Reflecting on the Hawks’ Season: Oct-Dec 2019

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John Collins is finding his game again 

  • Regular season stats: 10 games, 18.0 points , 9.3 reb, 1.7 asts, 1stl , 1.8blks, 51.3 FG%, 36.2 3PT-FG%, 20.96 PER

This season, Atlanta has limited playmakers and lacks potent scoring options. Pierce plays two rookies significant minutes and relies on an (at best) below-average starting center play to provide an interior presence. That combination, unfortunately, doesn’t bode well for Atlanta on a nightly basis. Therefore, John Collins has an opportunity to solidify himself as option 1B. But to do that, he needs to find more scoring opportunities for himself primarily. Against the Magic Monday night and the Bucks on Dec. 27th, Collins only scored 10 and 9 points, respectively, which isn’t enough when Young is not in the lineup. However, Collins’ return from suspension has added energy and intensity to the Hawks defense.

His defense raised a lot of questions coming into this season, but he’s maintained consistency and demonstrated improvement on that side of the ball, averaging one steal and two blocks in ten games this season. Even though we don’t have a large sample size of Collins’ contributions, I will look for him to raise his intensity level on both sides of the floor and establish himself as a leader for the young Hawks in 2020 and beyond. 

Trae Young has solidified himself as an All-star caliber player in the East 

  • Regular season stats: 31 games, 28.9 points, 4.3reb, 8.4 asts, 1.2stls, 44.8 FG%, 37.5 3PT-FG% , 23.27 PER 

After a stellar rookie season in which he averaged 19 points and over eight assists, Trae Young has come back with more aggressiveness and a sharper shooting prowess, demonstrating he’s ready to embrace the largest role of his young career. Trae’s 35.5 usage rate this season (higher than Lebron, AD, and Kawhi Leanord) demonstrates just how badly the Hawks need him even to have a chance to succeed. This year when Trae has been on the floor, Atlanta’s offensive rating has been 102.9. Not great in today’s NBA. But without Ice Trae, the Hawks offensive rating drops to 92.1, which would be on par with the NCAA’s Charleston-Southern Buccaneers, a team I didn’t know existed until I wrote this article. 

On a positive note, though, Young has been proving all the doubters wrong this season. In 35 minutes per game, he’s averaging 28.8 points, 8.3 assists, and shooting nearly 37 percent from distance. I know the Hawks record doesn’t scream success, but Trae Young is making a strong case as an All-Star candidate and future superstar in the league. 

Atlanta needs another backup point guard, especially after Trae’s two injuries 

During the most recent offseason, Travis Shlenck shipped Kent Bazemore to Portland in exchange for Evan Turner, the 2010 number 2 overall pick. The decision took place to offload Bazemore’s large contract and to add a potential ball-handler to lead the Hawks’ second unit. However, SportsTalkATL’s Jake Gordon points out that Turner’s role has gradually diminished on the team. And when he’s played, he’s been ineffective, averaging 3.3 points, two rebounds, and two assists.

Considering Young’s potential injury risk this season, the Hawks’ lack of a true backup point guard raises a red flag. And though Goodwin scored 21 against the Magic, he would usually face stiffer competition than DJ Augustin on a nightly basis (no disrespect to you DJ). Going further into 2020, I’ll be looking for the Hawks to be active buyers as they attempt to improve their bench depth, and hopefully acquire a better backup point guard. 

The Hawks have struggled to establish their defensive identity 

As the Budenholzer era ended in Atlanta, the team hired Lloyd Pierce, a young and promising assistant coach who covered the Sixers’ 3rd-ranked defense during the 2017-2018 season. Perhaps Pierce’s hire meant a transition to an emphasis on creating an effective and sustainable group that could generate stops. However, the 2018-19 Hawks finished 27th in defensive efficiency, which can be attributed to the young players’ gradual adjustment to the NBA’s pace and working together effectively on defense. Although he wanted to implement his defensive philosophy, he realized the players’ “principles need to be better. It takes two to three years for you to become really good defensively”.

Unfortunately, the Hawks haven’t progressed in that area this season, courtesy of a 113.0 defensive rating. And although injuries and a John Collins’ suspension have played a role, allowing 117.6 points per game won’t cut it if this team has playoff aspirations anytime soon. Hopefully, the young Hawks can stay healthy throughout the remainder of this season, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see glimpses of the cohesive defensive unit Pierce envisions. 

It’s a new year Atlanta 

John Collins has firmly returned from suspension. Trae Young, who dropped 41 points on the Pacers, will hopefully continue to have a stellar season. Kevin Huerter has also found his groove recently, scoring at least 17 points in each of the last four games. Perhaps Atlanta’s roster will have new faces come early February, given the team stays active until the trade deadline. And with luck, the young players will demonstrate durability, providing the team ample opportunities and time to implement Lloyd Pierce’s defensive philosophy fully. There’s plenty to look forward to, Hawks fans, even if their current record may not paint that picture.

  

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