It’s starting to feel like Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce could be on the hot seat, by the season’s end, as his team has struggled under his tenure with an overall record of 60-119. Pierce, who was tasked with developing a talented yet inconsistent group of young players when joining the Hawks in 2018, has done little in the way of inspiring a future of greatness in Atlanta. As NBA season progresses, the Hawks lie at 11-12 with plenty to improve. Many believe Pierce won’t be coaching for Atlanta next season, but is there any hope?
Here are three ways Pierce can save his job and bolster his reputation as a legitimate professional basketball coach.
Fixing a Faulty Defense
After a disappointing 2019 season that resulted in a 25th-ranked overall offense and a record of 20-47, Atlanta made an all-out push to bolster its offense. The additions of Bogdan Bogdanovic(four years, $72-million), Danilo Gallinari (three years, $61.5-million), and Rajon Rondo (two years, $15-million) were made in the attempt of providing Trae Young with the necessary tools to find real offensive success. However, the Hawks have much more to worry about on the defensive side of the court.
In 2019 the team was ranked 28th overall in total defense, which categorically hindered any offensive success. This season, with the help of new additions such as center Clint Capela, the team has been a better defensive group (even if the season is still in the early stages) as they are ranked 11th overall in total defense. This is where Pierce has the opportunity to show his value as a coach or shed light on his shortcomings. Pierce must show that the Hawks can piece together a consistent defensive outlook for the team. If last season was an example of anything, it’s that a talented offense coupled with a disastrous defense is entirely useless in the pursuit of winning games. If Pierce can create a defense that at the very least forces some amount of pressure on opposing offenses, the team as a whole could improve dramatically.
Finding an Offensive Leader
Trae Young is Atlanta’s best offensive player, but for Pierce to keep his job, he needs to develop talent elsewhere on the offense. Atlanta is banking on developing young players like Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, and De’Andre Hunter. If Pierce can help these players fill into their lofty expectations, Young would have room to develop as a shooter without feeling like the game rests on his shoulders with every shot he takes. While Hunter is averaging a solid 17 points per game, Reddish and Huerter still have yet to break through as both are averaging less than 12 points a game. It can be argued that Huerter is closer to the cusp of a De’Andre Hunter-breakout this year than Reddish. If Pierce wants to keep his job, he’ll have to piece together a strong offensive squad, filtering out whoever cannot meet expectations.
Finding a Veteran Presence
Rajon Rondo was a surprise signing by the Hawks this offseason, but even if the player is supposed to fill a leadership role, he needs to provide on-court ability as well. So far, that hasn’t been the case, as the 16-year veteran is averaging just 4.1 points and 3.7 assists per game. If Atlanta can’t benefit from Rondo’s on-court abilities, his value is hindered, and the team may be forced to look elsewhere. However, the team still needs a veteran leader to help such a young roster mature. Whatever the case is for Rondo, Atlanta still needs to find someone who can contribute both on and off the court, even if looking elsewhere is the answer.
Overall, the likelihood of Pierce returning as Atlanta’s head coach next season is low. If the young coach wants to keep his job or even prove to other NBA teams that he adds value as a coach, he needs to address the issues discussed today. If Pierce is unable to improve any of the Hawks’ weak areas, it will be a difficult argument to make for his future as a head coach.