Saturday, April 16, 2022

Trae Young Is a Miracle


I thought Trae Young was the third-best prospect in the 2018 draft. I didn't think Trae Young would be this good. 

Lon Kruger, the pride of Silver Lake, Kansas, didn't think Trae Young would be this good, and not just because that would raise awkward questions about why Oklahoma kind of sucked during Young's season there. (Don't worry, Lon, the college basketball rules suck, especially as applied to and impacting gifted offensive players.) 

Two-time national champion* Bill Self, who desperately wanted Trae Young to share the backcourt with Devonte' Graham (oooh, foreshadowing) for a season, didn't think Trae Young would be this good. 

*Rock Chalk

Rayford Young surely loves and believes in the son who shares his name, but could any father** convert his hopes for his child into thinking he could be this good. 

**Personal news: I have a lot more thoughts about fatherhood than the last time I darkened these corners.

Travis Schlenk, who was more right about Trae Young (and by a significant amount) than any other decision-maker in the NBA, Travis Schlenk didn't think Trae Young would be this good. 

Trae Young thought Trae Young would be this good. He was right and I am grateful.

A Brief Look Back

I am an Atlanta Hawks fan because the Kansas City Kings moved to Sacramento when I was eight years old, thus I arrived in Atlanta six years after that as a boy without a NBA team. I became fully attached to the Hawks three years later when they traded for my childhood hero, Danny Manning. Terrible trade. Danny Manning is a marvel. These are both true to me.

The Hawks remained compelling without excelling for a half-decade after that, then embarked on a near-decade-long rebuilding process that Al Horford eventually ended with help from Josh Smith and Joe Johnson (in that order). There are countless thousands of words in the archives here about those interesting, poorly owned (thus poorly ran) teams. There are a few things written here about the two excellent pace-and-space Hawks teams that Mike Budenholzer and Danny Ferry built before Budenholzer destroyed them prematurely and unnecessarily.

All of that to say I have no first- or second-hand relationship to the feelings Dominique Wilkins graced Hawks fans with in the 1980s. In terms of the franchise's history, this Trae Young playoff shit feels like that. For me, it's sui generis. Apologies if any of this reeks of a middle-aged man in a state of over-stimulation. Look away if you must. I understand.

With all due respect to the 2020-21 and 2021-22 rosters in their entireties, members of whom will be touched on here and there from here on out (but not in any comprehensive way), and their contributions to playoff and post-regular season success (to-date and any yet to come), Trae Young carrying the Hawks to playoff and post-regular season success (to-date and any yet to come) is personally enriching. Trae Young avoiding and escaping the greatest basketball players in the world* over-and-over again, as their fans chant "Fuck Trae Young," until their shoulders slump in defeat**, then owning the court, shushing and bowing with an air of "I said 'Fuck you' back to you in a way for which you have no possible response" is something that will never grow old.

*Also, the Knicks

**Players and paying customers both, eventually

Cleveland, Ohio - April 15, 2022

In the first half of the play-in game Friday night, every fact-based criticism or perceived doubt about Trae Young was true. He was horrible defensively, and the Cavaliers made the Hawks pay for that in myriad ways: at the point of attack, with off-ball cuts the moment his attention waned, and by taking free paths to offensive rebounds when Young stood and watched a Cleveland shot go up. Offensively, Young struggled to score against physicality (Isaac Okoro and Caris LaVert) and length (the great Evan Mobley and the long-absent Jarrett Allen giving all he had*). His shot selection wasn't ideal (4 long twos and 2 30-foot threes among his 11 first half shots). Compounding it all, his teammates only made one open three off of a shot he created for them. The bedrock belief in Trae Young, NBA player, was that no matter what, his passing would play at this level. In the first half Friday night, that was still true, but it didn't matter.

*Luckily for the Hawks all Allen had left for the second half (3 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 3 fouls) was falling down theatrically to no useful purpose at the slightest contact.

