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Atlanta Hawks at the quarter pole; Who is this team?

A great start, followed by a dreadful finish

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

We have reached the quarter pole of the NBA season and we can safely say that the 2016-17 season for the Atlanta Hawks has truly been an up and down affair. The team began the season with a 9-2 start and was among the league leaders at both ends of the floor.

As the schedule stiffened they came crashing back to reality quickly going 1-9 and are currently mired in a six-game losing streak.

What went right through the first 21 games?

The 9-2 start. Through the first 11 games, the Hawks had an offensive rating of 105.5 and a defensive rating of 95.0. Atlanta made a number of big changes during the summer and at this point of the season, they appeared to be just what they had needed. While there were some warning signs with how the starters were performing as a group, the bench unit played extremely well early and helped propel the team out of the gate.

The addition of Dwight Howard helped fortify the team’s defense at the rim early and his presence alone vaulted them into the top half of the league in rebounding.

What went wrong?

The next 10 games. Atlanta’s skid began on November 18 in a 100-96 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. The Hawks led in that game late before Howard was ejected for a flagrant elbow. Since then, they have gone 1-9 with an offensive rating of 91.8 and a defensive mark of 106.7. That 91.8 mark is by far the worst in the league over that span of games.

The Hawks came into the season with question marks about the offense. It was below average last season and none of the changes they made this offseason really helped that. The bench production masked that early but regression was to be expected. This is a team that is built on the defensive end of the floor. Their performance on defense fuels their offense. The Hawks simply can’t score enough to account for defensive slippage and that is what we have seen over the last 10 games.

All teams go through slumps and the NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint. But, this team has been non-competitive of late and that is a very big concern.

Team statistical trends:

I mentioned this earlier but there were warning signs even during the 9-2 start. Atlanta’s most used lineup has been a net negative virtually the entire season. The starting unit has been on the court together for 184 minutes and has been outscored by a total of 34 points. That number is skewed a bit due to Paul Millsap missing the last two games with a hip injury.

That wasn’t a problem early as the bench was surging but as the reserves have cooled, the Hawks have had much harder time putting the ball in the basket and pulling out victories. Dennis Schroder (-5.6), Kyle Korver (-6.9), Kent Bazemore (-4.9) and Dwight Howard (-2.1) all have negative net ratings through the first 21 games. If that trend doesn’t reverse itself, then it is going to be hard for Atlanta to find sustained success.

Atlanta ranks 29th in the league in turnovers averaging 17.0 per game. The normal starting lineup accounts for 11.3 of those. They have to get that figured out if they want to get things turned around.

Player by Player grades

Dwight Howard - B

When I started writing this article two weeks ago, I was sure that Howard was going to get an “A” for the way he had started the season. Now I feel like a “B” is almost too generous. Still, I am going to stick with a “B” due to the way he began the season and the way he has carried himself off the court.

I was one of the loudest critics of the Howard acquisition but I don’t think the way he has acclimated himself could have gone any better for Atlanta. He has said and done all of the right things and shown a level of leadership that we haven’t seen at any point during his career.

There are some things to be concerned about. Over the last couple of weeks, he hasn’t been near as active defensively or on the boards. The Hawks need a consistent effort from Howard every night.

Paul Millsap - A

If you ever wondered how valuable Paul Millsap was to this Hawks team then just look at the last two games they have played without him. Millsap is once again doing what he does and that is stuff the stat sheet at both ends of the floor. He is averaging 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Toss in 1.6 steals for good measure and he appears poised for another All-Star appearance. Millsap is the only starter with a positive net rating. The only negative was a nagging hip injury that has cost him the last two games.

Kent Bazemore - D

Atlanta inked Bazemore to a four-year, $70 million last summer and they can’t be happy with the early returns. Bazemore is averaging 11.2 points but is shooting just 37 percent from the field and just 30 percent from three-point range. Right now he looks like a guy who is pressing and is trying to live up to that big pay day. Like many of his teammates, he needs to relax, dig in defensively and let the offense come to him.

