Two months ago, the Atlanta Hawks were lost and seemed about to endure another eye-rolling season. At 14-20, they parted ways with head coach Lloyd Pierce. Since that decision, the Hawks have turned a corner.
Currently 29-25, they're the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Here are four reasons why the Atlanta Hawks have been able to embark on the 180.
1) Trae Young's offensive heroics are translating into wins for Hawks
The first two years of Young's career featured glimpses of greatness. He was scoring in a multitude of ways and averaged 29.6 points per game last season. The issue was his play wasn't resulting in victories. Of course, John Collins' suspension and some midseason injuries played a role in their struggles. At the same time, the team the Hawks were rolling out on the floor on a nightly basis last season shouldn't have finished as the 14th seed in the Eastern Conference.
This season Young spearheads an efficient and well-oiled Hawks offense.
The likes of Young, Collins, Cam Reddish, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic have all chipped in to considerable degrees. Prior to his knee injury, De'Andre Hunter was doing the same. As a collective whole, they're scoring from isolation and the perimeter on a consistent basis, which is helping the Hawks close out games.
The Hawks have improved drastically from distance this season, as they entered Monday 11th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (37.2 percent) compared to 30th last season (33.3 percent). Everyone is thriving in their role with Young scoring and performing at a high clip.
2) The Hawks have an inside presence in Clint Capela
The Hawks acquired Capela at last season's NBA trade deadline to be their inside threat, and he has been precisely that. Capela has returned to being the prominent center he was with the Houston Rockets.
This season the big man is averaging 15.3 points, an NBA-best 14.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. He's finishing inside with ease, hitting the boards at an elite level and serving as the team's rim protector. Capela has been the Hawks' fiercest inside player on both ends of the floor since Dwight Howard.
The big man's presence allows the Hawks' bevy of speedsters to play to their strengths. Young runs the offense with Collins serving as an athletic scorer, Kevin Huerter sticking the long ball and veterans like Gallinari and Bogdanovic supplementing their efforts. Capela clogs up the paint and does the dirty work inside. He has become a mainstay for this team.
Furthermore, Capela's interior presence has been a key ingredient to the Hawks' improved defense.
3) Defensive improvement
Last season the Hawks were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. This season they've become a legitimate force. The Hawks went into Monday fifth in the NBA in opponent three-point shooting percentage (34.8 percent) and 11th in opponent points per game (111.3) and opponent field goal percentage (46.1 percent). For perspective, they were in the bottom-third of the sport in all three categories last season, low-lighted by being 30th in opponent points per game (119.7).
The Hawks have made enormous strides.
They're no longer just a team with talented young scorers that can't defend or string together a series of wins: they're a two-way team. Are they perfect? Of course not, but they've improved their nagging weakness while maintaining their identity. That's progress.
With Capela manning the paint and the Hawks sealing the perimeter, they have a defensive attack to lean on. Their interim head coach deserves his due.
4) Coaching change
Since taking over for Lloyd Pierce, interim head coach Nate McMillan has administered a Hawks team that is 15-5. The Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets are some of the teams that have fallen victim to the Hawks. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans have lost twice apiece to the Hawks over the last two months. All of the aforementioned teams are playoff teams or ones competing to take part in the spring festivities.
McMillan's Indiana Pacers, who he coached from 2016-20, were defensive-minded teams. They slowed the game down and got teams playing at their pace, which was assisted by collectively sound on-ball and perimeter defense. He looks to be establishing a similar mentality with the budding Hawks; McMillan was hired as an assistant for Pierce's staff this past offseason.
The team on the floor in the present is the team that the Hawks were established to become. The talent has always been there. Young and Collins are building blocks from a talent standpoint and individuals like Reddish, Huerter and a healthy Hunter bring plenty of positive attributes to the table. Plus, they have a handful of veteran scorers, including recent trade pickup Lou Williams.
The Atlanta Hawks continue to improve. They can only continue to do as such, especially if Hunter returns to the floor. With the East stagnated, the Hawks are a team that can wreak havoc in the playoffs. The pieces are coming together at an opportune time.