Hawks Thoughts 22-23: Off-Season Review/Keys To Success/Thoughts From Game 1

The Atlanta Hawks enter the 2022-23 season as a team searching for an identity.

After an improbable Eastern Conference Finals run two seasons ago which saw a young team scratch and claw their way to within two games of an NBA Finals berth, the Hawks disappointed in 21-22 – struggling to find their rhythm early on in the season, before squeezing their way into the playoffs and falling to the Miami Heat in a forgettable first round playoff series.

Hawks 21-22 summary:

Record: 43-39

Offense Net Rating: 116.3 (2nd)

Defensive Net Rating: 114.8 (26th)

Postseason: First round LOSS (1-4) vs. Miami Heat

Playtype Notes (from

P&R Ball-Handler: 22% frequency (2nd), 0.92 PPP (T-5th) - regular season. 15.8%, 0.72 PPP - playoffs

P&R Roll-Man: 6.4% frequency (T-8th), 1.31 PPP (1st by a lot) - regular season. 3.1%, 0.56 PPP (last by a lot) - playoffs

Spot-up: 21.5% frequency, 1.10 PPP (2nd) - regular season. 31%, 0.96 PPP - playoffs (0.96 PPP would’ve ranked 27th in the regular season - Pistons level efficiency)

Transition: 13.9% frequency (26th), 1.17 PPP (T-3rd) - regular season

Isolation: 7.8% frequency (11th), 0.88 PPP (T-15th) - regular season

Despite finishing the regular season with the league’s second most efficient offense, Atlanta’s disappointing performance in the postseason exposed many of their key flaws - namely, the lack of a secondary playmaker to compliment Trae Young as well as prop up the offense in the Young-less minutes, a stimied offense when facing a switch-everything defensive scheme, and their own disingenuous effort on the less-glamorous end of the floor.

Nobody could blame Travis Schlenk for betting on his young core, and remaining mostly stagnant the off-season prior. However after some pointed comments made by team owner, Tony Ressler, back in March, calling out his organization for complacency "at all levels", it was clear that Schlenk, as well as new GM Landry Fields, had their work cut out for them going into this offseason – as Schlenk vowed to return an "upgraded roster" in ’22-’23.

On June 30th, the Hawks traded for San Antonio Spurs guard, Dejounte Murray, toppling the first (and largest) domino in their off-season rejuvenation plan.

As Brad Rowland of the Locked On Hawks podcast put it, the Hawks certainly "paid full price" for Murray, as their package of Danilo Gallinari, three first-round picks plus a pick swap, is quite a hefty one for a player with only a single All-Star selection to his name (and only two years remaining on a team-friendly deal). But when you think about Atlanta’s short-comings last season, Murray’s skill set should be welcomed when compared to what they were getting from Kevin Huerter as the starting 2-guard.

For one, he is a significantly better defender - Murray led the league in steals last year with 2 thefts a game vs. Red Velvet, who despite his effort, has been a below-average defender thus far in his career. Second, Murray is better with the ball in his hands, and is much more adept at exploiting gaps in the defense then creating for himself and others - something the Hawks sorely lacked last season outside of Young. As the Spurs starting point guard, Murray ran 714 pick and rolls last year compared to Huerter’s 170, and ranked 4th in the league in assists last year, underscoring his level of comfort as a playmaker (stats from

While Huerter’s fit next to Young may have been "easier" (i.e. more conducive to Young’s current style of play), the Murray addition gives their offense a second engine, giving them the option to tap into Trae Young’s gravity as an off-ball scorer to reduce the burden on Young against elite defenses. In the Heat series, we saw Young try and break down his man time and time again to no avail, and while we certainly don’t want to see him struggle, it was more concerning that the Hawks couldn’t make any adjustments to make him more comfortable.

Murray’s addition should solve this issue, the only question is whether Young is willing to embrace Murray’s strengths, cede some early shot-clock touches to Murray, and learn how to move off the ball to create better looks for his teammates in the halfcourt - things which he has showed signs of embracing during the preseason.

The Hawks followed up the Murray acquisition by acquiring the Holiday brothers, Justin and Aaron - trading the aforementioned Kevin Huerter for Justin, Mo Harkless (flipped for Vit Krejci on 9/27) and a protected 2024 first-round pick, then signing Aaron to a one-year deal in free agency. Both the Holiday’s will be dependable role players, who will not lack for effort on either end of the floor.

