Last week, I went over the positives from the Hawks 2019-2020 season, which is now over thanks to the coronavirus. Hopefully, basketball can return, and the playoffs will take place, but that will not include Atlanta, who severely underachieved based on their hopes coming into the year.
John Collins’ suspension
John Collins was also on my list of positives because he showed a tremendous amount of improvement in the 41 games he did participate in. However, his suspension at the beginning of the year was a gut-punch to the entire organization and fan base. All of the excitement the team had coming into the season vanished, and the Hawks were quickly relegated to one of the worst teams in basketball. On top of that, cheating is never a good look. Hopefully, this is something that remains in the past and never re-appears, but you can put a lot of the responsibility of the team underachieving on John Collins’ decision-making.
De’Andre Hunter’s development
The Hawks gave up a lot to move up from pick #8 to #4 in last year’s draft to select De’Andre Hunter out of Virginia. In college, Hunter was the ultimate three-and-D player, sporting a three-point percentage of over 40% and winning the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award on the way to a national title. To begin the year, he looked like he belonged and had a ton of potential, but he didn’t take many strides forward throughout the season, and his defense was borderline terrible. The transition from the slow pace Hunter played at Virginia to the lightning-fast pace the Hawks play undoubtedly was a factor. I’m not sure he’ll ever be a shutdown defender on the wing in the NBA or a volume scorer, and if he can’t do either of those things, the Hawks gave up far too much to acquire him.
Kevin Huerter’s failure to take the next step
I’m not waving the white flag on Kevin Huerter yet, but I’d be lying if I said I knew he was the answer in the backcourt with Trae Young. I had high hopes for Huerter taking substantial steps forward in his second year, but he was essentially the same player, posting nearly identical shooting percentages as a rookie. Huerter did show some improvement as a playmaker, and injuries to begin the season didn’t do him any favors, but he still left a lot to be desired. Next year could be a make or break campaign for Red Velvet.
I’m going to put this almost exclusively on Lloyd Pierce. When he came over from Philadelphia to become the Hawks head man, he was known as a defense-first coach. But since he’s been around, the Hawks have consistently been among the worst defensive teams in the NBA. Some of that is because of youth and personnel, but most of it is just a lack of focus and simply not caring enough. When that happens, the first person to look at is the head coach. I’m not sure if Pierce will return for the 2020-2021 season, but if he doesn’t, his inability to get his team to focus on the defensive end will be the reason why.
Hawks offseason acquisitions
Ever since Travis Schlenk became the General Manager, his priorities have been acquiring assets and maintaining financial flexibility. Therefore, he hasn’t been interested in handing out many long-term, lucrative contracts… yet. Instead, he’s focused on trying to find some diamonds in the rough on shorter deals that could be a part of the team’s future when they are ready to compete. Guys like Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len worked out last year, but he didn’t have much luck this season. The likes of Jabari Parker, Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner, and Damian Jones provided next to nothing, which was another reason why the Hawks were never able to get going.
After finally playing a full 82 games for the first time in his career last season and proving to be a boost off the bench, there were high hopes for Bembry coming into this year. However, he wasn’t nearly as effective when he was healthy, averaging just 5.8 points and 1.9 assists in 21.3 minutes per game. Then, injuries cut his season short, limiting him to only 43 games. Bembry will be a free agent this summer, and I don’t see him back in Atlanta for 2020-2021.