The Atlanta Hawks are disappointing their fans this season. They aren’t living up to the expectations they set after making a Cinderella run in the last playoffs. After winning two games against the eventual NBA Champions Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA postseason, the Hawks find themselves struggling, as they are way below .500 with just a 20-25 record. Interestingly enough, they did not make any drastic changes on their roster over the offseason, choosing to keep it all together. Keeping the band together has really not worked out. The Hawks could be in jeopardy to miss the playoffs, which would be very bad for this team. To fully grasp how the team came to this position, here are two glaring reasons for the Hawks’ ongoing struggles.

Reasons for Hawks’ struggles 

Abysmal defense 

The Hawks have the league’s worst defense, according to defensive rating. That is not surprising, considering the fact that the roster is very attack-oriented. Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic started most games in the backcourt and neither are very good defensive players. Additionally, Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter both started a ton of games, and they are also not very good at that end.

Overall, the Hawks are 26th in opponents’ field goal percentage, 27th in opponent three-point percentage, 25th in allowed points, 30th in allowed assists, and 28th in forced turnovers. They are truly abysmal numbers and while their roster is not made to be great defensively, it is surprising, considering who their coach is. Nate McMillan led two Pacers teams to top-six finishes in defensive ratings. Obviously, they were different teams roster-wise, but a 30th ranked defense in a league that includes at least three teams that had no chances to be competitive before the season started.

Fortunately for the Hawks, they have a great offense. They are ranked second in scoring with 111.2 points per game to go with great percentages across the board. If it was not for their offense, the Hawks would be completely out of the contention. Unfortunately, it does not seem like it will be enough for them to be competitive again. Much of the NBA is about offense and making flashy plays for the highlights, but the old saying says that defense wins championships.

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The worst aspect of the Hawks defense is that, unless there is a major trade, it does not look like it will improve. Clint Capela is the only player on the roster that can be considered close to a great defender, while most are going to be overmatched against any team. This has fueled many doubters around the league, who credited the Hawks’ success in the playoffs last season to injuries and a fairly lucky draw. It seems like that was truly a Cinderella run, but from the aspect that it was a fairy tale and not much else.

Danilo Gallinari took a nosedive…and so did others on the roster 

The Hawks’ play is noticeably worse this season, and among the culprits is veteran Danilo Gallinari. Currently averaging 10.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 42.2% shooting from the field, and just 7.9 attempts from the field, Gallinari is having his worst season in the league since his rookie year. He is also playing just 23 minutes per contest, also a career-low, since his rookie season. That is a huge problem for the Hawks, as Gallo was the key contributor for the young squad as the veteran presence last season. Now, he is far away from his ideal form, and to make it even worse, the Hawks are going to pay him over $40 million over the next two seasons.

To pin it all on Gallinari would not be fair, however. Two other players that are simply not contributing as much are Bogdan Bogdanovic and Clint Capela. Bogdanovic was a revelation last season, especially in his playoff debut. He averaged 16.4 points, shot 43.8% from three on 7.6 attempts, and generally complimented Trae Young well on the offensive end. This season, it is 12.0 points, and 41.2/35.4/77.1 shooting splits. Unfortunately for the Hawks, Bogdanovic’s flaws on the defensive end are biting Atlanta. He has also been not producing ideal numbers on offense.

Clint Capela was much needed, as his ability to rebound and block shots is essential to keep some form of defensive identity. Unfortunately, Capela followed the others on the roster and took a step back this season. He averages just 11.6 points, and his rebounds fell from 14.3 to 12.9, which is still great, but not what we have come to expect from the Swiss center. He fell from 2.0 blocks to 1.5, which is not huge but is still noticeable. Also, his field goal efficiency levels from Houston are basically an afterthought now.

In this regard, unlike the defense, the Hawks can improve. The trio of Gallinari, Bogdanovic, and Capela must come back in the second half of the season in a strong way. If they do, considering the fact that Trae Young ever so slightly improved, the Hawks will have a shot to contest the volatile East, or at least to be a landmine in the playoffs. Winning a title or even coming back to the Eastern Conference Playoffs seems like a pipe dream, simply because their defense is so abysmal, but the Hawks can do their best to come back to the playoffs and establish a winning culture in their young squad.