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Pistons at Hawks preview: Two teams in different phases of a rebuild face off

Detroit’s rebuild is just under way, while Atlanta’s is struggling to bear fruit. Detroit might lose the game but looks like it learned how not to lose the battle

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Detroit Pistons v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s tough to be a smallish guard in modern NBA. If you are one of those and you can’t shoot threes at an elite clip like Step Curry or drive to the basket like John Wall, you might be sentenced to play a secondary role. For several years and iterations of its team, the Atlanta Hawks hoped to go against these odds and build a contender on the foundation of smallish guards that were neither an elite shooter nor driver.

After failing to build a contender with Jeff Teague and then with Dennis Schroeder, they decided to rebuild and develop a team even more dependent on such a player in Trae Young. The Hawks are now built around 6-foot-1 Young, who is struggling mightily this season. Atlanta, who hoped this was the season their rebuild turned the corner and became a legit playoff threat has so far been underwhelming.

Today, they face a team just beginning its rebuilding efforts in the Detroit Pistons. Detroit still has plenty of pieces to add (fade for Cade szn is here), but they seem invested and interested in long, athletic players at every position.

Game Vitals

When: Wednesday, January 20, 2021, 7:30 p.m.
Where: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +5


Hawks try to navigate lately through their mess by lowering Young’s usage rate and distributing his shots to other players. Thus, Mason Plumlee will need to sweat to stop Clint Capela, who is averaging 24 points and 15 boards in the past two games. Similarly, Jerami Grant will need to stay alert about De’Andre Hunter, who in that span averaged 20 points. And Detroit wings will need to pay attention to Kevin Huerter, who collected 30 points combined in the two games.

Even if Pistons players will be able to calm those Hawks down, Atlanta will still have a greater shot at winning the contest. At the moment, their young players – a group that includes the aforementioned as well as fourth-year forward John Collins, second-year wing Cam Reddish (though the last one is nursing a knee injury and it’s unknown if he’ll play) and the 6th overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft Onyeka Okongwu, who just debuted. These are all more proven hoopers (well, beside the rook that is) than those the Pistons are relying on, and they are helped by quite productive veterans.

Atlanta made a big investment in guys like Capela last year and NBA champion Rajon Rondo, Salomon Hill, former Piston Tony Snell and Danilo Gallinari, who hasn’t play since December due to sprained ankle but is progressing towards returning to action (a newly acquired younger veteran, Bogdan Bogdanović, is out for a couple of weeks with knee injury).

But it’s OK if the Hawks win. Obviously. I can take them winning the game as a sign that both teams are following opposite rebuilding philosophies: Hawks – building around a smallish guard with plenty to love and to hate in his game; Pistons determined to load on versatile, tall, long and athletic wings (or wings and big if it end drafting Evan Mobley; or wings and big guards if it end drafting Jalen Suggs having also Killian Hayes). And I take that even if Young is gonna come back to last season’s form in the game. After all, Detroit is a great spot to cure your scoring woes.

I’m just skeptical that investing so much draft capital and salary cap to bring auxiliary pieces to a core player like Young, instead of investing it all to build a broader (and taller, and longer and more athletic) core of two/three young players, is a recipe for success in today’s NBA.

Projected lineups

Detroit Pistons (3-10):

Delon Wright, Wayne Ellington, Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee

Atlanta Hawks (6-7):

Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela

Have a good one, fellow DBBers!!! (and I mean that, may Trae Young prove me wrong for that sake… in this game).

Question for the Game

Anything else important happening in America today?