Revisiting the Hawks’ 5 keys for the season

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

NEW YORK -- The Hawks’ play has been a little confusing through the first 25 games of their season.

But the Hawks believe that they have not unlocked their full potential. There have been plenty of ups and downs, but their focus has been to make sure they learn from each outing.

“You gotta keep working,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. We’ve done some good things. But you’re still building. You’re still working on everything, you know, your execution, establishing yourself and the chemistry.”

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Here, we revisit the five keys to the season that we listed in mid-October:

Team chemistry: Still finding the right groove

One of the Hawks’ top priorities when they began the season was to establish an identity. So far, that identity is still unclear. The Hawks are 13-12 and have yet to string together a win streak longer than three games.

The Hawks added several players to the roster at the start of the season and looked to have cohesion between the starting five and the second unit.

Guards Trae Young and Dejounte Murray have tried to figure out how to maximize their minutes together. The two have averaged their usual stat lines, but a lot of that has come in times when they’re running individually.

In addition to that, the Hawks’ second unit has had some trouble providing the team with consistent offense.

The Hawks know they have plenty of room for improvement and have a positive outlook that they will find their footing.

“We got a long way to go,” Young said. “It’s not just me out here. ... We as a team have a long way to go to be where we want. We gotta get healthy now, gotta get guys healthy. And then honestly, we’re trying to figure out a rhythm with Dejounte and with guys being in and out right now. It’s tough, but we just got to fight through this time, and when we get everybody back, it’ll be good.”

Defense: Moving on the right trajectory

The Hawks had seen some improvement on defense before the loss of some of their better perimeter players. With the addition of Murray, as well as continued strong play from De’Andre Hunter, the Hawks had begun to find their groove on defense.

Plus, Clint Capela, who ranks second in the NBA in rebounding, has continued to provide some strong rim protection.

Overall, the Hawks have become better on defense. Until Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks, the Hawks had the eighth-best defensive rating in the league. They’ve averaged 18.5 points off of turnovers through 25 games and still rank among the top half of the league in opponent fast-break points.

They still have room for improvement as they look to continue cutting opponents off inside the paint, especially in minutes when Capela is on the bench.

In addition to that, the team will have to find ways to help Capela limit opponents’ second-chance opportunities. On average, the Hawks give up 14.1 second-chance points, and that has made the difference in their matchups at least six times.

Outside shooting: Hawks have been frigid from outside

The Hawks often have been one of the top teams in the NBA when it comes to making shots from long range. But things have not totally clicked for them.

The team has not been able to generate the same power on 3-point shots as it did a season ago, when the Hawks shot 37.8%.

This season, the Hawks have made 32.7% of their 3-pointers, which ranks 26th in the league. It’s not the least inefficient the Hawks have been in the past 10 or so seasons, but their lack of 3-point shooting has hurt them a number of times in their first 25 games.

The Hawks have been without some of their top contributors from beyond the arc after including Danilo Gallinari in the deal that netted them Murray. They also dealt Kevin Huerter to the Kings, who was their most efficient 3-point shooter.

They also missed out on the talents of Bogdan Bogdanovic, a career 38% shooter, in the first 22 games of the season. Bogdanovic will need some time to get back into basketball shape, but already he has injected some shooting into the team.

In addition to Bogdanovic, the Hawks also are due for a solid stretch of shooting from Young, who has started the season in a bit of a slump. The 24-year-old has shot a career-low 28.9% on 3-point shots as he continues to adjust to his role alongside Murray.

With Young and Bogdanovic finding their rhythm, the Hawks could have a solid contingent of shooters, including Murray (36.6%) alongside the players who already have found their groove.

Hunter and Johnson: Looking to find consistency

Things have been a little inconsistent for the two front-court players through the first 25 games. Both have shown flashes, but like their teammates, they are struggling to keep those fires going consistently.

Hunter, for his part, has averaged 14.9 points per game and has given the Hawks some solid minutes on defense. He has had to figure out how to keep up his physical play while avoiding foul trouble. He’s averaged a career-high three fouls per game, which often has affected any rhythm he has been able to provide on offense.

But, before exiting the game Nov. 30 against the Magic, Hunter had seemingly begun to find a groove. He had scored 15 or more points in eight of his past 13 games.

Jalen Johnson, like Hunter, has provided the Hawks with a boost on defense. The Hawks felt comfortable switching him onto the likes of the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.

He’s also been a factor in defensive rebounding in the absence of John Collins, averaging 9.5 rebounds in his past two games.

But Johnson hasn’t managed to find the right touch from long range. He’s 2-of-11 on corner 3′s and has made only four of his 18 attempts beyond the top of the key.

He has been solid from close range when he has generated his own offense, going 11-of-11. The 20-year-old has used his defense to create opportunities for himself. He averages 1.45 points in transition.

Remaining healthy: Injuries starting to pile up

The Hawks managed to make it through the first quarter of the season relatively healthy. The injury bug seemed to catch up with the team in the past five games, with several key rotational players sidelined with various nicks and bruises.

On Wednesday, Murray left the team’s game against the Knicks in the first quarter. The guard went down with a left ankle sprain and is expected to miss at least two weeks.

The team will be without forward John Collins for at least another week, while Hunter potentially could return to the court soon after recovering from a hip flexor strain.

The Hawks, of course, saw the return of sharpshooter Bogdanovic last week. He made four 3-pointers in the first half of Monday’s loss to the Thunder, before heavy legs caught up with him.

With the injuries piling up, the Hawks dropped to fifth in a competitive Eastern Conference.