Recent results for the Atlanta Hawks have raised a number of questions about what heights the team can reach this season. Since Al Horford went down with a season-ending injury, Atlanta has really struggled to find an identity as a team and a low-post presence to replace the production of Horford on both sides of the ball.
So far, coach Mike Budenholzer has used Pero Antic, Mike Scott and Elton Brand to replace the All-Star center’s production. All three stepped up their game in certain areas, but one key area the Hawks are missing is their ability to rebound. In their last 10 games, Atlanta has been out-rebounded in every game besides one, the win against the Boston Celtics, and the result has been a terrible 4-6 record during this stretch. If the Hawks want to win games, they have to rebound better and I think Gustavo Ayon may be the perfect answer to their problems after breaking down all the candidates.
Antic has seen the most starts since Horford’s injury and the results have been surprising from the Macedonian. Antic provides the team with a capable center, who can shoot the ball from three as well as distribute the ball to the open man for an assist. However, two areas that he really needs to improve is his ability to play defense and rebound the basketball. In the last four games he started, his rebound totals were three, four, three and five with one total block. His offense hasn’t been nearly as bad which is why he’s earned the right to start, but he needs to become more of a force down low defensively.
Antic doesn’t deserve all the blame for the Hawks problems, though. The lack of consistency on the defensive side of the ball from the other replacement big men, Brand and Scott, has been unimpressive as well. At home, the big men have shown signs of promise in their ability to play defense as evidenced by their two big wins over the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers where both teams failed to reach the 90-point mark. However, playing on the road is a different story for these two.
Scott is very similar to Antic, in that he provides plenty of offense for the Hawks, but he’s not a force in the paint rebounding and challenging shots at the rim. In fact, his highest rebound total in the last five games is only four, which needs to improve for someone who plays the power forward position. Despite the lack of rebounding, Scott is only a small part of the problem for the Hawks as his scoring recently does more than make up for his weakness.
Brand is the one who has improved his game the most since Horford’s injury. He’s provided Atlanta with a great shot blocker down low, who will challenge any shot at the rim. However, like his teammates, he’s shown way too much inconsistency rebounding the basketball. Brand increased his rebounding production more than Scott or Antic did, but he’s had games where he’ll record 11 rebounds and then the next game he won’t even get over four. If he could just get a little more consistent on the glass, the Hawks would not be asking themselves all of these questions in the first place.
The answer to all of Atlanta’s problems may be sitting on their bench. Ayon for his career averages 4.2 rebounds per game in very limited action as a bench player mainly. He’s only started a few games in his career and one of those came against the Memphis Grizzlies a couple of games ago. Against the Grizzlies, he recorded seven rebounds in the starting role; however, those seven boards came in only 14 minutes of action on the floor. If a guy gives you seven rebounds in only fourteen minutes, he needs to play more.
Rebounding is a big reason why the Hawks went 4-6 over their last 10 games, so why not give Ayon a chance to see what he can do in an extended role. He already averages more rebounds per game than the other three in less minutes, and could be an important piece for Atlanta if coach Bud gives him a chance.