Kyle Korver - C-

There are two sides of the coin when evaluating Korver this season. He looks healthy, is shooting 44 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three-point range. However, he has struggled at times to find shots and the advanced numbers show that the team is no longer performing well with him on the floor. Now that can be as much about who he is playing with as anything but it is a concern.

Korver has a net rating of minus-6.9 which is third worst on the team. The team needs his shooting but they are going to have to find a way to put him in position to succeed.

Dennis Schröder - B-

Some have tried to pin Atlanta’s offensive struggles on the switch at point guard but I’m not really buying it. I don’t think Schröder has been nearly as bad as some have suggested. He is averaging a career-best 15.5 points while shooting 43 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point range. He is averaging 6.0 assists but also 3.0 turnovers.

The Hawks knew there would be some growing pains with Schröder but they didn’t account for the struggles of the rest of the starting lineup. His fearlessness sometimes works against him and you would like to see him to continue to make better decisions but this Schröder isn’t much different from the one that I was expecting.

Tim Hardaway Jr. - B+

Tim Hardaway Jr might be the most pleasant surprise of the season so far. He is averaging 11.2 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. The defensive metrics are good as well as his 4.4 net rating suggests. However, he is only shooting 31 percent from three-point range and is averaging less than two rebounds and assists per night.

Hardaway has been a valuable piece of Atlanta’s bench unit and has impressed with his ability to attack the basket. I’d like to see him shoot the ball a bit better from the perimeter but for a guy that was labeled a question mark coming in, I don’t think you could ask for much more.

Thabo Sefolosha - B

Sefolosha was a big part of the bench’s success during Atlanta’s fast start. His good health has been apparent on several acrobatic finishes over the first 21 games. He got off to a red hot start offensively but has cooled somewhat of late.

Malcolm Delaney - B

Atlanta surprised everyone when they parted ways with Jarrett Jack during the preseason and elected to go with just two true point guards on the roster. Delaney put those concerns to bed early on as part of the bench group that carried the Hawks early. Delaney’s numbers don’t jump out at you and he has struggled with his shot shooting just 38 percent from the floor and 23 percent from three-point range.

Still, Atlanta has played well with him on the court and he has the best net rating (8.8) of any player to receive consistent playing time. With that said, you’d like to see those shooting percentages improve over the next 20 games.

Kris Humphries - C-

Atlanta brought back Kris Humphries to provide depth and muscle to the front line. His strength is rebounding where he is averaging 9.6 per game on a per 36-minute basis. He has been in and out of the rotation depending on the matchup.

Mike Muscala - B+

Many thought Muscala might be a long shot just to make Atlanta’s roster but he has emerged as the team’s top sub off the bench in the front court. Muscala made some changes to his shot during the offseason and looks confident on the offensive end. The numbers back it up with 54 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent shooting from three-point range.

Taurean Prince - B

Prince hasn’t been a consistent part of the rotation over the first 21 games but he has played well when given opportunities. If the Hawks continue to struggle, they need to look to find more time for Prince on the court.

Mike Scott - Incomplete

Scott has played in just three games this season and returned at a time when Atlanta was playing its worst basketball of the season. Scott has been out since the end of training camp so some rust is to be expected. Once he has his feet under him, the Hawks could really use his ability to stretch the floor.

DeAndre’ Bembry - Incomplete

The highlight of the first 21 games for Bembry was a 35-point performance in his D-League debut just last week. I’d like to see more of an opportunity for him to play but I don’t really see how that can happen at this point.

Ryan Kelly - Incomplete

Feels like Kelly could probably add something to the mix but he has a number of guys in front of him.

Tiago Splitter - Incomplete

A hip injury turned into a hamstring injury which turned into a calf injury. I’m as big a fan of Splitter of anyone but at this point anything you receive from him has to be considered as a bonus.