After a stunning run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021, the Atlanta Hawks have retreated back into the middle of the pack.
They were expected to build on the momentum from their Cinderella run to take a leap into the East’s top tier. Instead, they finished with a 43-39 win-loss record last year and were promptly eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat in five games.
They have not been any better this season, starting the campaign with a 29-30 record, which led to the firing of head coach Nate McMillan last month. Quin Snyder was brought in to replace McMillan at the end of February, but he has not been much better in his first few weeks on the job.
The Hawks now find themselves with a 35-35 slate that puts them in eighth place in the East standings. Atlanta is ahead of the 11th place Washington Wizards by three games with 12 contests remaining on their schedule which makes it more likely than not that they will qualify for the play-in tournament.
While some teams would be more than happy to be in the position that the Hawks are in, this team has underperformed the high expectations that were put upon them following their offseason acquisition of one-time NBA All-Star guard Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs.
Murray and Trae Young were supposed to form a dynamic backcourt that would help them challenge for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, yet they are stuck fighting for position in the play-in tournament race.
Much of the blame, whether fairly or unfairly, was put on McMillan and it ultimately led to the arrival of Snyder. The 56-year-old Snyder was an assistant with Atlanta almost a decade ago before taking the head coach job for the Utah Jazz that he held from 2014 to 2022.
During his tenure with the Jazz, he established himself as one of the top tacticians in the league on both ends of the floor. Though it has taken some time for Atlanta’s players to acclimate themselves to his system, his philosophies should eventually help them play up to their lofty potential.
The Hawks teased what they could become under Snyder in their most recent outing where they beat the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, 127-119. Atlanta used a free-wheeling offense highlighted by constant ball movement and spread pick and rolls to outgun the Warriors.
Seven different Hawks scored at least 10 points in the win, highlighted by their star guard Young who had 25 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, and one crucial steal. The two-time NBA All-Star secured the win as he stripped Stepheny Curry with less than a minute in the game and hit a transition lay-up to extend their lead to six points.
The extra commitment of Young on the defensive end since Snyder’s arrival has been another crucial development for Atlanta. It will be interesting to see if he can keep this up given his reputation for coasting on defense.
The play of John Collins stood out as well as he had his best performance since Snyder’s arrival. Collins put up 22 points on eight-of-15 shooting, four three-pointers, five rebounds, one steal, and one block in the win.
It may take some time for the Hawks to put up this kind of performance on a consistent basis, but the early signs are encouraging. Snyder is known for his rigorous approach and this should only help maximize the abundance of talent on this team. Atlanta’s ceiling this year may just be a surprise second round appearance, yet they should be in a much better position to compete for one of the top seeds come next season.
The Hawks are just at the beginning of this process and if things break their way, they may finally get to soar to heights (The NBA Finals) that this franchise has not reached since 1961.