Since making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021, the Atlanta Hawks have faced criticism at every turn for good reason. Their defense has been embarrassing, their offense has been inconsistent and there is doubt about whether guard Trae Young can be the best player on a contender team.
Midway through last year’s underwhelming and historically “mid” season, the Hawks fired Nate McMillan and hired former Utah Jazz Head Coach Quin Snyder with the hopes that Snyder’s abilities would resolve some of their issues. Unfortunately, the mediocrity remained as the team went 11-11 under the new coach to finish last season.
On Media Day, Snyder said that he only really had the opportunity to implement his system recently in training camp, and that he used the remnants of last season as a chance to connect with the players.
Snyder’s system hinges on something called the “0.5-second offense,” which demands a player to shoot, dribble, move or pass the ball and make that decision in half a second. Here is a compilation of Snyder’s offense in motion when he coached the Jazz.
Young has developed a reputation as a somewhat selfish player. Sure, if you look at the statistics, you can point to his career average of 9.3 assists per game and tell me he’s not. But if you watch the games, then you will agree. It was easy to pass off his 30-foot jumpers five seconds into the possession for his first couple years. However, as the roster improved, and there was real talent beside him, it became increasingly frustrating. Then, when the team acquired guard Dejounte Murray, there was hope for more movement on offense.
Perhaps, with an All-Star caliber playmaker next to him, Young’s off-ball movement would sky rocket, and the Hawks’ offense would resemble the 2014 NBA champions San Antonio Spurs who played the most unselfish basketball anyone’s ever seen. But we were wrong: Last season, Young had the ball in his hands for eight minutes per game, and fans continued to see the stagnant offense they had grown to despise.
There is one last hope. With Snyder’s offensive system, all of our dreams could come true. In theory, Snyder’s coaching should be the perfect combatant to Young’s tendencies. Previous coaches have allowed Young to dominate the offense. In 2021, Young held the ball for a league-leading 6.3 seconds per touch. Hopefully, Snyder’s system won’t permit this. Young shot 37% on catch-and-shoot threes last year, which indicates he will still be incredibly effective on offense, even if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands the whole time.
The Hawks’ preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 10 was the first chance for fans to see a new and improved team. And it was there, in flashes. On the first play of the game, the Hawks’ offense was what I had hoped. Young immediately passed the ball, and rather than standing still as he has in years passed, he moved! The ball was swung around the arc as Young ran through multiple screens and eventually got the ball back for an open three.
Of course, the offense looked stale in the very next play. There was hardly any movement as Young shot a three with a fair amount of time left in the shot clock, but I’m going to assume this is because Snyder wasn’t applying full force until the regular season.
An addition to the offense that was consistently there was the increased tempo of play. Last season, Young would slowly waltz up the court before finally getting into the offense with only about 15 seconds left to shoot. It seemed that this was something Snyder addressed. On almost every possession, either Young or Murray would push the ball up the court and get into the offense with about 20 seconds left on the shot clock. This will hopefully give the team more chances to score and reduce the amount of times an offensive possession dies.
The Hawks’ starting five consisted of Young, Murray, center Clint Capela, and forwards Saddiq Bey and Jalen Johnson. De’Andre Hunter, who will definitely replace one of these forwards during the season, was on the sideline with guard Bogdan Bogdanovic resting until later in the preseason. It’s likely that Bey will get the starting nod over Johnson when the season tips off, since that’s the lineup Snyder chose whenever forward and ex-Hawk John Collins was injured.
The Hawks’ younger and more peripheral players were the ones that shined in their preseason debut. Twenty-year-old forward AJ Griffin, for example, scored 11 points in 23 minutes. Along with Hunter, Bey and Johnson, Griffin is expected to get significant minutes on the wing. His shooting provided nice spacing for the offense to function, although his defense was underwhelming.
Center Onyeka Okongwu scored 12 points in 19 minutes, but he’ll continue to be Capela’s backup this year. Between the two, the Hawks have one of the best center combinations in the league. Throughout his career, Capela has consistently averaged 10.7 rebounds per game and serves as a more traditional center, playing close to the basket and often being on the receiving end of Young’s lob passes. On the other hand, Okongwu is more of a modern center. At “only” six-feet-eight, he possesses the agility to easily defend perimeter players. He’s also recently developed a jump shot, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a pick-and-pop is implemented between him, Young or even Johnson.
Throughout the entire summer, I had accepted my fate. I had come to reckon with the fact that the Hawks were probably going to disappoint me–as they’ve done the past six years–and it would be healthier if I didn’t allow myself to have such high expectations.
But, as I attended the game and worked on this very article, thoughts began creeping in the back of my head. Young is 25-years-old now, surely he’s matured. Snyder was hired with only 20 games remaining, surely the lackluster coaching accounts for the mediocrity. And with Young’s supposed endorsement of Snyder, it feels like the sky’s the limit. Like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather Part III” (1990) : “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
Daniel Rosen (he/him) is from Atlanta, Georgia, majoring in film and media. He is part of Emory's improv comedy troupe, Rathskellar. Rosen spends his free time hoping the Atlanta Hawks will finally be good this year, playing tennis and trying to watch every movie.