One of the best games on the large NBA slate Wednesday night was the Atlanta Hawks and the Dallas Mavericks. The Hawks came out victorious 117-111, and a lot of good and bad things came out of the game for both sides. Here are 3 observations, or overreactions, perhaps, for each team’s season long outlook based on their first game.
- John Collins is going to be a stud this season and beyond
Collins had a heck of a game tonight for Atlanta off of the bench, scoring 14 points on 6-10 shooting, along with five rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes. He was the first player off of the Hawks bench, and his impact was felt immediately, with his first possession ending in an alley-oop layup plus a foul. He showed a versatile offensive game, rim-running as well as hitting a mid-range jumper from 14 feet out, and his defensive awareness was quite good, having to chase the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell off of the three-point line, while also having to defend Nerlens Noel in the post. Look for Collins to continue to get opportunities at both the 4 and the 5, especially while Miles Plumlee is out of the rotation with injury.
- Dennis Schröder will be wildly inefficient shooting the basketball, but his counting stats will be elite
Scoring 28 points on 26 field goal attempts is less than ideal for most NBA players. Dennis Schröder doesn’t care about that, and he honestly shouldn’t for the sake of the Hawks. The Hawks lack a true playmaker outside of Schröder, so his propensity to shoot the ball at a high volume is actually valuable to the Hawks. He needs to shoot the ball for the Hawks to have a chance to score at a decent clip, and his straight-line driving ability opens up shooters on the perimeter and drop passes to centers like Dewayne Dedmon and Collins for easy dunks. Schröder’s high shot count is necessary for the Hawks to go, so look his shot attempts and usage rate to remain high.
- Barring injury, the Hawks will go over their projected win total
The Hawks’ over/under win projection has them winning 27-28 games this season. Judging from their performance tonight, if they can cut down on the open 3’s allowed, they can challenge 30 wins, which would be counter-productive towards their eventual goal of rebuilding, but still encouraging of the young talent that is presently on the roster.
- Dennis Smith Jr. looks like the real deal
Dennis Smith, the 9th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, had a very impressive debut for the Mavericks, scoring 16 points and dishing out 10 assists on 50% shooting from the field. He showed a sense of calm and control throughout the game, really dominating the ball as the primary distributor and showing his scoring ability driving to the basket. Smith, coming from North Carolina State, was very adept at getting his teammates involved in the game, assisting on 1 of every 3 possessions while with the Wolfpack. That same ability to pass to assist translated to their season opener, and will translate throughout the season. Combine that with Smith’s hyper-athleticism and he is looking at a potential Rookie of the Year campaign.
- Dirk Nowitzki is no longer a starter-caliber player
Watching this season-opener and watching Dirk struggle up and down the floor for the Mavericks is quite the disappointing end to his career. He struggled in the season opener, shooting 2-7 from behind the arc and 4-14 from the field overall, which is not where Dirk should be to still be a starter. He struggles to move defensively, which definitely bore out in the game, and starting him at the 4 is no longer a realistic option alongside Nerlens Noel. Dirk looked to be out of sorts in the course of the game, which doesn’t bode well for his long-term prospects on the team. If Nowitzki can’t keep up with the younger guys in his 20th season, it might be time to relegate him to the bench or reduce his minutes in the starting lineup.
- Nerlens Noel deserves to be a starter
To piggy-back off of the Dirk point, Nerlens Noel had one of his better games in his short career, scoring 16 points on a perfect 6-6 from the field, rebounding the ball 11 times, and blocking 3 shots. Noel looked very good defending the rim against the drives of Dennis Schroder, as well as scoring on quick dump-offs from Dennis Smith. He is much more mobile than Dirk at the center position defensively, and, without the shooting touch, he is an overall better offensive player as far as catch lobs and dump-offs. If the Mavericks want to be successful this season, they need to find a way to start Noel to get that defensive impact on the starting line.
Next: The Hawks travel to Charlotte for a Friday night contest against former Hawk Dwight Howard and the Charlotte Hornets. The Mavericks travel to Sacramento for a Friday night contest, pitting top-10 picks Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAaron Fox for the first time this season.