Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young warming up against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 28 2021 (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/All-Pro Reels) 

Being a Hawks fan feels like watching a Christopher Nolan movie. The same thing — the Hawks underperforming despite having a talented roster – plays out over and over to the point that I don’t even know what year it is or how time works. Last year, after the Hawks made a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals in the prior season, they entered last season’s All-Star break at 28-30, one game worse than this season. The Hawks are consistently inconsistent.

Three-point shooting was a strength for the Hawks last season, but this year, it has been a point of weakness. In the 2021-2022 season, the Hawks finished second in the league with a 37.4% three-point shooting percentage, but they are currently ranked 22nd shooting 34% beyond the arc. While we can most definitely attribute this to the losses of forward Danilo Gallinari and shooting guard Kevin Huerter via trade, those remaining on the team are also responsible. 

Compared to last season, point guard Trae Young’s shooting has wavered. Young previously shot 38.2% on eight three-point attempts per game, and is currently shooting 32.4% on just under seven attempts. And it’s not like he’s been getting different looks. 

The National Basketball Association (NBA) defines an “open shot” as one where the defender is four to six feet away from the shooter. Last year, Young shot 35.2% on open threes, but this year he is shooting 28.5%. Since Jan. 1, Young’s shooting has improved. He is currently shooting 38% from three, an obvious improvement from the beginning of the season when he was closer to 30%. 

Young and guard Dejounte Murray’s play together hasn’t been terrible, but it certainly hasn’t opened up the Hawks’ offense as I’d hoped. It was probably naive of me to think Young would become a threat off the ball, always in motion à la Steph Curry, but Young hasn’t improved this aspect of his game at all. Last season, he averaged one catch-and-shoot three-pointer per game, and this year he is only up to 1.4. 

Take this possession from their matchup against the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 9 as an example: even though Young makes the shot, their offense is stagnant. Murray drives to the elbow, while everyone just watches as Young slowly glides halfway across the court and shoots a 36-footer. The shot went in, but it was a terrible possession, especially at the end of a game. 

Forward De’Andre Hunter has also had a slightly underwhelming season. Other than a slight increase in points and rebounds per game, his stats are identical to last season. Like Young, Hunter had a good January, averaging 17 points and shooting nearly 40% from three. However, I have started to wonder if Hunter will ever reach his full potential as a scoring forward when forced to play in an offense so reliant on Young. 

Third-year center Onyeka Okongwu has also played well in his still-limited role. Okongwu only plays about 24 minutes per game. However, in games where he has played upwards of 30 minutes, Okongwu has shown potential – his smaller frame allows him to move quicker than other centers and defend multiple positions. 

Fans caught a glimpse of Okongwu at his best in a January game against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 13. Okongwu started in place of injured center Clint Capela, scored 18 points, grabbed 20 boards and blocked four shots in just under 40 minutes of play. Coupled with his per-36 minutes stats, this game suggests that the Hawks have good insurance if they ever decide to move on from Capela.

Understandably, forward John Collins has had a tough season. Collins holds the unofficial record for the longest time on the trade block. He hasn’t been as aggressive offensively as one would hope, especially in the Hawks’ pick-and-roll heavy offense. But again, it’s hard to blame him when it seemed like he’d be traded every other day. Maybe now that the trade deadline has passed and his future in Atlanta is secure, his play will improve. 

Speaking of trades, the Hawks made a final one before last week’s trade deadline, acquiring forward Saddiq Bey in a four-team deal. Bey gives the Hawks good scoring depth at the forward spot, while also providing decent defending and rebounding. 

A team can never have too much depth, yet I worry about how Bey will fit in with Hunter and Collins, while young forward Jalen Johnson continues to fight for minutes.  What Bey likely offers is insurance at the forward position in case the Hawks trade Collins this summer.

Rookie wing AJ Griffin has been outstanding. Many Hawks fans, including myself, were surprised to see him even get minutes due to head coach Nate McMillan’s past hesitancies to play young players, but Griffin has excelled this season. He is shooting 39.4% from three-point range and is a good defender, all while being the third youngest player in the league. 

If the Hawks want any type of playoff success, the key is their defense. When the Hawks show effort on defense, it creates transition offense and improves their half-court offense simultaneously. A perfect example is the aforementioned game on Feb. 9 against the Suns.

Even Young, who is pretty notorious for his lackluster defense in previous seasons, showed great effort this time which is refreshing to see. And if he and the team can keep it up, it would be quite advantageous.

The theme for the Hawks this season has been, as aforementioned, inconsistency. They played well against the Suns but then played probably their two worst games of the season against the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks before the All-Star break. After showing how good they can be defensively, the Hawks allowed the Hornets, who are currently ranked dead last in offensive rating, to score 144 points. The Hornets have won 16 games all season and three of them have come against Atlanta, scoring over 120 points in each of them. 

Roughly 36 hours before this article was set to be published, news broke that the Hawks had fired McMillan, with lead assistant Joe Prunty being named as the interim head coach. I had predicted in the previous iteration of this article that the Hawks and McMillan would part ways this summer, so this didn’t come as a complete shock but it certainly was surprising. 

McMillan was by no means the perfect coach and fans have treated him as a punching bag throughout this season. But it wouldn’t be fair to call him a bad coach — you don’t coach over 1400 NBA games without knowing a little about basketball. Still, this season especially showed that the league may have passed McMillan by, and emphasized his lack of creativity offensively. With the roster’s playmaking and diverse shotmaking ability, it is disappointing how motionless and stale the Hawks’ offense often is. The Hawks are 30-30 with just over a quarter of the season remaining. With the talent they have on the roster, one would think they’d figure it out, but the 60 games they’ve already played suggest otherwise. Perhaps the pattern of slow and gradual improvement will increase, but it is hard to believe they’ll be able to make noise in the playoffs, like many thought they would last summer.

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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.