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Turnovers and poor defense pave the way to another Hawks loss

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The same problems that have plagued the club all year cropped up again against Sacramento.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another loss for the Atlanta Hawks.

Things were particularly ugly for the club against the Sacramento Kings at State Farm Arena on Thursday night, when the Hawks coughed up 22 turnovers and were summarily blown out by the visitors by a score of 146-115. The 31-point loss was almost entirely due to the Kings doubling up Atlanta in the third quarter, 46-23, during which time Sacramento point guard De’Aaron Fox scored 21 points, dished out three assists, and grabbed three rebounds in a tour de force performance that saw him pick up the first triple-double of his young career. Fox and teammate Buddy Hield were dominant for Sacramento, combining for 58 points on the night and 8-for-11 shooting from beyond the three-point line.

Fox made life very difficult for Hawks point guard Trae Young on both ends of the floor, pressuring the rookie into eight turnovers to go with his immense offensive performance. While Fox was only personally responsible for one steal in the box score, his speed and length bothered Young throughout the night, as did the Sacramento defensive scheme, which did well to take away his ability to take open three-pointers.

Young finished just 0-for-1 from beyond the arc, instead doing most of his damage from inside. There are always positives to take from any performance and one of them for Atlanta has to be Young’s aggressiveness getting to the rim and solid finishing when he found himself closer to the basket.

He finished 0-for-2 outside the paint but 6-for-11 at the basket, an area in which he’s already improved just eight games into his professional career. The difference between his aggressiveness in the first few games of the season and now is nearly night and day — he was passing up lanes to the basket to take contested floaters against New York and Memphis, but ever since his scoring outburst against Cleveland on October 21, he’s been much more willing to get all the way to the rim.

The most important medium-term takeaway from the thorough drubbing the Hawks took from Sacramento was the injury to Kevin Huerter, which looked much worse in the moment than it turned out after the game. In the first quarter, Huerter was shielding the ball as it was headed out of bounds and Hield dove through the back of his legs in an attempt to get to the ball, which ended up hurting Huerter’s right ankle.

The Hawks quickly ruled him out for the rest of the game, but it seems unlikely that he’ll miss significant time — he had no ice or brace on the ankle in the locker room after the game and only had a slight limp on his way out. His status is uncertain for Saturday’s tilt with the Miami Heat, but it shouldn’t be too much longer before he’s back on the court.

In Huerter’s absence, Tyler Dorsey saw significant minutes on the wing. He had been out of the rotation for much of the season after Huerter made it clear that he was more deserving of that spot than the second-year guard out of Oregon, but in a surprise appearance due to Huerter’s injury, Dorsey showed some of the signature offensive punch that earned him his draft slot in 2017. It’s absolutely no secret that I’ve been incredibly critical of Dorsey’s game and while I remain very skeptical of his future in the NBA, it has to be said that he played well in this game and, quite frankly, has played better than I expected throughout his limited minutes this season.

He’s still a poor defender and likely won’t ever get to a passable level there, but if he can bring enough offensive juice, he’ll have a spot in the league for longer than just this season, after which he’ll be a free agent. Dorsey finished 4-for-6 from two-point range in this game and flashed some more ball handling and finishing skill than he did during his rookie season.

Team defense continues to be Atlanta’s Achilles heel. The Kings pushed the ball down the Hawks’ throats throughout the game, even running at every opportunity in garbage time in the fourth quarter, but things weren’t great for Atlanta when they were able to keep Sacramento in their half-court offense.

The Kings scored 105.4 points per 100 half-court possessions on Thursday night, an excellent mark for half-court offense. When the Kings weren’t scoring in the half-court, they were scoring in transition, taking advantage of the Hawks’ turnovers to create an extra 8.3 points per 100 possessions off live-ball steals, which comprised 14 of Atlanta’s 22 turnovers.

If these patterns continue, there will be very, very few wins for the Hawks this season and considerable roster turnover, both in-season with head coach Lloyd Pierce’s lineups and in the offseason. Pierce has already developed a reputation for mixing and matching his players constantly in an effort to find a lineup that works. The context of his words after the game don’t quite match the words themselves, but it wasn’t inaccurate in the least when he told reporters, “No one’s really deserving of having minutes.” Top to bottom, there are very few bright spots and a whole lot of fixes needed on the Atlanta roster.

In what was always going to be a grim season from a wins and losses perspective, Atlanta was at least supposed to start somewhat better than they have. With eight games under their belts, they’ve played by far the league’s easiest schedule, drawing just one prospective playoff team in the bunch earlier this week against Philadelphia.

Things continue that way for a few more games, but starting with a Veteran’s Day visit to Los Angeles to see LeBron James and company, the competition picks up significantly. Pierce will challenge his players to step up to the plate against some of the best teams the league has to offer, including the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors and red-hot Denver Nuggets right after that Lakers game, but there will be no improvement until the defense picks up and the turnovers are significantly cut.