Despite lofty expectations of making the playoffs in the third year of their rebuild, the Hawks find themselves with the third-worst record in the Association and no hopes of the postseason as the second half of the season is set to begin. Nobody could have predicted the rash of injuries they suffered or a 25-game suspension for their second-best player. However, all of that is in the rearview, and these 15-41 Hawks have a chance to make a statement over these last 26 games that all the talk coming into the season wasn’t just hype.
1. Get Healthy
The team the Hawks began the year with is now at full health, but the players they acquired before the trade deadline are not. Clint Capela, who looks to be a substantial addition to the future core of this team, is still battling plantar fasciitis, which is an extremely annoying injury that can nag a player for months, and the only treatment is time off. Lloyd Pierce said yesterday they expect Capela to miss at least a couple of more weeks along with the newly acquired Skal Labissiere. Both of these players must get healthy before the end of the season and play some games, so the Hawks have a better idea of what to do as they enter a critical offseason.
2. Managing John Collins and Clint Capela
The primary reason it is so vital that Clint Capela plays in at least a handful of contests for the Hawks before the end of the season is that Lloyd Pierce needs to figure out how to utilize him and John Collins. Can these two share the floor for 25+ minutes a night? Or do their minutes need to be managed so that only one of them is on the floor the majority of the time? I tend to believe they can co-exist, considering Collins’ improved three-point shooting, but the Hawks will undoubtedly want to test things out before next season when they are aiming to compete for a playoff spot.
3. Rookies Don’t Play Like Rookies
As expected, rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter had their growing pains, especially the latter. However, those are normal — just take a look at Trae Young’s numbers from the first half of last year compared to the second half. We saw Reddish come on strong in January and into the All-Star break. Now, let’s see if he can sustain that and even take it up a notch. Hunter’s been pretty consistent all year long, but he still needs to prove he belongs in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
4. A Consistent Kevin Huerter
I was antsy to see the steps Huerter would take in his second season, believing he had a genuine opportunity to become a poor man’s Klay Thompson with the potential for so much more. Unfortunately, injuries set him back, and it has taken him months to find his groove. But over his last eight games before the break, he averaged 16.3 points on 44.1% shooting from the field and 40% from three, along with 3.9 assists per contest. If he can continue to improve on that going forward, the Hawks found themselves a really valuable piece in the middle part of the first round in the 2018 draft.
5. Limit Turnovers and Play Better Defense
These two things have been the Achilles’ heel for the Hawks throughout this rebuild. They lead the NBA in turnovers per game with 16.6 per contest. That should be expected for the youngest team in the league, but if they are ever going to start winning games consistently, that number has to come way down, and it all begins with Trae Young at the point.
The additions of Clint Capela and Dewayne Dedmon will help defensively, but it would be foolish to think this is going to get significantly better overnight. The Hawks have the third-worst defensive rating in the league at 114.0. Those two can protect the rim, but Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and De’Andre Hunter have to do a better job staying in front of their men. This is and always has been a team problem, and they have to improve before they start winning.
6. Win 11 Games
This isn’t a lofty goal, but it is a realistic one, and it’s one I think Lloyd Pierce should have to reach if he wants to keep his job. Even with all that went wrong for the Hawks in the first half of the season, 15 wins is a massive disappointment. On top of that, all the mistakes are re-occurring. Pierce has shown to be good in the player development area, but it’s time to turn that into wins, and if he can’t, the Hawks seriously have to consider moving on this offseason. Maybe they give him one more opportunity to start next year, but the seat under him is beginning to simmer.
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