The Atlanta Hawks Media Day is scheduled for this Friday. The annual tradition always feels like the first day of school. Clad in fresh uniforms and kicks, players pose for photoshoots before taking questions from the media.
But the 2022 Media Day will have a different feel in the room compared to 2021. Last year, the team floated in with supreme confidence after their magical Eastern Conference Finals run. This time around, a revamped roster will arrive well-rested with much to prove.
The Hawks do not need to reinvent the wheel; they just need to make minor improvements to find more success this year. Below are five realistic benchmarks the Hawks must hit in the 2022-23 NBA season.
Five Realistic Team Goals
Above Average Defensive Rating
It is no secret that the Hawks' defense struggled last year. The team finished bottom-five in defensive rating (113.7). Poor perimeter defense caused breakdowns all over the floor, often resulting in the Hawks' frontcourt ending up out of position.
A headache-inducing mashup of over-helping, dying on screens, and poor communication allowed opposing wings to eat. The Hawks allowed opponents to shoot 47.1 FG% (bottom-nine) and 36.4 3PT% (bottom-six).
Atlanta's front office knew that improving on the defensive end of the floor was their most important task this offseason. They accomplished that goal by bringing in Dejounte Murray and a slew of defensive-minded veterans.
Historically, teams need a top-ten net rating to compete for a championship. Last year, the Hawks had the second-best offensive rating in the league. They just need to finish 14th or higher in defensive rating to see major gains this season.
I was tough on Clint Capela last season because almost all of his stats regressed across the board. After winning the rebounding title in the 2020-21 season, Capela's average dropped from a league-best 14.3 boards per game down to 11.9.
But the Hawks' shortcomings on the boards go beyond Capela, who was often out of position after helping on defense. The team finished 20th in rebounds per game (down 15 spots) and 14th in rebounding percentage (down seven spots).
One player who needs to hit the glass harder is De'Andre Hunter. The 6'7" small forward's rebounding numbers (traditional and advanced) were on par with Trae Young's averages. Overall, the Hawks were not terrible on the boards, but if they can return to their 2020-21 numbers, they are in business.
Develop Younger Players
This goal is low-hanging fruit. Only one Hawks rookie (selected in the first round) played fewer minutes than Jalen Johnson in the past 30 years. Atlanta's front office and coaching staff identified Johnson as a long-term project and let him do work in the G League.
But this season, Johnson has to see more playing time. Additionally, rookies AJ Griffin and Tyrese Martin cannot afford to wither on the bench. Teams better than the Hawks proved capable of letting their rookies learn on the job while also winning games.
21 Road Wins
No team that made the postseason (Play-In Tournament included) had a worse road record than the Hawks. The Hawks went 16-25 on the road last season and 16-20 on the road in the 2020-21 season. It's slightly off-topic, but if you count preseason and playoffs, the Hawks were 0-6 in Miami last year, but I digress.
The Hawks have to find a way to win in hostile territory. Otherwise, they have to bet on securing homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Luckily, the Hawks have the fifth-easiest schedule and are traveling fewer miles than ever before this season. Going 21-20 on the road is an extremely low bar, perhaps even too low.
50 Regular Season Wins
The Hawks would have needed 47 regular season wins to avoid the Play-In Tournament last season. To secure home-court advantage in the first round, it would have required 52 wins.
If you look back at some of the Hawks' worst losses last season, which we did in this article from July, you will find plenty of room for improvement. Improving from 43-39 to 50-32 is a significant jump. However, it's within grasp for a team with an improved roster and a 6-month offseason.
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