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How Hawks Can Solve Saddiq Bey’s Shooting Slump

© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Following the trade of longtime starter John Collins, the Atlanta Hawks were left with a hole at power forward that they were initially rumored to want to fill with All-Star forward Pascal Siakam.

However, in the meantime, the Hawks would need to make the best of what they had. This would mean that one of fourth-year forward Saddiq Bey, third-year forward Jalen Johnson, or even rookie forward Mouhamed Gueye would get the opportunity to step up in Collins’ absence.

As it turns out, Johnson has been more capable of replacing Collins than anyone could have hoped for. 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, and springy, his versatility and athleticism have transformed him into an important glue piece for the Hawks. Just 22 years old, Johnson is averaging 14.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks per game. This while shooting 56.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from 3-point range as well.

However, while Johnson’s emergence has been invaluable for Atlanta, Bey got the first opportunity to start at power forward.

Saddiq Bey to the rescue?

At 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, 2020 first-round pick Saddiq Bey is more of a small forward.

Yet, with a 55.9 percent 3-point attempt rate entering the season, Bey has been content with hovering around the perimeter. This may have appealed to Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder. Especially when considering the roles that forwards like Royce O’Neale had for the Utah Jazz when he coached them there.

To that point, Bey entered the 2023-24 season shooting 36.1 percent from 3. This includes a blistering 40.0 percent mark that he reached with the Hawks after the Detroit Pistons traded him to Atlanta last season. Furthermore, he made 38.9 percent of his 3-point attempts in the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Lastly, Bey excelled in the 2023-24 preseason with averages of 14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in 22.0 minutes per game on .583-.455-.909 shooting splits.

Consequently, when the Hawks rolled out a starting lineup that featured him at power forward in the 2023-24 season opener, nobody batted an eye.

Unfortunately, Bey was underwhelming in Atlanta’s first two contests. While he averaged 10.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per game on 33.3 percent shooting from 3, the Hawks dropped to 0-2. They then decided to start Jalen Johnson in his place, promptly winning the next two games.

Bey got one more opportunity to start before Johnson took over the starting role full-time but shot just 4-10 from the floor and 2-7 from 3-point range.

With his presence on the boards and beyond the arc leaving a lot to be desired, Bey was relegated to the second unit until Johnson and De’Andre Hunter’s injuries allowed him to re-enter the starting lineup. But did his inability to capitalize on opportunities early this season set the tone for him?

Changing his shot diet

Prior to this season, the barrel-chested Saddiq Bey was nearly as likely to bull his way toward the rim using his upper body strength and footwork as he was to launch a long-range bomb.

Notably, Bey has taken 53.3 percent of his field goal attempts from 3-point range this season, numbers that are similar to his career 3-point attempt rate of 55.5 percent. That said, it’s worth noting that 49.1 percent of his 3-point attempts have come from the corners this season though he had only taken 27.4 percent of his 3-point attempts from the corner heading into 2023-24.

In the Atlanta Hawks’ defense, with Bey making 40.4 percent of those attempts over the course of his first three seasons, it makes sense as to why the team would want him to sit in the corner pocket. However, when watching his play this season versus last season, Bey is so content taking a jumper that he’s been far less aggressive in attacking defenses off-the-dribble and has been less effective because of it.

For reference, 84 of Bey’s field goal attempts were characterized as drives last season while just 29 have been characterized as drives this season. Now halfway through his 2023-24 campaign, Bey is on pace to finish with 30 fewer drives than last season. In other words, more than one-third of his drive attempts have been cut short.

That doesn’t completely explain Bey’s inefficiency, as he’s shooting a career-low 29.5 percent from 3 on his corner attempts this season. Furthermore, as it often happens, Bey’s percentages could eventually regress towards the mean without any major changes to his game.

Nonetheless, in a game of possessions, the Hawks need to determine whether Bey’s current shot diet is the one most suitable for maximizing his or their potential.

Making life easier

For the Atlanta Hawks to make life easier for Saddiq Bey or themselves, it might all come down to getting Bey more points inside the arc.

On drives, Bey is shooting just 27-69 (39.1 percent) from the field this season. However, he was shooting 84-178 (47.1 percent) from the field on drives in 2022-23 and 89-207 from the field on drives in 2021-22 (43.0 percent). Driving more consistently could knock off his rust on those attempts and increase his overall efficiency.

On cuts, Bey is scoring 1.23 points per possession, similar to Denver Nuggets sharpshooter Michael Porter Jr. (1.24 points per possession). In transition, Bey scores 1.24 points per possession, which would place him in the 72nd percentile of all qualifying players.

Bey also scored 1.13 points per possession as a pick-and-roll roll man last season, numbers that ranked in the top half of all qualifying players. The Hawks rarely use him in such a role in Atlanta, perhaps miffed by his lack of vertical explosiveness. Nonetheless, with his strength, physicality, and aggressiveness, it’s possible that the Hawks need to take this into account as well.


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