To say that the Eastern conference to this point in the season has been uninspiring would be an understatement. Outside of the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers going one and two, one could make any argument about what order the rest of the East will fall in and it could very well happen.
Prior to Al Horford’s season ending pectoral tear on December 26th it seemed that the Atlanta Hawks had a very good shot at taking the 3rd seed. Not that the Hawks would have been expected to compete with Miami or Indiana, but without Horford it’s hard to see the potential for a deep run.
However, this team is still fully capable of making the playoffs and as with any injury it forces a coach to dig into the bench a little bit more. Two players that have received a noticeable uptick in minutes have been Mike Scott and Pero Antic.
Scott, the 2nd year Virginia product, has seen his playing time rise from 13.5 minutes to 21.4. He’s averaged 12.5 points, which is nearly double what he had been prior to Horford’s injury, all on 51% shooting. Although it’s good to see the offensive production, Scott still remains a minus a defense. He has never been a great shot-blocker and has only recorded one in the past 10 games. While he’s on the court the defensive rating drops to 111.3, which would be the worst rating in the NBA by far, per NBA.com.
Despite this, Coach Mike Budenholzer doesn’t really have many other options. Elton Brand is 34 and isn’t going to get any younger, what little increase in minutes he’s seen is probably more than more enough. Gustavo Ayon also isn’t someone who should be seeing a lot of playing time either.
That brings up the 31-year-old rookie from Macedonia, Pero Antic. Although not quite on the same level as Ivan Johnson, Antic is a unique individual who is fun to watch simply because he’s so unlike anyone else in the league and like Ivan, he’s got the appearance of someone who’d be scary to run into in a dark alley.
A fun thing to watch for that I’ve noticed is that Antic’s presence has always seemed to draw a small group of proud flag-waving Macedonians to each game tucked away in the upper decks. He’s seen his minutes jump from 10.5 to 22.7 in the wake of Horford’s injury. Playing him more may not be too bad either, as both the offensive and defensive ratings improve when he’s in the game. One of the more alluring parts of Antic’s game is his 3-point shooting ability for a big man and over his last 10 games he’s been shooting an impressive 42% on 4.2 attempts per game.
So although the team won’t be any better the rest of the season it will give the Hawks a chance to watch and develop what they have in the hopes that they can carry over improvement into next season when Horford returns.