Justin, a 10 year NBA veteran, will provide a shooting threat on offense (career 36.5% from three), and looks to be a steady cog in the bench unit this season. Aaron, entering his 6th season, is a solid option as the team’s 3rd point guard (career 2.5:1 assist to turnover ratio), and will look to fill in if one of Murray or Young misses time. If preseason is any indication, don’t be surprised to see both the Holiday’s (particularly, Aaron) running with the second unit until Bogdan Bogdanovic returns.

While the three players I just mentioned will likely have the greatest on-court impact of the Hawks new additions, it’s worth noting that Atlanta also added forwards, A.J. Griffin and Tyrese Martin through the draft, as well as Frank Kaminsky III to provide some depth and shooting at the center position. Griffin, who many Hawks fans are excited about after seeing him shoot 8-16 from three-point land in the preseason, may not see too many minutes this season as it appears he will take a similar path to Jalen Johnson - last year’s first round pick - who spent some time with the College Park SkyHawks and only played spot minutes for the Atlanta Hawks during the regular season, before breaking into the Hawks rotation this year.

Speaking of Johnson, I’m very excited to see what the 20 year-old brings to the team this season. He’s a tremendous athlete with a nose for scoring, and decent playmaking for someone his size. The question with him has been defense, an area in which his athleticism gives him an inherent advantage, and which he has talked about improving in the off-season. The hard work is paying off in preseason!

In addition to Johnson, the Hawks can also expect internal improvement from Onyeka Okungwu, John Collins, Deandre Hunter (fresh off signing a 4-year/95-million dollar extension on Monday), and of course Trae Young. All five are players drafted during Schlenk’s reign, and it’s nice to see that they all have important roles to play going into the season.

The Hawks also return starting center Clint Capela, as well as Bogdan Bogdanovic, who should be the team’s 6th man once he returns from injury (no timetable).

Yet, despite the off-season additions and internal improvement, the East is better this season. And when I think about how the Hawks stack up to their competition, I (like most) struggle to see them finishing ahead of teams with proven star-power such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics.

After that first tier, all signs point to the up and coming Cleveland Cavaliers, who rivaled the Hawks with their own All-Star guard acquisition in Donovan Mitchell, being a tough team to beat. The Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors are both first-class organizations who seemingly sprinkle championship DNA into their player’s morning protein shakes – both of them will play hard, and would consider a first-round playoff exit a dissapointment. The Brooklyn Nets, despite all the off-season hoopla, still have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the roster - who are both itching to put the league on notice after their own disappointing performances in last year’s playoffs.

Including the Hawks, that’s eight teams who you wouldn’t call crazy for seeing themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals eight months from now. I think it’s realistic to see the Hawks placing anywhere between the 5-8 seeds in the East - if they are hosting a playoff series come April, I think that should be viewed as a tremendous success, and anything lower, would pose some seriously difficult questions heading into next season.

Below are a few things I think are important to watch for early-on in the season:


Strong Start: Hawks are a combined 31-39 in their first 35 games of the season going back to the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Last November, Trae Young infamously admitted to finding the regular season "boring" which is not something you want your team leader to be saying out loud. This was followed by a pretty tense radio interview from Schlenk in January, where he called out the team for their lack of effort on the defensive end of the floor, and openly pondered whether it was "such a good idea to bring everyone back this season (2021-22)".

To put it short, the early season loafing cannot continue into 2022-23. As I mentioned earlier, the East is better this year, but so is the league as a whole, which means the "easy matchups" will be fewer and further between - at least until January or so when a few of the bottom team’s will inevitably pull the plug for increased odds of landing the NBA’s next big thing in Victor Wembanyama. I am optimistic that the team will get out to a strong start this year - not just because they have one of the easier schedules in the East through the first 20 games - but also because I get the sense that this team is motivated to exceed expectations this year.

Trae Young is looking to bounce back after a horrendous playoff series that saw him accumulate more turnovers than assists, Dejounte Murray has been a demon in Pro-AM’s this summer, and will be eager to impress in his new surroundings. Deandre Hunter just signed a contract extension, he seems ready to prove that he’s earned it. Onyeka Okungwu and Clint Capela will battle it out for minutes at the 5 position – while both are excellent center’s who fit the team’s needs, I think it’s in the Hawks best interest for Okungwu to establish himself as the team’s primary big. There are enough storylines at play for me to be optimistic that this team will hit the ground running.

