The All-Star game in Atlanta has come and gone, with the Hawks returning to action on Thursday. The team is currently on a mini-winning streak and, with the upcoming schedule, it is not impossible to think the streak could continue.
Now to get to what we have been waiting for, and that is this week’s power rankings.
NBA.com — No. 20
The Hawks won their last two games going into the break. Nate McMillan’s first game as interim head coach was, appropriately, the slowest-paced game of the season. His second featured a comeback from 19 points down in Orlando. Tony Snell hit the go-ahead 3 on Wednesday and has shot 15-for-26 (58%) from 3-point range in his six games as a starter. De’Andre Hunter will remain out, but the Hawks got Bogdan Bogdanovic back from a 25-game absence last week.
The Hawks begin their post-break schedule with an important game in Tampa on Thursday. They’re just a half game out of a spot in the Play-In Club, but are currently 3-6 against the six teams between them in fifth place in the East.
Three numbers to know:
1. Only the Warriors have seen a bigger jump in point differential per 100 possessions than the Hawks, who were outscored by 7.4 per 100 (third worst) last season. Atlanta has been the league’s third most improved team offensively (+5.7 per 100) and its sixth most improved team defensively (-1.9).
2. The Hawks have outscored their opponents by 2.4 points per game, the league’s second biggest differential, on free throws. They’re the only team that ranks in the top five in both free throw percentage (82.2%, fifth) and free throw rate (29.1 attempts per 100 shots from the field, third). They’ve seen the league’s biggest drop in opponent free throw rate, from 30.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field (29th) last season to 25.2 (15th) this season.
3. Trae Young has 90 assists to John Collins and 74 assists to Clint Capela. Those are the second and fourth most assists from any player to a single teammate. Young leads the league with 163 assists on field goals in the restricted area.
ESPN — No. 23
Second-half storyline: Can McMillan lead a second-half surge?
Atlanta already made a big move by firing coach Lloyd Pierce just two and a half years into his tenure with the team. Now, the second half of the season should be figuring out how the team responds to interim coach Nate McMillan. McMillan told reporters on March 2 that he accepted the job only after Pierce told him he needed to “take this opportunity.” The first two games under McMillan have been a success. The Hawks defeated the Miami Heat by 14 in his first game and then came back from 19 down to defeat the Orlando Magic the following night. With player buy-in, McMillan could get the team back on the right track of a season that started with playoff aspirations.
Games to watch
March 20 vs. Lakers: This is the start of an NBA-long eight-game road trip for Atlanta. They’ll depart Atlanta on March 19 and won’t return until after they play the Pelicans on April 2.
April 15 vs. Bucks: The Hawks’ first game against a team in the top four in the East in the second half doesn’t come until here.
May 6 at Pacers: McMillan gets a chance to travel to the team that let him go in the offseason. The Pacers are one of the teams in the mix for the final playoff spots the Hawks are chasing as well.
Bold prediction: Trae Young’s shooting touch and his penchant for drawing free throws will give him a chance to break the Hawks’ all-time single-game scoring record of 57, one shared by Hall of Famers Bob Pettit and Dominique Wilkins.
CBS Sports — No. 21
First-half disappointment culminated in the firing of Lloyd Pierce just before the break, but he certainly didn’t have a full roster to work with. De’Andre Hunter was in the midst of a breakout season before a knee injury, while offseason signings Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo have all missed significant time. Trae Young has gone in and out of shooting slumps, but overall the numbers are good, while John Collins is having one of the most efficient offensive seasons in the league. We’ll see if they can stay healthy under interim coach Nate McMillan.
The Hawks have moved up slightly and with strong play after the break, the team could rise even more. If Atlanta can continue to get healthy and gain consistency, then it might not be too crazy to think this team can make the playoffs.