Hawks hunt for playoff spot, cope with rampant injuries and coaching changes

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Image: Dean Yusuf

After a disappointing but expected 20-47 campaign last season, the Atlanta Hawks have already begun to perform better in the 2020-21 season.

The last NBA season was cut short by COVID-19 and the Hawks were not close enough to the Eastern Conference eighth seed to be invited to the NBA bubble, but the results may differ this year depending on how injuries and personnel shake out for the Hawks.

The offseason

The Hawks retooled in the offseason by signing former Oklahoma City Thunder forward Danillo Gallinari, Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo and Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanović. They also signed former Detroit Pistons forward Tony Snell, former Miami Heat forward Solomon Hill and former Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn.

As for the NBA Draft, Atlanta selected forward/center Onyeka Okongwu from University of South Carolina and guard Skylar Mays from Louisiana State University with the sixth and 50th picks respectively.

Along with the new acquisitions, Hawks center Clint Capela recovered from an injury sustained last season in time to return for the current season.

The season so far 

Under third year Head Coach Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks stormed out to a 4-1 start to the season before dropping five games in a row. The Hawks hung around .500 with a 10-10 record despite the injuries that began to plague them.

Guard Kris Dunn still has not played a game for the Hawks due to injury. Rajon Rondo has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, and Bogdon Bogdanović missed 25 straight games with a knee injury. Now forward Deandre Hunter has missed 18 games and counting with his own knee issues, adding to the list of injury woes for the Hawks.

Amid the swirl of injuries, the Hawks elected to fire Pierce in favor of Assistant Coach Nate McMillian after the 34th game of the season.

With all of the player and coaching changes — along with injuries — the Hawks have a 16-20 record going into the all-star break.

The Hawks are undefeated after firing Pierce, but with only two games played under McMillian there isn’t much data about the difference in the teams play.

Atlanta looked like a stronger team early in the season, but the lack of health among players has drastically changed the lineup.

Surprises and disappointments 

Second-year forward Deandre Hunter took a fantastic leap from last season. Hunter increased his point per game statistics from 12.3 to 17.2 and increased his field goal percentage from 41% to 51%.

Unlike Hunter, fellow second-year forward Cam Reddish hasn’t shown the development that Hawks fans have been hoping for. Reddish is shooting a worse percentage from behind the 3-point line — down to 26% from 33% — and his points per game have hardly changed going from 10 to 11 points.

Both Hunter and Reddish have been excellent on the defensive end but Clint Capela has eclipsed both of them.

Capela is averaging 2.2 blocks per game to pair with his 14.6 rebounds per game. He’s also chipping in on the scoring end, notching 14.7 points per game on average this year.

Injuries have led to many of the players signed for depth getting more playing time than fans may have expected. Among those players, Tony Snell and Solmon Hill have been more solid than anyone could’ve expected.

Snell is shooting 56% from the 3-point line in 62 attempts which is by far the most in his career. He also has the highest field-goal-percentage of his career at 48%. Hill hasn’t been nearly as efficient, but he has filled time for other missing forwards by being a solid veteran presence.

John Collins, another solid player for the Hawks, has seen his own numbers drop slightly. His points per game and rebounds have both decreased noticeably. The drop off could be attributed to the increase in other ball handlers and scores along with Capela’s rebounding ability.

Trae Young was not an all-star this season, despite averaging 26 points per game with 9.4 assists and playing more efficiently than he did in the previous season. Other than averaging 4.4 turnovers per game, a stat that may have contributed to Young not making the All-Star Game, he has been an incredible presence for Atlanta.

Looking Forward 

The Hawks were expected to be one of the top six teams in the Eastern Conference according to many preseason predictions, and they still have a chance to make good on those predictions.

The Hawks are the 11th seed right now, but they’re only eight games back from the first seed. If they go on a good run out of the All-Star Break, the Hawks have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs and redeem themselves for last season’s lackluster performance.