Can the Hawks Still Make the Playoffs?
The Atlanta Hawks are digging themselves into a hole that they eventually may not be able to climb out of.
After starting the season 2-0, Atlanta looked much improved from just a season ago. Trae Young looked like an All-NBA candidate (albeit a small sample size) and the Hawks possessed the league’s third best net rating through the first three games.
Now the Hawks are 4-11 and have lost five straight games. There are several factors that highlight exactly why they have failed to compete with other teams in the league. The Atlanta Hawks, as of November 23rd rank in the league as follows according to NBA.com.
26th in offensive rating
27th in defensive rating
29th in net rating (-9.9) better than only the injury-stricken Warriors
28th in turnover percentage
24th in EFG%
29th in 3P%
25th in FT%
26th in rebounding
29th in team +/-
It can be very difficult to take all of this in and try to identify exactly where the problem lies. A huge factor has to be the absence of John Collins due to his 25-game suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Collins, through five games, averaged 17 points per contest while grabbing nine boards. His scoring also proved to be efficient as he shot a blistering 47% from three-point land and 52% from the field.
Something else to keep in mind is the shoulder injury to Kevin Huerter. Per Hawks medical staff, the 39% 3-point shooter should be re-evaluated within the next week. The three-pointer woes can most certainly be attributed to the absence of the team’s two most efficient long-range shooters.
Heading into Friday night’s game against the 4-10 Pistons, the Hawks were looking at possibly their best chance to add a much-needed W to the win column; a team that Atlanta beat in the season opener. However, Atlanta failed to capitalize after starting the contest on a 17-7 run. The team held a meeting immediately following the game at Little Caesar’s Arena in the locker room. Trae Young had strong words about said meeting when it was addressed by the media saying,
"I mean, shit. We’re not playing good right now. It’s embarrassing... It was a talk that we needed to have, and hopefully it’s a talk that can maybe turn some things around."
The full story regarding the team meeting can be found here.
Being in the Eastern Conference does indeed offer favors to Atlanta. Although they are tied for last in the East, Atlanta is still only 2.5 games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic all while not having their second-best player on the floor until mid-December.
Currently, ESPN projects that Atlanta has less than a one percent chance of making it to the playoffs. I think this is probably a little too stingy of a chance considering how early in the season we are, the absence of two starters, and a weak Eastern Conference. BasketballReference.com gives them an even less generous chance at 0.4%.
If the Hawks can maintain being only two or three games behind the eighth seed until Collins and Huerter come back, they certainly have a shot at making the playoffs. Collins would help tremendously in areas where Atlanta is extremely deficient. The third-year man has the team’s highest Defensive Box Plus-Minus and the lowest turnover percentage despite having the second-highest usage percentage. In addition, he possesses the team’s best rebounding percentage through his five games. As mentioned, the team is in desperate need of all these things in addition to the shooting accuracy Collins brings to the floor.
Having said all of this, the Hawks are a team desperate and hungry to string along a couple of wins to climb out of the hole they’ve found themselves in. Coach Lloyd Pierce may find this difficult as they head into a stretch of five games against highly competent opponents in home games versus Toronto and Minnesota before going on the road to play Milwaukee, Indiana, and Houston.
Atlanta is not favored to win any of these games so pulling out a couple of wins would be huge for the struggling Trae Young and Company. Again, comfort may be found when remembering that the Hawks play in the Eastern Conference. It’s still November and a lot can happen between now and April.
Stats accurate as of 11/24/19*