I’ve been in the workforce for a handful of years now, and I’ve already found myself on the receiving end of a few performance improvement plans. When my boss is telling me I need to do better, I prefer the compliment sandwich technique. A critique sandwiched between two compliments. Now that the Hawks have dropped seven straight games, it’s time for a compliment sandwich:
Compliment #1: Steals
The defense has been a huge issue for the Hawks this season. They are near the bottom in defensive rating and opponents points per game. But one bright spot on that side of the court has been their ability to pick up some turnovers. Nine steals per game – 153 total steals on the season – puts them in the top three of the league in both categories.
The backcourt of Trae Young and DeAndre’ Bembry are averaging 1.6 and 1.5 steals per game. The Knicks (Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina) have the only other backcourt in the league that is swiping opposing players more often.
Again, a lot of other things go into defense than just steals. Rotations, hustle, and execution bear more weight as the advanced analytics show. But it’s a positive sign of life for this team, which currently gives up 118.1 points per game.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the Hawks so far has been the high rate of turnovers. Atlanta turns the ball over on 17.1% of their possessions, which is only slightly better than the Pistons and Heat.
There is plenty of blame to go around for this stat. Obviously Trae Young will get a lot of the heat since it’s been an issue he’s struggled with in the past and is exacerbated by his high usage rate. Right now, Trae has the 2nd most total turnovers in the league, and the Hawks have the 3rd most as a team.
To make things worse, opponents are averaging 20.1 points per game off Hawks turnovers. If this team wants to make a run like the Magic and Nets did last season, it starts with taking care of the ball.
Compliment #2: Free Throw Attempts
It’s easy for offenses to get stagnant by standing around and launching threes, that’s why it’s so encouraging that the Hawks are manufacturing points from the charity stripe. After the Timberwolves game, they are top-10 in the league for free throw attempts per game.
Winning teams get to the line frequently and knock down their free throws. The Hawks have been doing a good job at the first part, however, a team free throw percentage of 73.7% still needs some work.
The main takeaway for this ingredient of the sandwich is that Trae Young’s free-throw shooting has been great. Trae is hitting 83.3%, and only five players in the league have attempted more free throws than him this season.
Bag of Chips: Dunks
One extra piece of good news is the Hawks are second behind only the Lakers in successful throwdowns this season. Building off that, the rest of the league isn’t even close behind these two teams. It certainly speaks to why this team is so exciting to watch play. The best team in the league led by Lebron James and Anthony Davis has only seven more dunks than the scrappy underdog Hawks.