Hawks: Early-season struggles aside, Atlanta’s stars are playing better than last year

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The Hawks have stumbled quite a bit to begin their much-anticipated 2021-2022 campaign. Starting 4-8 was never part of the plan after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but maybe expectations were too high to begin the season. Atlanta played so much better under Nate McMillan (27-11) last season than under Lloyd Pierce that many Hawks fans believed that coaching was the primary issue with the team.

Well, that isn’t the case to start this season. Outside of Atlanta, critics will point to a lucky run last season as the Hawks were the beneficiary of playing on the right side of the playoff bracket, along with injury luck. They’ll say that Trae Young is struggling to adjust to NBA’s new officiating rules, and the Hawks young pieces haven’t taken that next step. Well, for one, the Hawks areĀ struggling, but not in the ways the national media is pointing out.

Atlanta’s two stars — Trae Young and John Collins — are playing better than they were a year ago when they put the world on notice.

The Hawks are scoring 111 points per 100 possessions with Ice Trae on the floor; he’s clearly still the driver of an elite offense. The issue is defense, which is anchored by Clint Capela. He was an All-Defensive First Team candidate last year, and Capela was a huge reason why Atlanta’s defense was respectable. With Capela off the floor last season, opponents scored at will on this team, especially when Onyeka Okongwu, Deandre Hunter, and Cam Reddish weren’t healthy. This season, those sentiments aren’t true; in fact, this Hawks defense has been 18 points per 100 possessions better with Capela off the court.

Obviously, he shares the floor with Young quite a bit, so those numbers will always be affected by his liability on defense. The biggest issue is the Hawks defense at the basket — allowing opponents to shoot 69.7% in the restricted area compared to 63.6% last season. The Hawks need their younger players — De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, etc. — to step up, but they also have much work to do on the defensive end. Capela missed most of the offseason conditioning program, so he could certainly be playing himself into shape. Don’t worry, Hawks fans; these are kinks that can be worked out; after all, we are only 12 games into the season.

 

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