Hawks’ Outlook Remains Cloudy Even with Snyder Hire


Out with one familiar name and in with another.

It’s another day and another headline-worthy development in the NBA. It’s the league that never stops, right?

The Atlanta Hawks fired now-former head coach Nate McMillan on Feb. 22 after a disappointing start to the season heading into the All-Star break. As of Tuesday, Atlanta sits at 32-33 this season— good for eighth in the Eastern Conference with a three-game lead over Chicago for the last spot in the Play-In Tournament.

It’s been a steady decline under McMillan since the Hawks signed him in the middle of the 2020-21 season. Atlanta went 21-17 and advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021, but regressed the past two seasons. In 2022, the Hawks finished 43-39 before getting torched by Miami 4-1 in the first round. Meanwhile, the Hawks fired McMillan as the team lost four of six games heading into the All-Star Break.

Then, Atlanta announced the team hired former Jazz coach Quin Snyder to become its new head coach. Snyder coached eight seasons in Utah and finished with a 372-264 (.585) overall record in regular-season play, with the Jazz making the playoffs in his last six seasons as coach.

With only a third of the season left to go, here’s how the Snyder could (or couldn’t) affect the struggling Hawks the rest of the way.

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What’s going on with the Hawks?

Atlanta is still facing a Deja vu-like 2023 campaign given how the team finished last season.

The biggest challenge for the Hawks is shoring up a defense that continues to rank near the bottom of the league across the board. Out of Basketball-Reference’s 22 defensive statistical categories, Atlanta ranks 21st or worst in the league in 12 of them, including four appearances in the bottom-five.

Atlanta’s defense by the numbers (as of Mar. 5):

  • 26th or worse in NBA: field-goal attempts, opponent free-throw percentage, opponent defensive rebounding, opponent total rebounds
  • 21st or worse in NBA: opponent field-goal makes, field-goal attempts, field-goal percentage, two-point makes, two-point attempts, offensive rebounding, blocks, personal fouls and opponent points per game

As you can see, there’s a laundry list of defensive issues with Atlanta. It’s a continued structural problem. Since the 2017-18 season, Atlanta has ranked 21st or worse in defensive rating, including the Hawks’ surprising 2020-21 campaign.

But even on offense, Atlanta still faces hurdles across the board. While the team does rank top three or better in all things two-point shooting, the Hawks are neither a good outside shooting team (28th in attempts, 19th in percentage) nor a passing one (20th in assists).

Inherently, the Hawks are a talent-filled team despite some notable reservations. With that said, a change was clearly needed after back-to-back — in the front office’s mind — underwhelming regular seasons.

How can Snyder help?

The good news for the Hawks: Quin Snyder possesses a legitimate coaching track record. At a bare minimum, Snyder raises Atlanta’s floor without damaging its ceiling, especially on defense.

Under Snyder, Utah typically ranked between the top-five and top-ten in defensive rating, but he also implemented a defense without totally sacrificing offense. With the Jazz, Snyder helped solidify Utah into a legitimate regular-season team.

The bad news: where are the Hawks exactly going with this iteration of the team?

Atlanta caps out as a definite Play-In team with moderate aspirations and a possible sixth seed in a (very) best-case scenario. Sounds a lot like the Jazz under Snyder, right?

To be fair, Utah did face both the Warriors and Rockets at the peak of their powers. But between 2020-2022, there were some more defined missed opportunities, from the heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Denver in the 2020 Bubble to devastating collapses against the Clippers and Mavs in back-to-back seasons.

(And, for context, those collapses include two inexcusable defeats: blowing a 25-point lead to L.A. in 2021 and giving up 41 points in Game 2 to the Jalen Brunson-led Mavs without Luka Doncic in 2022)

Atlanta finds itself in a similar boat: too talented to tank, but not enough upside to leap into the title-contention conversation.

What’s the current outlook for the Hawks?

The Hawks face a tough situation moving forward in terms of assets, cap space and future ceiling.

Let’s start with the draft picks. Atlanta forked over four first-round picks to San Antonio, two of which (2025 and 2027) are unprotected, for then-All-Star guard Dejounte Murray. Murray is under contract for this season and next year, but after that, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the 2024 offseason.

Speaking of free agency, Atlanta all but locked itself into this current roster. Trae Young, Clint Capela, John Collins and De’Andre Hunter all inked up multi-year deals that still have aways to go.

The Hawks have what they have.

And then, there’s the question The Lead highlighted back in December that still rings strong past the All-Star Break: can you be a legitimate playoff competitor with Young as your franchise cornerstone? In 2021, that was a strong yes. After back-to-back underwhelming seasons coupled with all the chemistry problems from this season, however, the Hawks still find themselves in an awkward spot.

It is fair to say that for this season, Quin Snyder can be Atlanta’s hero. But there are some deep, roster-rooted problems here in the long term.

He’s not its savior.

About Dominic Chiappone

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