Trust isn’t one of my best qualities. I trust most people the way Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes trusted Andre Rison. I say that to emphasize the faith I have in Coach Pierce. Starting 6-25 is usually enough to put a coach on the hot seat, but that shouldn’t be the case in this situation.
The grueling November schedule, coupled with the 25-game suspension of John Collins, is well documented. However, things have gone from bad to worse for Coach Pierce since December 4th. The Hawks have lost 9 of 10 games, and tension has finally started boiling over.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Trae Young’s frustration with the roster on December 9th. Then fans started turning on Coach Pierce for sitting Trae during the final minute of a collapse in Miami on December 10th.
But for all of this team’s problems, coaching isn’t one of them. Let’s look at what he’s been able to accomplish despite the losing record.
Any tanking team can throw their young players out on the court and fatten their stats up with empty calories. That has not been the case for the Hawks young core. Since the 2018-2019 season, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter have evolved beyond pure shooters.
Trae has become one of the most effective distributors in the league. Plus, he has drastically improved in every statistical category except for blocks in Year 1 to Year 2.
Kevin is finding new ways to contribute to the team. His shooting numbers are down, but his defense and rebounding numbers are much more palatable this year.
Most importantly, both of the sophomores have taken on a leadership role for the team. Meanwhile, the rookies have been getting some serious reps. De’Andre Hunter has already started 29 games and logged more minutes than any other rookie.
The other lottery pick, Cam Reddish, has been more of a project this season. His offensive game has been dreadful at times, but he may be finding his niche as a perimeter defender. Despite his growing pains, Cam has still started 20 games and is top-10 in minutes played for rookies, which will pay dividends in the future.
Love or hate the rotations; any problems can’t be for lack of trying. We have seen a plethora of different lineups out on the court this season, including 11 different players starting.
Over the last ten games, 12 players are averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Trae Young has been the mainstay, logging 36 minutes per game at point guard. But from there, we have seen an array of lineups focused on shooting, defense, small-ball, and historically young.
The Hawks opened tonight’s game with Young, Huerter, Reddish, Hunter and Fernando. With an average age of 21 years, 92 days old, it is the club’s youngest starting lineup – and the 4th-youngest starting lineup in the NBA – since the league began tracking starters in 1970-71.
— Hawks PR (@HawksPR) December 20, 2019
Part of being an effective coach is empowering your players and playing to their strengths. Coach Pierce’s offensive system does that. First, the Hawks get out and run. After a slow start, they’ve jumped up to 9th in pace.
In the half-court game, Trae has a knack for penetrating the lanes and finding open teammates. Ergo the team runs the second-most pick and rolls in the league, enabling Trae to decide between a floater/layup or finding the open teammate.
Don't you just love lobs 🤩 pic.twitter.com/EVkAfD8mUJ
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) December 24, 2019
The Hawks have the 2nd most dunks in the league and rank 4th in percentage of points in the paint. Getting most of your points by easy looks at the rim is a solid foundation for any offense.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the modern NBA requires competent outside shooting. This team takes roughly 34 3-pointers a game and ranks dead last in 3-point percentage. At a certain point, it just comes down to players executing. In the words of Rachel Nichols, it’s a make or miss league (okay, I’ll see myself out now).
On defense, the Hawks have to work around their natural shortcomings. A 113.9 defensive rating is the third-worst in the league. Trae is often hidden, however, teams still find a way to attack him as evident in the Cavs game on Monday night.
But Trae is far from the only player with problems on defense. This is an area where most of the young core can and must improve. Outscoring teams every night in an 82-game season is untenable.
It’s fair for fans to be frustrated. Coming off a strong finish in 2019, the Hawks were poised to make a leap. However, the front office chose future flexibility over immediate playoff contention. Then John Collins got suspended, and Kevin Huerter injured his shoulder. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but it would be wrong to use Coach Lloyd Pierce as a scapegoat for these problems.