The Atlanta Hawks entered the 2019-20 season with aspirations to make a playoff push. They have a talented young core, led by Trae Young and John Collins. Unfortunately, the Hawks currently sit at 6-22, making them the second-worst team in the NBA, trailing only the Warriors.
Breaking Down the Early Struggles of the Atlanta Hawks
It is no secret that Atlanta has one of the worst defenses in the league. According to Basketball-Reference, the Hawks rank 29th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They allow 118.7 points per game on 46.1 percent shooting, both of which rank near the bottom of the league.
Numbers tell the story, but they do not explain why. The Hawks have such poor defensive numbers for several reasons. The clearest reason is the lack of a rim protector. Currently, the Hawks start Damian Jones at center and Alex Len backs him up. Jones is the worst defender on the Hawks, in terms of defensive rating, and Len is not far behind. Neither player provides enough resistance at the rim and their defensive rebounding percentage is similar to Trae Young’s so they are not rebounding well either. It is extremely important to have rim protection in the NBA.
Additionally, Trae Young struggles to defend due to his lack of size. He has increased his effort on the defensive end this season, but he still is getting beat too often. To draw comparisons, James Harden is criticized as a bad defender, and rightfully so. Harden’s defensive rating is 107. Comparing that to Young’s which is 117, Harden is a much better defender than Young. Make no mistake, Young’s defense would improve with a rim protector.
In total, the Hawks have DeAndre Bembry who is the only true defender on the roster, outside of any rookies. De’Andre Hunter was known as a great defender in college and has had success in the league so far, but he has room for improvement.
Of note, John Collins has only played five games due to a suspension. Collins is not known as a good defender, but this season he was off to a strong start defensively. Luckily, Collins is set to return in just a few games to spark the Hawks.
The Atlanta Hawks offense is undoubtedly led by Trae Young. He is the player that will always have the ball in his hands and will look to make a play for himself and then for others. He has started the season hot, with an effective field goal percentage of 53.1%. When Young is making his outside jumpers, he is extremely difficult to guard and the Hawks offense takes a step forward.
Jabari Parker has also been off to a good start. He is a great scorer and can get his shot in several different ways. He seems to fit quite well with Young.
The Hawks offense can definitely reach additional levels as their young wings develop. Kevin Huerter has missed 11 games which is difficult for a shooter. He has not fallen into his rhythm yet, which will be important for Atlanta because he is the only other playmaker besides Young. Cam Reddish has also missed a few games and has been very streaky as a shooter. He has shown flashes of his lofty potential, but he still needs to improve.
Interestingly, this roster was supposedly formed to mimic the Golden State Warriors, with Young and Huerter becoming their own version of the Splash Brothers. However, the Hawks look more like the Houston Rockets. They have a ball-dominant point guard that they are trying to surround with shooters, but it has not worked out quite as well.
The most concerning aspect of the Hawks’ start is their recent lack of effort. In their last four games, they have had 2 of the worst performances all year, giving up 143 points to the Knicks and 136 points to the Bulls. In total, they have given up over 130 points 8 times and over 150 points twice. That speaks more to a lack of effort and focus than just bad defense.
The Knicks scored the most points in the last 39 years of the franchise last night against the Hawks. There is no excuse for that, especially since the full roster was available, besides John Collins.
At this current rate, the Hawks will finish the season at the bottom of the league, after expecting to contend for the eighth seed. It would be wise to question whether coach Lloyd Pierce will survive the season.
It seems as though the Hawks have regressed since last season. Yes, the team is very young and they do not have one of their best players, but to not give a consistent effort night in and night out is unacceptable. Pierce was brought in with a defensive pedigree but that has not translated to the court for the Hawks.
The Atlanta Hawks have the young core to be successful. They are definitely in the midst of a rebuild and already have two excellent players plus three other good young players. The veterans around this core have not worked out, for the most part. There is no reason for hysteria by the fan base, but it is necessary to be concerned because no one should be consistently blown out, especially by bad teams.
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