements 01: Wizards at Hawks — Hope Before Dawn | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements 01: Wizards at Hawks — Hope Before Dawn

Updated: October 27, 2016

Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks

The NBA season is a couple nights old but tonight it’s Washington’s turn to shake out the butterflies. And for at least the fifth straight start to a Wizards season there’s been hope for something different, something more—success.

Beginning with the 29-win season in 2012-13 when John Wall missed the first 2.5 months of action; to making noise in the 2014 playoffs with a win over Chicago but an offensive sputter against Indiana; to sweeping Toronto but succumbing to Atlanta via an injury to Wall; to the disastrous last season with injuries to blame and more, much more—hope, at least, has not been lost on this Washington franchise.

But with modicums of regular season success and second helpings of failure, expectations come tempered. Only natural. The Wizards are still the Wizards. They are not the Washington Nationals—three NL East crowns in five years (two second place finishes) and three exits in the league divisional series. They are not the Washington Capitals—six division titles in nine seasons, eight playoff appearances, never advancing past the second round.

These Wizards get to chart their own path under these conditions:

  • Numbers that favor the starting lineup which team brass has assembled.
  • A noble effort to revamp the bench with a nice balance of youth.
  • The fact that no one’s watching them (except Charles Barkley).
  • An existence in the East where there is one ‘have’ (Cleveland), several ‘have nots’ (at least nine teams), and just a few ‘ totally nots’ (2-3 teams, later to be adjusted for tanking).

Got ‘em right where they want ‘em—or at least they are primed to be a fun team to watch. And that’s a good enough lead-up to the hope that everyone feels leading up to a new season.

It’s only appropriate that Washington match-up with their last playoff foe, a division rival in Atlanta that knows about the beautiful struggle between success and expectations, and an absent fan base. The Hawks have made the playoffs for nine straight seasons, got to the East Finals once (2015), but otherwise have championed eight first- or second-round exits.

Joining me today to answer a few questions is longtime friend of the blog, KL Chouinard (@KLChouinard), online writer for the Atlanta Hawks. Leggo…

#1) What most makes you feel warm-and-fuzzy about the Hawks heading into this season?

If I’m allowed to do a short list and cite three things here, in no particular order, then I would say that I’m optimistic about:

+ The potential of a Dwight Howard-Dennis Schröder pick-and-roll combination to have more punch at the rim that ATL did a year ago.

+ The Hawks staying as a top-5 defensive team—but with much better rebounding.

+ The return—the real return—of Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha

Atlanta’s magical 2014-15 season started to turn south almost exactly at the moment when Sefolosha got hurt.

Korver and Sefolosha both played last season, of course, but both were limited in activity and kept out of back-to-back games at the beginning of the year as they recovered from serious offseason surgeries. The Hawks fell from 60 to 48 wins, even though Paul Millsap and Al Horford put together career seasons, because the of play on the wing dipped. Although, to be fair, Korver played great after the All-Star break and that’s exactly when the Hawks played their best basketball.

This preseason, those two shot lights out and looked a lot more like they did two seasons ago than they did in 2015-16.

#2) What most makes your stomach queasy?

The thing that makes me queasy is turnovers. Horford and Jeff Teague both protected the ball really well.

Last season, the Hawks had trouble with defensive rebounding and the deciding factor was whether they could force turnovers to get more and better possessions.

This season, the rebounding and defense should be better, but Atlanta will have lineups more prone to coughing up the ball. The determining factor may now be how well they prevent their own turnovers.

#3) Dennis!! —

What is the preferred way to spell his last name (I’ve seen so many versions!); What will be the biggest difference between him running the team and Jeff Teague?; What’s your take on his new extension, i.e., will it allow him to focus on the season, will it greatly enhance expectations, what else, etc.?

The spelling is definitely ‘Schröder’ but I’m sure that the wide and varied pronunciations here in Atlanta (including mine) cause pain to fine-tuned German ears.

I think the contract can be good for both sides. Schröder gets security, and the Hawks get a bit of a discount for locking him up early.

If I can assume that the deal was close to being completed yesterday, then I was struck by his overall demeanor the last time he spoke. He was smiling, more than usual, and poised and reflective on his career to date. He’s always a good talker, but he just had a beaming tranquility that struck me. I think it will be good for his production this season.

I think that the matter of whether the Hawks are a Conference Finals-worthy team this season will come down to Schröder’s ability to consistently knock down enough outside shots to make the task of defending the Dwight-Schröder pick-and-roll into one that requires three defenders.

Bonus: What’s your counter to Zach Lowe placing Atlanta at No. 25 in his annual NBA League Pass Rankings article?

I tried to downplay the importance of preseason stats before I cited one—one in which the Hawks came out looking very good—for Mike Budenholzer the other day. He joked around with me and wondered aloud if I would pooh-pooh a preseason stat if told the opposite story.

If preseason stats and style of play do matter, then Lowe may not have to worry about the Hawks losing what made them the Hawks.

The Hawks’ passing has passed both the eye and numbers test this preseason. They boasted the best assist percentage of the preseason and it only got a lot better when Millsap came back from injury. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think the prettiness of the passing will die down at all, but again, I do wonder if the Hawks can still do it while limiting turnovers. That’s going to be such a huge key for them.

And maybe Dwight’s fun is ready to take a step in the right direction.


(Photo from Schröder’s Twitter account).

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.