Recently, Nate McMillan was named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for March and deservedly so. Since taking over, the Hawks have gone 10-4. But beyond the record, the team seems to be growing in critical areas that they were deficient in under Lloyd Pierce. Bogdan Bogdanovic revealed the not-so-subtle differences between the two coaches in an interview with The Athletic — namely, better team basketball on both ends of the court and more consistent play late in games.
Kirschner asked Bogi about his role before the injury; he was used more as a spot-up shooter instead of a secondary initiator. He attributed the limited role to the new situation and wanting to build trust with the team, noting the second unit was new and that he wanted to run and let the game come to him instead of forcing things.
Bogi then went into the immediate difference between playing under Pierce and McMillan. He said the two coaches used him differently, noting each’s stylistic approach on the offensive end. Since the All-Star break, the Hawks have been running more designed plays, attempting to get everyone involved. Prior to that, Pierce’s Hawks played a much more free game with the liberty to run whatever. McMillan is more of an old-school coach, who can get Atlanta to the next level, Bogi said.
McMillan’s desire to get back to team-first basketball with designated play calls has sped up the meshing process in Atlanta. The Hawks are moving without the ball, sharing the ball, and designing specific plays for John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and Bogi.
Pierce’s free-flowing offense wasn’t conducive to this team’s chemistry, particularly with Trae Young’s development as a leader. Even if there wasn’t much validity to the rumors, there were obvious rifts between teammates and coaches as the Hawks underperformed in the first half of the season.
McMillan’s ability to get the players to buy-in is crucial to his coaching style; everyone must be willing to make the extra pass even if it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. The wins and losses speak for themselves; the Hawks have improved under McMillan, but the team seems to be having more fun. In that Bogi interview, it’s extremely revealing that a player of his caliber would justify the decision to move on from Pierce.
He was a great person, mentor, and community leader, but Pierce wasn’t going to get this team to where they needed to be by playoff time. He helped this team grow, specifically the younger players, but McMillan has taken the reigns, and it’s obvious that the team is responding better to his coaching style. With continuity being so important in sports, there is a strong case to be made that McMillan should be named the Hawks’ permanent head coach.
There are other coaching prospects like Kenny Atkinson, Jason Kidd, Alvin Gentry, and Dave Joerger who will surely throw their name in the hat for the head coaching job in Atlanta. But for now, it’s Nate McMillan’s job to lose. If the Hawks continue to trend in this direction, there’s no question that he should be the head coach in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.