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Why the Atlanta Hawks are Struggling

Analyzing the main reasons why the Atlanta Hawks are struggling to start the 2022-23 NBA season.
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The Atlanta Hawks have blown double-digit leads in the last three games, resulting in a three-game losing streak. Atlanta's offense has lacked creativity and been stale at times, reminding Hawks fans of last year’s struggles. 

Of course, the organization made significant changes over the summer. Landry Fields and Travis Schlenk wanted to fix last year's problems by improving the defense and adding more ball handlers. Everything seemed poised to change, and so far, after one-fourth of the season, it seems nothing has really changed. After 21 games, the Hawks are 11-10, the same record at this time last year. 

All of this points back to Head Coach Nate McMillan, who led the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals when he took over for Lloyd Pierce in March 2021 before becoming the full-time coach following the season. But there were concerns if he was meant to be the coach long term. 

The question was, can McMillan get the most out of the team? McMillan is considered a players coach but not an Xs and Os coach. While Lloyd Pierce was considered an Xs and Os coach but didn’t always get along with players, such as the rumors that he and Trae Young didn’t have a good relationship. 

Hawks head coach Nate McMillan speaking with Trae Young.

Nate McMillan speaking with Trae Young during the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals.

During Atlanta's Eastern Conference Finals run, Pierce’s coaching staff and system were still in place. McMillan eventually installed his staff and system after the season. That is when issues with execution and late game play became more apparent. 

Chris Kirschner, the Hawks Beat Writer for The Athletic at the time, wrote an article after the season mentioning those issues “Several sources said there was an over-reliance on Young running the offense himself in late-game situations instead of McMillian drawing up plays.“ 

Dejounte Murray was supposed to help in late-game situations and run the offense, but it hasn't improved as much as expected. Again it all points back to McMillan and his lack of in-game adjustments. 

On Sunday night, the Miami Heat switched to a zone defense in the second half, and the Hawks blew a nine-point lead. The next night, the 76ers used the zone, which resulted in another blown lead. The Hawks biggest flaw offensively is the lack of shooting. They traded Kevin Huerter and let go of Danilo Gallinari, two of their best shooters, and Bogdan Bogdanovic hasn’t played this year because of surgery on his knee this off-season.

John Collins (22.5%) and Young (31.3%) are shooting career lows in three-point percentage. Murray has never been known as an outside shooter, and De'Andre Hunter has been hit-and-miss so far. The Hawks must address that issue because just hoping Bogdanovic and AJ Griffin are good enough to solve that problem might not be enough. 

Hawks forward John Collins battles for the ball against Raptors defenders.

John Collins battles for a rebound against the Toronto Raptors.

There are two bright spots. First, Griffin has emerged as another scoring option, but he is also a rookie, so he is still learning. Secondly, Clint Capela has gotten back to the Capela of old, averaging another double-double especially being the only true big man they have at center, an elite rebounder, and impacting the defensive end. 

Atlanta's front office is not without blame. They made a series of moves during the summer to avoid paying the luxury tax. They exchanged outside shooting for defensive-minded players, but that has not panned out.

The players also deserve blame. Collins is averaging some of his lowest numbers since his rookie year. Young is having career lows in efficiency and field goal percentage as well. Hunter has been up and down. Murray started well but has been struggling with turnovers as of late. Onyeka Okwongu also disappointed in his two games as a starter.

However, it can all be traced back to McMillian. When he took over this team, many of the players were young and still developing. But, McMillan has repeatedly said they aren’t developing. Which is an odd thing to say because every season, every NBA team is developing chemistry, communication, and an identity. The Hawks chemistry is lacking, while their identity is nonexistent. 

If the Hawks' struggles continue, McMillan could be on the hot seat. The front office did not envision this team being in the Play-In Tournament again. Currently, the Hawks are on pace for 45 wins this season, only two more than last year. 

It’s still early, though, as the Hawks could figure things out and make a run. They could still make trades, as the deadline is still a couple of months away. If so, shooting and acquiring another big would be my priority. There isn’t time to panic, but the basketball product needs to improve, or changes could be coming quickly.