The recent talk in the NBA suggests that the Hawks should be very worried about what happens next. After starting off the first 2 weeks 9-2, they looked like a legitimate number 2 team in the East. Dwight Howard seemed like the missing piece of this Hawks team, and they even beat the Cavaliers during that great stretch. After beating the Bucks on Nov.16, Atlanta was 9-2 and tied with the Cavs atop the East, while sporting a scoring margin of +9.6 PPG. Well... that has changed.
The first game the Hawks lost to on this stretch were the Hornets, which was a close game and down to the wire. Then when they lost to the underwhelming Knicks (104-94). But when they lost to the Pelicans, everybody knew that something was seriously wrong. The Hawks haven’t played great basketball lately; they’re last in the NBA in the last 10 games. To make matters worse, the Hawks not ONLY lost against the Raptors two games ago but got blown out by 44 points. All of this begs the question: What the heck is wrong with Atlanta?
Well… we can point the finger at a couple things.
The loss of Jeff Teague and Al Horford are certainly where we can start. There’s no way you can lose 2 of your best 3 players and still be the same team. They shot a lot of threes last year and had good floor spacing, which helped propel their offense. Even Horford made some three-point baskets. But now without those two providing the spark and identity or the offense, they need to create a new one. Every great team has an identity, but the Hawks are still desperately trying to find theirs.
The chemistry as a team has looked pretty awful as well. During the rough stretch, the Hawks are 2-8 in their last ten, and sport the NBA’s worst offensive efficiency rating (91.8 points per 100 possessions), and rank 22nd for defense in the same span. Their defense was the theme of this team since adding Dwight Howard, which is why they were good in the beginning of the season. But for some reason, they started slacking and began letting opponents score easy baskets.
The 4 and 5 positions for the Hawks are excellent (Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard), but the wings are overrated by the organization and need a huge upgrade. The Hawks’ perimeter players aren’t as good as we would expect since losing Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver, Dennis Schroder, and Kent Bazemore aren’t producing enough like they did last year. All of their numbers are down from last year, except for Dennis Schroder and that’s because he’s a starter now. That being said, having numbers like 15 PPG and 6 AST per game still isn’t a great stat line to be am above average PG in this league. Kyle Korver looks totally done just 2 years after his all-star appearance. Korver, as the starting shooting guard, is averaging 8.5 PPG, 2 REB, and 1.9 AST. It may be time to give him a new role on this team and have him come off the bench.
In addition, Kent Bazemore is at career lows in the shooting, with just 36.9% and 30.2% from behind the arc. This backcourt for the Hawks just isn’t on the same level as other elite teams. Atlanta can’t score this year, and their starting backcourt is not helping. They need a more proven offensive threat. Atlanta ranks 22nd in the league in scoring, 26th in 3P%, 2nd most turnovers, and leads to 19.8 points of TO’s ( 2nd worst in NBA).
Every team always turns to the bench or the coach when everything going wrong, buts should they be outperforming the starters? Against the Raptors and Pistons, the bench has outscored the starters 85 to 84. The Hawks are in good position when it comes down to their bench, which ranks 8th in the NBA in the PPG department. They have been getting a lot of support on the bench especially from Tim Hardaway Jr, and he’s having a breakout year, which could have him in contention for the sixth man of the year award. As good as the bench is (and clearly not their problem), outperforming the starters by so much is definitely a problem.
It is now pretty clear to everyone that Atlanta needs to make a move and tweak the starting lineup. They need more production from the SG position. But they don’t have many attractive pieces to trade either, so they will most likely have to trade their good veterans like Milsap for picks and young players… which is highly doubtful. Kyle Korver lacks defense which causes the opposing guard to shoot lights out against the Hawks. Atlanta needs to try and trade Kyle Korver, or change his role and put him on the bench.
Kent Bazemore also has to step up and be that tough player he was last year, shooting 44%. The Hawks are missing a lot of production that Jeff Teague gave them last year, which is where Dennis Schroder needs to come in and facilitate the floor and get more ball movement in the game because the Hawks offense look stagnant at times.
The key to Hawks success ultimately comes down to improving their backrest production and getting back to the great defense we saw earlier in the year. The starting lineup HAS to do a better job playing with each other and improving their chemistry.