That the Hawks were within 10 at the half was down to yeoman's work on the glass by Clint Capela, by that point done for the game and who knows how much longer*, and Bogdan Bogdanovic providing 14 points on 5 shots, effectively shooting better than 100%. Things looked a little grim, even allowing for the possibility of Cleveland reverting back to a league-average three-point shooting team instead of Lauri Markkanen looking more like Dale Ellis' son than Pekka's.

*Get well soon, Clint, and, failing that and given the contract extension (more to come on that, below), get completely well eventually.

Things got so much better, it's a bit of a shock to look back and remember how long it took for things to get better. The Cavs were up 9 with 3:48 left in the third quarter. To be fair, Delon Wright had only been on the court for 64 seconds of the second half at that point. From the 3:48 mark, it took just 126 seconds of Wright's ferocious, singular perimeter defense paired* with Young's simultaneously accustomed and astonishing offensive brilliance (28 points and 2 assists, 0 turnovers in his final 11:37 on the court) to give the Hawks their first lead. 

*Not since the tag-team, second-half point guard display of Dajuan Harris and Remy Martin in the National Championship game has a you-dominate-defensively-I'll-dominate-offensively partnership looked so powerful. Rock Chalk.

This is not the time or place for analysis of how he did it. Wes Morton beat me to it, and I'm not going to be able to improve on his work, anyway. Rest assured, Trae Young left the Cavaliers grasping at air, chasing ghosts, questioning their faith, helpless, hopeless, ultimately defeated, sitting with that queasy feeling, rare to team sports, that you lost because one person was so much better than you that the whole construct of a team didn't really matter.

The Whole Construct of a Team

For the Hawks to contend regularly for a NBA title, the whole construct of a team matters a lot.

I'm going to circle back to the first section:

Travis Schlenk didn't think Trae Young would be this good.

My argument for this rests on all the things Travis Schlenk has gotten wrong and all the ways he's undermined the many important things he's gotten right, while flailing and failing to build a team that takes full advantage of Trae Young's offensive brilliance and mitigates his defensive limitations. 

Schlenk's rebuild was jump started when John Collins inexplicably fell to the 19th pick of the 2017 draft. Even more inexplicably, Schlenk never warmed to Collins. At least in the sense of never outwardly treating him as a core element of the team's successful future. Maybe Schlenk doesn't value the valor in not fucking up an obvious decision - taking John Fucking Collins with the 19th pick of the draft - compared to being right about Trae Young. Maybe Schlenk was wary about Collins getting to play one year under Budenholzer and thus never operating under any delusions that Schlenk's hand-picked successor, Lloyd Pierce, was the right man for the job. And, knowing that, what about the man doing the hand-picking? What does John Collins think about him?

Oh, supposition regarding my perceived foils, I've missed you. Also, I love John Collins. He's great. Trae  Young and John Collins. Build around that. That's my pitch.

If this piece has a purpose beyond extolling Trae Young, it is this: Travis Schlenk screwed up acquiring Trae Young. Hard to do, I know. Schlenk was more right than he knew about Young, but he lacked the ability to weigh his desire against the value of what he held - the rights to Luka Doncic. Listen, I'm more than okay Trae Young is the Atlanta Hawks' franchise player and Luka Doncic is not. Young's game is significantly more aesthetically pleasing and his whole deal is more appealing than that of the sour, doughy Slovenian, whatever the difference in provable, on-court value. But when you're holding the rights to a guy who's going to finish fourth in the MVP vote in less than 24 months, you've got to get more than one extra pick for him. You've got to get every scrap of value to build around your franchise player with an Achilles' heel. Building a team isn't about getting every decision right. That's impossible. It's about giving yourself enough chances to survive the decisions that don't work, for reasons within and out of your control.

Schlenk would further explore this gap between the object of his desire and the value of his assets in the 2019 draft, feeling flush with the lone extra pick from Dallas, and spending two first round picks on De'Andre Hunter, an excellent college player who looked physically slight, unable to create his own shot, and uncertain to be able to defend in space. Barring a brief, jarring, and fascinating 18 games* at the start of the 2020-21 season, Hunter** has looked physically slight, unable to create his own shot, and uncertain to be able to defend in space over more than 3,500 regular season minutes of below replacement-value play. 

*Like you, dear reader, I also frequently think, "Well, if the Hawks add the good version of De'Andre Hunter to what they have..." The Hawks stunk during the brief flowering of the good version of De'Andre Hunter. He was the only thing worth watching in January 2021. Probably just a coincidence. But I wonder...

**Only two months younger than John Collins, mind you.

Hunter was presumed to be the perimeter defensive lynchpin to augment Young's offensive brilliance. He has not been that. And his failure to be that has been augmented by the wing depth beyond him mostly comprising a younger, worse player and visions of De'Andre Hunter future:

Schlenk made a great decision to trade for Clint Capela. Even better, he got him cheap. Like, even if it doesn't work out, it's not damaging. Boy howdy, it worked out. Nine months later, Schlenk made another great decision: drafting Onyeka Okongwu. You've got three years of a center under contract, in his prime, that fits perfectly alongside your franchise player. You have that center's successor in place, with ample runway to learn the league and how to play with your franchise player before Capela's contract expires. Perfect roster management in the short- and long-term.

Then, inexplicably, less than a year after that, well after Okongwu validated all optimism in him during the 2021 playoffs, Schlenk signed Capela to an extension that doesn't go in effect until the summer of 2023. Again, Schlenk overvalued what he wanted - Clint Capela's 2020-21 production - without properly accounting for the assets he held - both Onyeka Okongwu's cost-controlled potential production in 2023-24 and Capela's modest future trade value (remember you got him cheap for a reason, Travis). 

The duplication of resources at a single position for marginal gain in this instance is very reminiscent of the overlapping investments in John Collins and Danilo Gallinari while backup point guard and perimeter defense went either ignored or were addressed unsuccessfully. Which is weird, because two of Schlenk's unmitigated successes: drafting Kevin Huerter and signing Bogdan Bogdanovic, means he doesn't even have to find genuine two-way players to shore up those areas, just some long, athletic, ruthless characters who want to punish the other team for daring to take their turn with possession of the ball.

Case in point, Delon Wright, another great Schlenk signing who struggled to get on the court this season despite bringing everything the Hawks most needed to the court. If your head coach is going to be tempted to play the flickering specter of the great Lou Williams instead of Delon Wright* over and over again, you've got to make the whole rest of the bench Delon Wrights. You're the GM, you can control that without being a dick that undermines the head coach.

*Which is especially galling when the goal should be to identify every minute you can get Delon Wright on the court instead of De'Andre Hunter and indulge them with absolute gluttony.

See, Travis Schlenk is a scout guy. He's not a numbers guy. He trusts his eyes and his gut and not necessarily in that order. But he's not finding guys who can contribute in the second round* or off the street. If there's a difference in this series against the Miami Heat that's more complicated than John Collins and Clint Capela being hurt, it's this. Going down the Heat roster in order of minutes played (minimum 1,000 minutes): Duncan Robinson, Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, and Caleb Martin are all undrafted free agents. Gabe Vincent is probably just a guy, but the other three are all useful rotation players**. 

*The other missed opportunity of the 2018 draft: selling the 34th pick instead of taking Devonte' Graham and shoring up the second unit on the cheap. Could have spared us Brandon Goodwin, Rajon Rondo, and 2021-22 Lou Williams.

**In Miami, at least, maybe the real difference is Eric Spoelstra.

The Hawks have had to invest heavily, via first-round picks and free agent dollars, to build a flawed roster around Trae Young. A roster that cannot play effective defense despite Capela and Okongwu. Those substantial investments are augmented, in terms of minutes played, almost exclusively by guys born in the first half of the 1990s. Solomon Hill's season was over on December 5th. He still played more minutes than Jalen Johnson* this season. Those investments will eventually, push up against the restrictions of the salary cap, forcing Schlenk either to make shrewd decisions he's not shown an aptitude for, nor really an interest in, or choosing between available moves that don't make the Hawks any better, just different, with a whiff of appearing decisive primarily as a means of staying in his job.