Off-Ball Trae: You or I could have done what Trae Young did without the ball in his hands last year (i.e. nothing), and for the Murray addition to really work, we’re going to need to see Trae do more without the ball in his hands. It will be fascinating to see how he performs in this role early on in the season, as well as when they choose to use him in this role, and overall, just how the ball-handling duties will be distributed amongst their two guards when they share the floor together. (more on this to come as the season unfolds)

Transition offense: In addition to being an excellent defender and playmaker, Dejounte Murray also LOVES to get out in transition and score early on in the shot clock (48.7% of his field goal’s last year came within the first 9 seconds of the shot clock - knocking them in at a 49.6% clip, compared to Young, who shot 25% on early-shot clock attempts). His defensive activity and energy will bring a much needed boost to Atlanta’s transition offense - which was underutilized last season for a young, athletic team that should relish their chances to get out and run (ranked 24th in transition frequency last year according to but 3rd in transition PPP according to

While many questions have been asked about Murray and Young’s fit in the halfcourt, I think the team’s brain trust is banking on Dejounte helping this team get out in transition more and score earlier in the shot clock so as to reduce the potential spacing issues in the halfcourt. Additionally, the team’s bench unit, with Jalen Johnson and Onyeka Okungwu is extremely capable of upping the tempo when the starters take a break and I hope to see this unit running a lot when Murray is on the floor with them.


Deandre Hunter/Onyeka Okungwu not progressing as expected.

Defense not getting out of the bottom-10

John Collins being underutilized, disenchanted with his role in the offense. (Just a hunch for me, but I think JC is a phenomenal player who could put up monster numbers in the right situation – with Dejounte Murray coming into the fold, him and Deandre Hunter are clearly 3rd and 4th in the pecking order when it comes to getting shots up and with Clint Capela serving as Trae Young’s primarily p&r partner last year - I’m curious to see how exactly the Hawks plan to utilize Collins this season)

Thoughts from Wendesday!

Note: I meant to get this up before the game on Wednesday but I created my SB Nation account the day of the game, and I guess you aren’t allowed to submit a fan-post until 24 hours after you create an account, so I figured I’d drop a few thoughts from the Hawks win vs. the Rockets from Wednesday Night as well.

1. Transition points! The Hawks outscored the Rockets 28-10 in fastbreak points according to While some of Houston’s turnovers were just sloppy, I saw a bit more defensive grit from this team than I had expected (especially the second unit), and it was really encouraging to see this team turn those opportunities into points on the other end (26.4% transition frequency in the first game compared to a frequency of 13.9% in 2021-22!).

2. Lack of Threes: Questions were raised about the Hawks shooting depth prior to the season after they lost Kevin Huerter and Danilo Galinari in the off-season, and if the first game is any indication, the Hawks are looking to become less reliant on the three-point shot this upcoming season, as they only took 25 attempts from outside the arc against Houston. For reference the Chicago Bulls averaged the fewest 3PA in the league last year which was 28.8/game. I don’t expect the Hawks to make a habit of taking this many threes a night - after all nobody (outside of John Collins 2/2) was hot from three on Wednesday night, so it makes sense that the team decided to stick to higher-percentage looks - however I thought the number was interesting given that the 21-22 Hawks at times, seemed to rely on the three-point shot to get them back into games when their offense was in a rut.

Also even though he had a good game offensively, it would be nice to see Deandre Hunter take a few more threes (he was 1 for 3 against Houston).

3. Rebounding Woes: The Hawks were outrebounded 54-38 Wednesday night and gave up 15 offensive rebounds. That discrepancy is far too wide, and is something the team will look to address as the season progresses. Atlanta was a middle of the pack rebounding team in 21-22, but I noticed that in the playoffs, they would get killed by failing to close out a defensive possession with a rebound. I hope to see an improved effort on the boards against Orlando tonight, but the team’s effort on the glass, and their ability to diminish their opponent’s second-chance opportunities will be something to watch going forward!

A FanPost expresses the opinion of the community member who wrote it and not that of the blog management.