Top 10 Hawks Matchups – #3: Coach Bud Returns to San Antonio
Atlanta’s trip to San Antonio on Dec. 2 lands in the third spot on our countdown. The Hawks will get their first look at the defending Western Conference champions that night, and it will also be head coach Mike Budenholzer’s first game in San Antonio as an opposing coach.
Playing against the Spurs is always one of the highlights of the schedule, and this year there is the added excitement of it being the first time Coach Bud will go up against Gregg Popovich and the team he coached for 17 years. With Budenholzer bringing over the Spurs’ system to Atlanta, this first matchup against San Antonio will serve as a bit of a measuring stick as to where the Hawks are with the system in their 19th game of the season.
The Spurs will once again have a very familiar look to their roster, as they made very minor changes this offseason. San Antonio returns most of their core group from last season’s Western Conference champion squad and will once again be led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs re-signed center Tiago Splitter in free agency and will also have their young star small forward Kawhi Leonard and sharp-shooter Danny Green returning for this season. The biggest departure from the Spurs was Gary Neal, who signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency, and the Spurs are hoping to replace Neal’s production with Marco Belinelli.
Parker and Duncan are still the focal points of the Spurs’ offense as one of the best and most prolific pick-and-pop/pick-and-roll combinations in the NBA. Parker was 18th in the NBA last season with 0.91 PPP (points per possession) as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, which accounted for 825 (46.6%) of his offensive possessions last season. Duncan, as the pick-and-roll roll-man, ranked 86th in the NBA with 0.94 PPP on 343 (20.6%) of his offensive possessions. Duncan also remains one of the top post players in the NBA, ranking 28th in the league with 0.93 PPP on 474 (28.5%) of his offensive possessions.
Containing the Parker/Duncan pick-and-roll and making Duncan uncomfortable in the post will be the two toughest defensive challenges facing the Hawks in this matchup. Al Horford and Paul Millsap will have to find ways to push Duncan off his spot in the post and also be quick getting back to Duncan on pick-and-rolls. Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder will have to be aggressive fighting through screens in order to stay between Parker and the rim to prevent him from having his way in the paint.
Budenholzer’s return to San Antonio will be an emotional trip for him being that he spent almost his entire career with the Spurs’ organization. However, his knowledge of the Spurs’ system and players might give him an edge in preparing the Hawks on how to slow down San Antonio’s offense.
Previously in the Top 10 countdown:
10. Opening Night in Dallas
9. Knicks’ First Visit To Philips
8. Clippers Come To Atlanta
7. Drew and Pachulia’s Return to Atlanta
6. Rockets Come To Atlanta
5. Hawks Face Nets In London
4. Josh Smith’s Return to Atlanta
Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images