*Jalen Johnson may end up on the positive side of Schlenk's ledger. His athleticism stands out, at least in the context of his teammates. He didn't shoot the ball impressively in his limited G-League minutes, but he's 20. You'd like to see him play.

Trae Young is succeeding, magnificently and with style (for miles and miles). Travis Schlenk thought he had to build the right team around Trae Young's unique brilliance in order to experience post-season success. He's already gotten some rewards without building that right team. Trae Young keeps buying him more time. It's fun for now, but Schlenk has to start approaching the level of his signature acquisition. He owes it to Trae Young's miraculous talent.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hawks University: A Vocational School for Bench Players

All three games played in Washington have left the impression that neither team played especially well and neither team played especially poorly. Lending credence to that impression of just watching an Eastern Conference playoff series happen before me, the Hawks twice took a 7-point lead in the first half at which point the Wizards went on 5-0 and 13-2 runs. After Washington took their biggest lead of the game (11 points) in the third quarter, the Hawks scored the next 11 points.

As in the first two games, the biggest issue for the Hawks is a lack of talent on the roster. A well-executed offensive possession that ends with, say, an open Kent Bazemore three-point attempt or Ersan Ilyasova having to finish at the rim on the move doesn't have the expected value that leads to road playoff wins. Not to pick on Bazemore and Ilyasova exclusively.

Tim Hardway, Jr. has no chance to guard Bradley Beal and John Wall and, except for a two-minute stretch in the third quarter wherein he scored 8 of his 15 points, can't make up for his defensive ineptitude* offensively at this level of competition. He played the entire fourth quarter, missed all five of his field goal attempts and grabbed a single rebound with nine seconds left.

*His defensive performance in this series should be used in schools to teach young people that playing defense is not simply a matter of trying hard. He's trying hard. He's a bad defender. 

Dwight Howard looked downright spry in the first quarter, twice contesting a shot to force a miss then moving to grab the rebound. Dwight Howard looked immobile in the second half and had a negligible impact on the game. The Hawks outscored the Wizards in both of Mike Muscala's second half stints but, per usual, one gets the sense that where Muscala's defender stands when he's on the court makes a larger impact than anything Muscala actively does.

The Hawks simply lack the talent to put five good players on the floor at any time despite sustained excellence from Paul Millsap* and Dennis Schröder. That the Hawks can stay in a road playoff game despite making 29% of their three-pointers, committing more turnovers, and attempting fewer free throws is a testament** to the soundness of the offensive and defensive framework in which they operate.

*If I can be indulged in one slight criticism of Millsap, he should just ditch his half-hearted pump fakes from beyond the three-point line. The league gets that he doesn't want to shoot that shot so the pump fake turns into more of a pause, allowing the primary and secondary defenders time to get set which makes it more difficult for Millsap to create a good shot (or draw a foul) off the dribble.

**It might be a testament to the Wizards not being that good, too.

On the brink of elimination that soundness provides hope for this team's short-term survival as well as the challenge of building a more talented, balanced roster for the 2017-18 season and beyond.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Jose Calderon Game

Whether seen again or not, this weekend's version of the Atlanta Hawks, the one that shoots threes better and turns the ball over less often their opponents, provided pure basketball pleasure. Or at least pleasure as pure as possible over 2 games that featured 90 personal fouls and approximately 80 post-foul discussions between various combinations of referees, players, and coaches.

The Hawks paired typically stout defense with shot-making and ball protection. They got (Brandon Jennings 20-foot step-backs, excepted) what you want from surrendering mid-range opportunities. John Wall was 1-7 in Game 4 from between 14 and 21 feet. Markieff Morris was 3-7 (and only one 3PTA). Otto Porter, Jr. was 1-4. Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Bojan Bogdanovic both went 0-1. Bradley Beal was 3-5, but 6 points on 5 shots was less damaging than the 26 points he got on his other 18 FGAs.

