The 2020-21 NBA season is nearly here and, after the longest break in recorded history, the Atlanta Hawks will return to action in the coming days. Before the regular season tips off on Dec. 23, the Peachtree Hoops is coming together for a ten-part roundtable series, setting the stage for what’s to come. In part five, our writers attempt to peg the team’s biggest weakness.
Brad Rowland: It’s still defense. Now, I should say that the Hawks absolutely have a better defensive structure on paper than a year ago, with Capela near the rim and players like Kris Dunn on the perimeter. From there, Atlanta’s young players should improve defensively when compared to 2019-20, and that also helps. Still, the Hawks don’t project to be an above-average defensive team, so that’s the broad area that is the most prevalent concern.
Wes Morton: I’ll be a bit more specific and say perimeter defense. I think the interior presence is pretty solid with the additions of Capela at the midseason trade deadline and Okongwu through the draft, but I’m not sure the perimeter defense improved appreciably despite the addition of Dunn. A lot will rest on the hopes that Reddish and Hunter develop into wing clamps, and the continued Dunn excellence there, to offset mostly negative contributions on that side of play from the rest of the backcourt.
Glen Willis: I think they will continue to find that rebounding will continue to be a struggle when their best offensive lineups are on the court. It would be easy to continue to point at the overall defense but, for me, that’s going to come down to the coaching staff’s ability to get enough defense on the court as they rotate through different lineups. If they can’t make it a priority to find minutes for Kris Dunn, for example, then the issue won’t be that the team completely lacks players that can defend. It will be finding lineups that offer balanced play. But rebounding will be a separate and more persistent issue from that, in my view.
Daniel Comer: It’s going to be defense, especially at the beginning of the season, since these guys haven’t played together before. I do think Atlanta did a great job shoring up its second unit (which is going to look very similar to last season’s first unit) this offseason, but I also still worry about secondary playmaking. Who is going to step up when Young is out of the game?
Josh Lane: Defense overall will be an issue for the Hawks especially if they use the offensive juggernaut lineup of Trae, Bogdan, Hunter/Reddish, Gallinari and Collins to close games. But just for fun, I will say that the play at center will be a huge issue if Capela were to miss any time due to energy. If he goes down, it will be a trial by fire of Fernando and Okongwu, with a sprinkle of Collins.
Rashad Milligan: I will also say defense. Like Lloyd Pierce has said, you can bring in individually great defenders, but it means little to nothing if those guys can’t get the other players to buy into team defense. Also, I want to take this space to thank the AJC’s Sarah Spencer for not letting up on asking the team about defense this preseason.
Graham Chapple: Though the Hawks have acquired some defensive help in the form of Clint Capela and Kris Dunn, it’s still a big problem for the Hawks. I think most analysts agree that the Hawks will be good offensively but they (rightly) have many concerns about the Hawks’ defense. If you can find defensive improvements from Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Kevin Huerter, that will help but not solve their defensive issues. As fantastic as Trae Young is offensively, his defense is a problem. He will have better protection behind him this year which will help somewhat if/when he is beaten defensively but to rely on that is dangerous. No one is asking him to be a world beater defensively but needs to find some improvement somewhere, just through effort. The Hawks have upgraded offensively in terms of scoring and playmaking, so Young doesn’t need to ‘save it all’ and take possessions off defensively as he did at times last season. Even this doesn’t solve the Hawks’ defense but it would certainly help
Ryan Kerley: Everybody is saying defense. I think we need to see this team on the floor before we make a decision. Fixing the defense was obviously one of the top priorities of the front offense. Rondo, Dunn and Okongwu were all acquisitions that improve the defense. I think this team is going to be a lot better. It’s hard not to say that the perimeter defense will be below average just because of Young’s limitations.
Joel Lorenzi: Hard to not sound like a broken record here, but defense. Capela will now mostly strip Collins of his inside duties, but there will always be that gap in the backcourt. The perimeter defense is where they lack, and though they’ve acquired Dunn, their ability to hide the weaknesses of the starting backcourt will depend on how they rotate their guards. As I mentioned before, even an individual on-ball defender like Hunter has to really value and improve on team defense. It’s all about habits and rotation at this point.
Zach Hood: Defense. Gallinari and Bogdanovic aren’t exactly stoppers, and Trae Young is still playing huge minutes obviously. Kris Dunn and Clint Capela will help, but still expect the offense to be better than the defense.