ATLANTA – It’s been 32 days since the Washington Wizards shipped Kris Humphries out to the Arizona desert as part of a package for Markieff Morris, a player they believed to be an upgrade at his position, to set off a whirlwind for Humphries.
After four games with the Phoenix Suns, the league’s worst team since the New Year, he was waived and, looking to join a playoff team, signed with the Atlanta Hawks, his eighth team in 11 seasons, on March 1. On Monday night, Humphries will face the Wizards for the first time since the transaction and he returns to Washington for the first time Wednesday, when the teams complete a home-and-home set. It is the first of three meetings between the teams over the final 3 1/2 weeks of the regular season. Atlanta claimed the first matchup back on Nov. 7, when Humphries was the Wizards’ starting power forward.
“It’s going to be fun but I’m never one to have focused on past teams and stuff like that,” Humphries said after the Hawks’ Monday morning shootaround at Philips Arena. “You look at where we’re at, we’re just trying to keep it going so it’s just another team to try to get past tonight.”
The Hawks are in a very good place. They’ve resembled the 60-win team they were last season recently with five straight wins and 10 in their last 12 games. The blistering stretch has propelled them to a season-high 12 games above .500 at 41-29 and from sixth place to third in the Eastern Conference.
Humphries, 31, has been around for the last nine games. He’s come off the bench for all of them, assuming the role as backup for both Al Horford and Paul Millsap, the team’s starting center and power forward. He’s averaging 7.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16.4 minutes, and Atlanta is 8-1 since his debut on March 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He’s fit in really well,” Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I’d just say rebounding is an area where we need to be better and he’s kind of come in and given a little life. He tracks offensive boards, goes to the offensive boards. And I’m hoping he’ll be more of an influence on our other guys even though it’s not something we prioritize.
“He brings a little bit of a physicality, a little bit of a toughness. And then he can make shots, he can spread the court. Shoot threes, make threes. And his personality, he’s added a little personality to our locker room, too, so it’s just been a really good fit.”
Most notably, Humphries isn’t hoisting as many three-pointers in Atlanta as he did with the Wizards. The 6-foot-9 Humphries began the season as the Wizards’ starting power forward over Nene and was tasked to lurk along the perimeter on offense as a stretch-four after spending his first 11 NBA seasons primarily close to the basket. It was a risk, but Humphries had been working on his three-point shooting for months and the Wizards wanted their offense to have more spacing this season.
The experiment went awry immediately and Humphries started just the first 14 games before Jared Dudley replaced him. He encountered trouble in the role beyond just shooting three-pointers; after going 2 of 26 from deep in his first NBA seasons, he shot a passable 34.3 percent from three-point range.
The problem was he wasn’t a threat to successfully attack a closeout and teams didn’t respect his shooting ability enough. Therefore, defenders didn’t gravitate toward him and clogged spacing for others, confident they could fly out to disrupt a shot without him making plays attacking the basket. Last month, Wizards starting center Marcin Gortat insisted him playing alongside Humphries was a failed endeavor.
Humphries’s role with the Hawks is closer to what he did to establish himself in the league. In Washington, he averaged 5.2 three-point attempts per 36 minutes. That number has decreased to 3.4 tries per 36 minutes with the Hawks and his accuracy has dropped to 28.6 percent. In all, he’s 30-for-91 (33 percent) from three-point range this season.
“It’s different. In Washington, it was that kind of that Phoenix Suns system, the [Steve] Nash-Suns system and running to the three-point line a lot,” said Humphries, who didn’t log a second for the Wizards in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Hawks last spring. “And I think here you got a little more flexibility in getting to what most people call the dumper area along the baseline. … It’s a different offense. It’s more of a flowing [offense]. Four and fives are interchangeable and a lot of ball movement. But it’s a different feel.”
While Humphries has become a cog for a postseason-bound club that has the NBA’s highest point differential (plus-11.3) and best defensive rating (92.6) over the last 12 games, his old employer is still clinging on to their playoff hopes. Washington will enter Monday’s matchup on a four-game winning streak but still 1.5 games behind both the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining.