After losing Thursday’s preseason matchup against the Grizzlies, the Hawks are 1-2 heading into the last game of their preseason. Atlanta split the previous weekend’s double-header with the Magic, but one facet of the team, in particular, is causing some early concern. The team’s Achilles heel is no secret, and Travis Schlenk rightfully attempted to bolster the roster to repress it. However, the defense remains Atlanta’s most glaring weakness.
The Hawks ranked in the bottom five of every notable defensive statistic last year. They finished last in opponents’ points per game (119.7 ppg), last in opponents’ points in the paint per game (53.6), 27th in opponents’ fast-break points per game (14.8), 26th in opponents’ shooting percentage (47.8%), and last in both opponents’ free throws attempted per game (27.4)and free throws made per game (21.2).
The one positive defensive statistic from last year’s team was three-pointers made and attempted. Atlanta’s opponents attempted 32.7 three-pointers per game and converted on 11.9 of those per game — both ranked in the top ten. Although, these statistical anomalies could be a direct correlation of opponents not respecting the Hawks’ defense in the paint. Why would an opponent shoot threes when the Atlanta defense gives up the most points in the paint and free throw attempts in the NBA?
As I mentioned before, Travis Schlenk attempted to improve the defense this offseason. He acquired Clint Capela before last year’s trade deadline, drafted Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth pick in this year’s NBA draft, and signed Kris Dunn — all to mitigate the defensive struggles. The thought process is that Capela and Okongwu will sure up the interior, while Dunn will provide perimeter defense.
Internal development is also important. If Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter improve their on-ball and team defense, the Hawks could blossom into at least an average defensive unit. Reddish, Hunter, and Huerter have all reportedly improved individually and show potential as two-way wing players.
It is just the preseason, so we must manage our expectations for tangible growth until the regular season. It will not happen in the first quarter or even the first half of the season; it will be gradual growth and improvement over the course of the entire campaign. These preseason games give us valuable insights into what the team could be, but we should realize the preseason will accentuate both the good and the ugly.
Constant improvement is crucial, and with such a small sample size, it is hard to benchmark where exactly this team is. Lloyd Pierce will experiment with the rotations, which will take time to perfect. Until he finds the equilibrium point of this team’s offensive and defensive pieces, the defense will suffer.
Without a single regular-season game to base my opinions on, utilizing the Hawks network of reporters and analysts is our best glimpse into what the regular-season will entail. Glen Willis of Peachtree Hoops did a great job breaking down the Hawks switching-based defense against the Magic. Check out his breakdown in the link. Hopefully, the Hawks can look a little better in their final preseason game tonight before they open their season against the Bulls.