Dwight Howard was excellent in Game 4, lending further credence to the idea that he and Thabo Sefolosha were redundant, but having one defensive-oriented role player on the floor is valuable. On the offensive end, Howard's presence complicates using Millsap as the screener in pick-and-rolls because of the extra defender Washington gets to leave in the paint. But, in the second quarter, Kent Bazemore showed, on consecutive possessions, it is still possible to get into the lane and drop off a lob for Howard to finish.

Given my pre-series focus on how the Hawks could connive to get Paul Millsap matched up against Jason Smith, it's a bit embarrassing to recognize that I overlooked the simplest path: get Markieff Morris in foul trouble and trust Scott Brooks to make a puzzling rotation decision in a playoff game. Going big against the Hawks isn't as big a risk as resting Wall and Beal simultaneously, but I don't see how it helps his team.

One of my main worries* going into Game 4 was who the Hawks' third scorer would be. Of course, the Hawks had scorers third through seventh contribute, including two I'd given up on: Kent Bazemore (truly excellent) and Tim Hardaway, Jr., who showed signs of offensive life early in the fourth quarter against Washington's second unit (hint hint, Bud). 

*Worrying about what happens if Millsap or Schröder has a bad offensive game is at the forefront of my thoughts about the decisive three games ahead.

Then there was Jose Calderon. In the kind of performance that can have a massive impact on winning a short series, he did the things you can fairly expect of him in his 36th year: make 40% of his threes, keep Bazemore and Hardaway, Jr. from playing out of position as the backup point guard...that's about it, actually. He also did things nearly unfathomable even as you witnessed them: a key fourth quarter tip-in in transition, confound the Wizards' attempt to get easy points by running him off of screens or posting him up with bigger shooters, raise the specter of a Jose Calderon/Brandon Jennings fight in a playoff game in the Year Of Our Lord 2017, and retroactively justify sitting Dennis Schröder for the last 14:28 of the first half because he had three a game Schröder finished with three fouls after scoring 18 points in 18:49 of second half playing time.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What Does It Mean?

There's nothing better than making shots. Pair it with the Hawks typically stout defense and the result is an insurmountable 25-point lead less than 11 minutes into a playoff game. Is it a one-off event, just something that happened or something portentous?

The first quarter saw a second consecutive positive stint for Atlanta's starting lineup (they couldn't repeat the feat at the start of the third) which saw useful defensive activity from Dwight Howard despite his extremely limited offensive involvement (he didn't attempt a field goal or free throw from 2:55 left in the first quarter until 5:39 left in the fourth quarter) and the rare sight of good Atlanta three-point shooting. With Thabo Sefolosha out of the rotation, the Hawks need more quality defensive role player minutes from Howard than I suspected before the series started. It appears Budenholzer has gotten to a point where he's working to get those and willing to go small.

The Hawks made 5-9 threes in the first quarter but, by the end of the game, they stand 15-61 from deep in the series' other 11 quarters. I lean toward putting "making a high percentage of threes" in "just something that happened" column. However, the Hawks got a lot of high-percentage two-point shots in the first three quarters which should be more replicable, especially if the non-John Wall Wizards give another low-energy performance (just 6 offensive rebounds, only 11 forced turnovers, 28 more fouls). Taurean Prince offered a vital third scoring option, getting 14 points on 7 shots through three quarters, outplaying Otto Porter, Jr. almost as badly as Paul Millsap did Markieff Morris (in a less obviously psychically scarring manner).

Though Dennis Schröder is clearly the second-best point guard in this series, he's playing at the top of his ability to score 25 efficient points per game and earn 24 assists against just 6 turnovers. Schröder's defense is never going to be of "stop John Wall" quality, it might never be good, even, but it's a better workplace when he's giving visible effort on that end. Nor should Schröder's best self overshadow Paul Millsap's continued two-way excellence, which is unique across both rosters in this series so far.

