Much like the MLB or NHL, the NBA is a marathon, not a sprint. We are just about a month into the regular season, so naturally, it’s time to overreact. The Atlanta Hawks currently sit one game over .500 after seven games, but the product on the floor has been less-than-ideal.
With wholesale changes coming — Dejounte Murray, Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, and AJ Griffin — this offseason, Atlanta was always expected to have some growing pains. But it feels like the Hawks are closer to the team that squeaked into the playoffs via the play-in than the one that made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. The front office seemingly over-corrected following the Hawks embarrassing performance against the Heat in the first round last year.
Travis Schlenk and Co. went out and upgraded defensively as well as their ball handlers, but the early returns aren’t encouraging. The Hawks are 25th in defensive rating (115.4). Mike Longabardi was hired this offseason to head the defensive attack for Atlanta, and the Hawks are only marginally better in that area. Last year, the Hawks finished the regular season 26th in defensive rating (113.7).
Of course, by trading away your two best perimeter shooters — Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari — for “better” defenders, the offense is sure to take a step back. The Hawks offense was one of the most lethal groups in the Assocation, with the second-highest offensive rating (115.4) in the NBA last year. Over the offseason, the front office sacrificed shooting for playmaking and defense. And it shows. Through seven games, the team ranks 9th in offensive rating (114.2).
The idea to get better defensively and have more playmakers around Trae Young can still work, but at this point, the results have been discouraging. The formula of taking more two-point attempts and fewer three-point attempts than anyone in the league isn’t working. The Atlanta Hawks have become a predominantly midrange team that struggles to get to the free throw line.
Whether you agree with it or not, oftentimes, the blame will fall on the coaching staff. The Hawks aren’t executing whatever game plan Nate McMillan is putting forth. And regardless of whose fault it is (players or coaches), McMillan will be the first domino to fall if the team continues to underperform. At one point, he looked like the savior when he took over for Lloyd Pierce. But now, McMillan’s tenure in Atlanta has come into question following such an inconsistent 2021-2022 campaign.
I wouldn’t say McMillan’s seat is scorching hot after just seven games, but if you think he can’t be canned, look no further than the March 2021 firing of Pierce. It’s only November, so this piece might be a little premature. Still, the expectations are as high as they’ve been in a while for the Atlanta Hawks this season. If things don’t go as planned, McMillan is the easiest person to blame — right or wrong.
Photographer: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire