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5 keys for the Hawks to avoid the play-in tournament

How Atlanta can keep up the momentum to secure themselves a top six seed in the East with a competitive Eastern Conference?

By Bruce Wyatt | 11/8/2022

(Photo by Adam Hagy, Getty Images)

Being only ten games into the NBA season, we are just now getting our first look at our new players and how they are currently fitting in with the team. Boasting a 7-3 record with a huge win against the previously undefeated Milwaukee Bucks was massive for an Atlanta Hawks team playing without star point guard Trae Young. In Young's absence, Atlanta's bench mob scored 59 total points, not only erasing the first quarter deficit created by Milwaukee's eight first quarter three's but keeping the game close until the Hawks were able to pull away in the second half. This production from the bench was a welcome sight as Hawks fans were able to see what our new players have in store for us. However, to ensure the Hawks will not be participating in the dangerous play-in tournament, they will need to keep up the intensity and focus on a few crucial factors mentioned below.

Stay Hungry on the Glass!

In Monday's upset win over Milwaukee, Atlanta was crazy aggressive trying to snag rebounds all game, out rebounding the Bucks 48-41. This mark held Milwaukee to 10 rebounds below their season average. Limiting second chance opportunities is crucial if Atlanta wants to escape the play-in tournament. Many "easy" games can be dropped due to a couple lazy plays or bad possessions, so Atlanta needs to be crashing the boards, regardless of whether they are shooting or defending. The Hawks definitely have the tools available to them to be a top 5 rebounding team in the league with the strong anchor presence of Clint Capela (10.2 RPG) along with hyper athletic forward John Collins (8.9 RPG), Atlanta is equipped with the assets to be bullying opponents in the paint night in and night out. With important contributions from triple double threat Dejounte Murray and Onyeka Okongwu, the Hawks should always have a lineup that can contend for the boards. In basketball, the team that controls the glass controls the game, and there is no reason to believe that the Hawks can't be viewed as a top rebounding team in the league.

Continue to Keep Young Guys Involved in the Rotation!

After a breakout performance against the previously undefeated Bucks with 24 points, Hawks Head Coach Nate McMillan will now be forced to increase AJ Griffin's minutes in the rotation, much to Hawks fans delight. Griffin was an offensive sparkplug with his first real chance at playing time, shooting a crazy efficient 66.7% from the field. He has shown enough promise in his previous games to potentially earned more minutes, however Coach McMillan is not too fond of playing rookies and younger talent. This could be one of the Hawks biggest downfalls this season. I worry if Nate does not keep young talents such as Griffin as well as second year Duke talent Jalen Johnson, then Atlanta's offense may become stagnant at times, leading to more losses on the season. After seeing the impact Onyeka Okongwu has off the bench every night, there is no reason to suggest that Griffin and Johnson cannot be trusted with valuable minutes. It is unfortunate it took a Trae Young injury to finally get Griffin a lot of minutes, however Hawks fans should be thankful it happened at all. You definitely should see more of Griffin to come as Coach Nate becomes more and more comfortable using him in the offense.

Consistent Defense Every Night!

It is no secret Atlanta hopes to improve their porous defense from last season as they found themselves with a bottom five overall defensive rating. So far, they have definitely improved, hovering around the 12-14 range so far this season. Atlanta also boasts 8.1 steals and 5.7 blocks per night, putting them in the top ten in both categories. So, at this point, the Hawks need smarter rotations and defensive sets to contend with high scoring teams. Many games this season, I see so many wide-open threes shot by opponents. This is inexcusable especially considering the defensive wing threats of Dejounte Murray and DeAndre Hunter. The Hawks sacrificed some shooting in the Kevin Huerter trade for better defensive minded players such as Justin Holliday. Justin, along with his brother Aaron, both are consistent defenders off the bench and are constantly hustling and sprinting on defense. These guards combined with the defensive anchor Onyeka Okongwu provide a much needed defensive boost off the bench that will need to capitalize on their minutes this season.

Focus on Fast Break Opportunities!

Last season, Atlanta averaged the fewest fast break points with a measly 9.5 a game on the year. This was probably one of the most overlooked stats when considering the Hawks mediocre performance last year. Last season, the Hawks were poor on defense being ranked bottom five in defensive rating. The Hawks were not hustling down the court and getting back on defense. This allows young, hungry teams to out-hustle Atlanta as it truly did not seem like Atlanta wanted it last season. However, with this season's amazing start, the Hawks are averaging 16.3 fast break points per game which is a massive step up from last season. This is largely due to new defensive presences such as Dejounte Murray. With Murray's amazing defense and hustle, the entire Atlanta unit as a whole seems more energized and willing to sprint down the floor trying to get every point possible. If the Hawks can be in a position where they are punishing opponents by running the break, then you will see some massive blowouts this season in Atlanta's favor. The Hawks have too much talent to be allowed to dominate in the fast break and teams around the league are going to need to take notice.

Let Dejounte Murray Eat!

Dejounte Murray has gotten off to a terrific start in Atlanta, quickly silencing those who would doubt his impact as a Hawk. The 26-year-old All Star guard has started off hot this season, scoring an impressive 22.3 PPG on 45.7% FG. Averaging an impressive 8.4 assists as well as 6.5 rebounds establishes Dejounte as a triple double threat just about every night. His scoring and playmaking make Murray a dynamic player with and without the ball, and the league is starting to take notice. Moving forward, Atlanta MUST get Murray open looks in the mid-range and create opportunities for him to attack. The Hawks need these opportunities for consistent offense, especially in non-Trae Young minutes. Dejounte is a killer from mid-range, and once he gets to his spot refuses to miss. Whenever he shoots from mid-range it always feels like it will go in and in a clutch situation, I think is the best opportunity the Hawks have of going and getting a bucket. I think utilizing Dejounte is clutch situations will be crucial as defenders will naturally assume Trae Young is getting the ball. So, if Atlanta can constantly punish other teams in the mid-range when focus is on Trae, then teams will be lost on defense trying to keep up with both All-Star guards. The need for this was evident in last year's playoffs where Miami trapped Trae Young for the entire series, essentially not letting him touch the ball. That kind of defensive focus cannot be repeated again as Dejounte Murray is plenty capable to scoring and playmaking for his team on a high level, especially when Trae is being trapped or guarded tightly.

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