A blessedly quick turnaround for Game 4 should offer more information as to where the series stands. I'm not entirely clear on whether, in Millsap's framework, a third successive win for the home team means the series is still 0-0 or not.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Game 2 Was a Missed Opportunity

The Hawks blew a great chance last night. Good things happened while Dwight Howard was on the court in the third quarter! Howard didn't have a ton* to do with the primary factor for Atlanta's success: Wizards foul trouble causing Scott Brooks to go to his bench and create one of the mismatches - Paul Millsap against a larger, slower defender - which the Hawks could create themselves by going small...and there I go again. 

*Though the terrible pass he threw half-way between Taurean Prince and Kelly Oubre turned into three Hawks points after Prince hustled into the backcourt and got the personal foul/technical foul combo.

However, the Hawks were very successful for the six-and-a-half minutes they got play against the Gortat/Jason Smith tandem. Largely by playing 4-on-4, de-emphasizing the Howard/Gortat matchup. In the end it didn't matter. Partially because of the 6-14 hole the starting lineup dug over the first seven minutes of the game. Mostly, (and this entire next stretch deserves an "especially because Thabo Sefolosha isn't healthy/isn't playing"), because the Hawks don't have enough good players to fill 240 minutes effectively. Thus, their margin of error is more or less Brandon Jennings holding a fourth quarter Bad Shot Jamboree.

Kent Bazemore, generally overextended due to the lack of effective offensive players on the court alongside him this season, is being further overextended in his brief appearances as a backup point guard*, failing in that role, then playing out of control in an effort** to make up for his point guard failures. Tim Hardaway, Jr., who deserves acclaim for improving himself from arguably the worst player in the league into a creditable seventh or eighth guy (on a good team), is completely out of his depth in the playoffs*** again this season, exacerbating his defensive limitations (which are not a function of effort; he's trying to guard Bradley Beal, but he can't) with miserable offensive play. These two are making Taurean Prince at the 3 seem reasonable (despite how that fails to address any of this team's spacing issues) and Mikey Dunleavy's errors of omission in limited minutes seem relatively benign.

*Due to the complete and utter failure of the Malcolm Delaney signing

**Baze being the rare guy who got better by being less active on the court

***Thus earning him the Mike Scott degree from Hawks University


  • The Hawks are still -16 in the 49 minutes Dwight Howard has played in this series, +1 in the 39 minutes he hasn't.
  • Raw plus/minus isn't a great stat over one or two games. If Bradley Beal hadn't missed a couple of wide-open threes during the Hawks' third quarter run, or the aforementioned Brandon Jennings run hadn't occurred, these margins would be significantly different.
  • Even though Howard was more effective than in Game 1, he's dropping so deep when defending the pick-and-roll that Mike D'Antoni would sign off on the mid-range jumpers Wall and Beal are getting.
  • If the Hawks go small at home in Game 3, I'd prefer to see mostly Millsap/Ilyasova with Muscala and Prince getting short stints as necessary. 
  • Just play Jose Calderon as an ineffective backup point guard rather than make your sub-par wings even worse.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Washington 114 Atlanta 107: Game 1 Recap Bullets

