Two days ago, I stirred up some commotion (big shock) after positing the idea of the Atlanta Hawks trading head coach Nate McMillan to the Los Angeles Lakers. Ultimately, it's unlikely to happen for myriad reasons.
However, it doesn't change the fact the Hawks coaching staff must improve this offseason. Below are five questions that Nate McMillan must have an answer for before the start of the 2022-23 NBA season.
What's your plan for when Trae Young is targeted?
You might read the question and assume I am asking about Trae Young being targeted on defense. No, the question is in regard to the increased frequency in which opponents are attempting to scheme Young out of the game on offense.
The All-Star point guard has faced unrelenting defense since he was in grade school. However, down the stretch of the regular season, throughout the Play-in Tournament, and punctuated in the Playoffs, opposing defenses attempted more double teams and trapping of Young.
No team executed this strategy better than the Miami Heat. Thanks to their size and athleticism, the Heat roster was uniquely built to contain Young. Couple their top-four defensive rating with a perennial Coach of the Year candidate in Erik Spoelstra, and it was a nightmare for the Hawks.
Young averaged just 15.4 points on 31.9% shooting from the field. Through equal parts strategy and bullying, the Heat stopped the engine of the NBA's second-best offense.
This was entirely predictable and foreseeable. It's a massive failure for the coaching staff to have no real answer for such a game plan. Now teams around the league will copy the Heat's blueprint this summer and try to implement it next season. Will the results be any different?
When will John Collins get more touches?
Nate McMillan has said that he doesn't call plays for John Collins on the offensive end of the floor. He expects the springy power forward to produce based entirely on cuts, rebounds, broken plays, and anything that might fall into his lap.
Collins' 16.2 points per game this season was a slight decrease, as were all of his shooting percentages (a nasty sprained finger can do that). Despite it all, Collins' assist-to-turnover ratio jumped from 0.93 to 1.63 this season on a consistent usage rate. It's no secret that the 24-year-old high flyer wants to spread his wings and fly for the Hawks offense. When will the coaching staff let Collins soar?
What is your vision for rookies?
In April, I documented how Jalen Johnson's rookie minutes were historically low. Despite being drafted 20th overall, Johnson finished 74th among rookies in total minutes played (120).
The Hawks' 2021 second round draft pick, Sharife Cooper, didn't fare much better. While the expectations were lower for Cooper, he did finish 88th among rookies in total minutes played (39). Everyone from McMillan to team president Travis Schlenk is quick to point to the playing time the two rookies received in the G League. However, that is not the same as time logged in the association.
McMillan was initially hesitant to play Onyeka Okongwu during his rookie season last year until the front office nudged him in the right direction. The old-school coach has to adapt. The league is younger than ever, and even championship contenders play their rookies. What will become of Johnson, Cooper, and this year's 16th and 44th overall picks?
How will you be more transparent?
After a tough win against the Clippers on March 11, Nate McMillan was asked about John Collins' health. The coach told the media with a sly smile, "We're not going to tell you everything. I just respect him for his effort." Come again?
There were times this season when media and fans alike knew the coaching staff was less than forthright. Collins' health was just one example. Another was on January 9, following a Clippers loss, acting head coach Chris Jent said Lou Williams didn't dress "out of respect."
Williams was inactive with "back soreness" in the final eight games of the season. It begs the question, was Williams injured, or was his stature in the league being protected? If it's the latter, why did the team not go out and add a rotation player at the trade deadline or buy-out market?
One last final example is Kevin Huerter's healthy scratch on November 1 against the Washington Wizards. McMillan told the media it was "rest" related. However, Huerter had averaged 4.8 points on 28.5% from the field and 15% from behind the arc through the first six games of the season before missing the seventh contest. The 23-year-old was not on the bench at the start of the game. I understand that it's challenging to protect players' egos, but the media deserves respect as well.
How do you plan to keep trust of front office?
Atlanta Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler and team president Travis Schlenk have both reiterated their confidence in Nate McMillan since the end of the season. But they have to say that. It would be a bad look for the organization to outwardly question their coaching hire from ten months ago.
While I doubt McMillan is on the hot season, that could change with another slow start next season. If the Hawks fall eight games below .500 again by January of 2023, another midseason audible could be in store for the Hawks. How can McMillan sell his vision for the future of the team to an antsy front office?
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