After getting out to a hot 3-0 start to the season, the Atlanta Hawks have dropped their last three games, putting them at a 4-4 record.
The last three losses have sparked fans and journalist’s memories of all of the losing the last couple of seasons. Some concern is warranted for how the Hawks are currently playing, especially because the last three losses came in a home stretch. All three of the dropped games were results of bad halves of basketball played in each, and the bench play has not been up to standard for a winning team — which is what the organization is aiming to be.
There are a couple of positive notes to take away, however, even if the team has not played up to expectations the last week. First, the Hawks have won a few games this year that they just wouldn’t have last year with the way the team was constructed. This is obviously an improved roster filled with more competent players.
The most important thing to remember, however, is that the Hawks have yet to play at full strength. The new-look roster has been injury-riddled, and the team has been missing one or more key players in each game they have played this season.
Right off the bat, starting center Clint Capela missed the first two games of the season. Now that he is in the lineup, the rebounding for the Hawks has visibly improved from last season. He is a presence in the paint that Atlanta lacked before this year.
More recent injuries to new acquisitions Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo have notable impacted the Hawks in a negative way. Gallinari has missed six games due to injury, and he is being reevaluated later in January for an ankle sprain he suffered against the Brooklyn Nets.
Gallinari was a key signing this offseason, and he was shaping up to be an important part of the offense before he went out. Atlanta has not been the same on that end since the injury. He and Trae Young have potential to create a dangerous pick-and-pop game.
Rondo was an immediate upgrade at the backup point guard position for Atlanta, and he has already showed that he is a competent playmaker behind Young. He will miss Saturday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, but his right knee soreness will be reviewed before the Hawks go on a three-game road trip out west.
Both of these players are clear positives for the Hawks and make the bench unit a comparably strong lineup, so when they are back and healthy, the Hawks will likely falter less when Young, John Collins and Capela are off the floor.
Those are the two injured players that have been featured in games so far this season, but there are three players who have not played a game yet for the Hawks: Kris Dunn, Onyeka Okongwu and Tony Snell.
All of these guys were offseason acquisitions, but have not played for the Hawks yet due to varying injuries.
Dunn will bring perimeter defense that the Hawks are desperately missing. He is unfortunately out indefinitely due to knee and ankle issues, but when he dresses out for the Hawks, he projects to be an immediate defensive upgrade.
Okongwu’s role is yet to be determined with the featured bigs already on the team, but he will provide depth and potential for the hawks down low. Okongwu is probably more of a project for the Hawks, but his depth is something that the teem needs behind Capela.
The most underrated of these three players is probably Snell. Snell’s foot injury has kept him out this season, and it is unclear when he will make his debut, but he will provide wing depth behind De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish that the hawks clearly need.
All told, the group of currently injured players — Gallinari, Rondo, Dunn, Okongwu and Snell — accounts for only 59 total minutes in the first eight games.
As of Friday afternoon, Lloyd Pierce indicated that both Okongwu and Snell were participants in the team’s practice, taking part in 5-on-5 activity. That signals a potential return in the near future, which should add to the team’s depth.
The current state of the Hawks may look a little dark in the aftermath of three straight losses, but there is a lot to look forward to. The team is not near full strength, and once they are, the Hawks can be a potentially dangerous team in the East.