  • Dwight Howard got a lot of rebounds (14!) and the Hawks were not good with him on the floor (-21 in 29 minutes!).
  • Which means they outscored the Wizards by 14 points in the 18:54 Howard didn't play.
  • Mike Muscala is not a good NBA player in an absolute sense, but he's a functional one. Given the Hawks' dearth of talent, that's not nothing in this context.
  • Also relevant in this context, the Wizards' bench is not good. There is no expectation five-out Hawks lineups could blow out the Wizards' starters to same degree we saw five-out lineups succeed against these units today.
  • I think it's a fair expectation that the Wizards' starters can consistently house this Atlanta starting lineup.
  • The Hawks' starting lineup: -14.8/100 possessions in 26:49 entering this game, was outscored by 13 points over 27 possessions in 12:01 of this game.
  • Dennis Schröder and Tim Hardaway, Jr. cannot guard John Wall and Bradley Beal and aren't good enough offensive players to mitigate that inability. Especially Hardaway, Jr., who put in so ineffectual and awkward-looking a playoff performance in a Hawks uniform that you'd be forgiven for mistaking it as a tribute to the young Marvin Williams.
  • Schröder's inability/unwillingness to stop the ball when John Wall has it in transition is breathtaking.
  • The Hawks probably can't lose games where they get almost a third of their shots from beyond the arc (plus only 8 long twos) and attempt 39 free throws and win the series.
  • Thabo Sefolosha is such a good role player (amidst a roster full of okay role players), one could argue the Hawks were missing their second-best player.
  • Still, Bud's rotations were baffling.
  • Malcolm Delaney's NBA career is over, huh?
  • Markieff Morris would rather play the Hawks than VCU. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Dwight Howard Primer

Dwight Howard played as well as one could reasonably hope this season. He played better than I expected. It didn't matter. 
The following excerpts aren't to pick on anyone because not watching the Hawks when you have a general NBA coverage brief is an eminently understandable decision this season. However, reading playoff preview content such as this from Jonathan Tjarks at The Ringer:
Atlanta’s best chance in its first-round series is for Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap to play so well together that it forces Scott Brooks to keep two traditional big men on the floor.
or this from Eric Freeman at Ball Don't Lie:
The Wizards are not an especially good interior team. Gortat puts up good numbers and Mahinmi can be useful when healthy, but these players do not constitute the strength of a playoff team. They’re important, to be sure, but not at the core of what the Wizards do. 
In other words, this should be a matchup that a player of Dwight Howard’s ability dominates. While Howard is no longer the Elite Defense of One he was in his Orlando prime (with Gortat as his backup), he remains a very good defender who can control the glass nearly by himself. No one expects Howard to average 30 and 20 in a series anymore (except Shaq, maybe), so he should be freed from those past expectations and allowed to do what he does best.
suggests an opportunity exists to look beyond Howard's excellent individual rebounding stats, contextualizing the limited positive impact he's able to have on a roster where his presence makes little sense.
It should be no surprise that adding a defensively oriented role player to a team that finished 2015-16 2nd in the league in defense and 22nd in offense was not transformative. The Hawks remained an excellent defensive team, but were even worse offensively. Improving from a bottom-5 rebounding team to a slightly below average rebounding team doesn't matter much in a league accelerating toward the supremacy of shot making.
Howard's presence on the court improved the Hawks' rebounding by 7 percentage points on each end of the floor. Yet the Hawks were outscored by 2.4 points per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor. They scored 1.7 fewer points per possession and allowed 0.7 more points per possession with him on the floor. Probably because the Hawks' turnover rate increased by 4 percentage points, and their opponents' turnover rate deceased by 1.2 percentage points with Howard on the floor. Going back to Basketball on Paper, turnover rate is more important than rebound rate.
Of the top 6 Hawks in terms of minutes played, Dennis Schröder is the only Hawk who played even slightly better alongside Howard this season. Tim Hardaway, Jr. is the only one who formed a positive duo with Howard. Which makes sense as their skills are tilted toward the offensive end of the floor at least as much as Howard's are to the defensive end.
w/ Howard Overall
Plus/Minus Minutes Plus/Minus Minutes
Millsap -0.1 1273 2.1 2343
Schröder -1.8 1746 -2.0 2485
Hardaway 2.6 1143 2.8 2154
Bazemore -3.4 1406 -2.8 1963
Sefolosha -2.5 978 -0.8 1596

You'll notice that Millsap, in particular, played without Howard on the court. This is why one can be a crank, but not a dangerous crank, in advocating de-emphasizing Howard in a playoff series against a better, perimeter-oriented opponent.