The holiday season is officially here. The Hawks have plenty to be thankful for, yet they still have a lot of work to do to get this season back on track. Now that the 10-game losing streak has been snapped, let’s look at five reasonable expectations we can wish for in December.
Whether on your personal wish list or sports wish list, good health always comes first. The Hawks can attest to that as injuries have put a spotlight on their weaknesses so far this season.
Kevin Huerter has missed 11 games due to a shoulder injury, Cam Reddish has battled a sprained wrist, and just last night De’Andre Hunter dislocated a finger. Not to mention, the rest of the roster has dealt with the wear and tear that comes with the NBA schedule.
With Kevin returning soon and John Collins coming off suspension at the end of the month, we can only pray that the basketball gods bless the Hawks with good health to end 2019 and begin 2020.
Better Bench Play
When the starters are on the court, the Hawks can compete against playoff-caliber teams (as seen against Toronto, Milwaukee, and Indiana in recent weeks). Trae Young and Jabari Parker are combining for 65 points per 100 possessions. Not bad at all for a sophomore, and a player coming off two ACL reconstructions.
But the games are long, and the season is even longer. We have seen several opportunities slip away when Trae is grabbing a breather on the bench. Atlanta’s second unit has to find a way to be more productive on a regular basis.
DeAndre’ Bembry always provides energy on the court. However, he can sometimes run into problems when trying to do too much. Allen Crabbe is lights out when he is hot from the outside but is only knocking down 24% of his 3-pointers this season.
Alex Len has been a reliable rim protector on defense but hasn’t been able to stretch the floor on the other end due to an unrecognizable 15% 3-point percentage. Evan Turner has filled the void of a backup point guard but has a turnover percentage of 22%.
Each player coming off the bench has something he can improve upon. Right now, Coach Pierce needs his role players to be more consistent, contribute more on offense, and sure-up and already shaky defense.
Stop me if you have heard this before, but the Hawks turn the ball over too much. They lead the league in total turnovers and are averaging nearly 18 per game.
Trae Young often receives a lot of criticism for his five turnovers per game. However, his detractors fail to recognize his high usage rate and ignore the constant barrage of double-teams he faces as soon as he steps past half court.
The problem goes beyond just Trae; the frontcourt could do a better job of hanging on to passes. And all three rookies have to be more careful with the rock to stay on the court.
Speaking of the rookies, no one else on the roster will have benefited more from the team’s depth issues. De’Andre Hunter has averaged 31 minutes per game, Cam Reddish 24 minutes per game, and Bruno Fernando 13 minutes per game.
Of course, each player is going through their own version of growing pains. De’Andre has struggled with consistency, Cam’s shooting has been uncharacteristic so far, and Bruno needs to hit the boards harder.
But all the playing time the rookies are receiving will pay dividends not only this season but beyond. They know what they need to work on, and only time and reps will help them reach their full potential.
Go .500 in December
So far this season, the Hawks have had the second-toughest schedule. Luckily the opponents will be a little less formidable in December. That’s why it’s reasonable to believe they can go 7-7 this month.
Winnable games include; Charlotte, Chicago 2x, New York, Cleveland, and Orlando. As luck would have it, all those games happen to be on the road, which adds another wrinkle to an already challenging landscape.
However, good teams win on the road. And judging by the resiliency of this team, they are not going to take any nights off. Look for them to fight their way to 11 wins by the start of the new year.
Given everything the Hawks have been through, I believe these goals are fair to put on our wish list for the holidays. What would you add to the list?