Small changes at Hawks practice facility signal the start of new era

Hawks coach Quin Snyder watches from the sideline against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, April 5, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

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Hawks coach Quin Snyder watches from the sideline against the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, April 5, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

The Hawks went through plenty of change last season. So, the alterations made to the team’s courts at its practice facility located in Brookhaven signify the beginning of its cultural shift under the guidance of coach Quin Snyder.

When Snyder arrived in Atlanta in February with 20 games remaining in the regular season, he often repeated that the time constraints would hinder any wholesale changes. But, he still placed small stamps of what would come, bringing out laptops to watch and break down film with players in the moment as opposed to waiting until later.

Seven months later, the Hawks have placed monitors and whiteboards strategically around the practice courts to enhance the constant communication that Snyder and his staff want to have. To create an environment that encourages that, soft leather chairs line the perimeter of the practice courts so that players and coaches can comfortably sit and discuss what they need to without leaving the floor.

The team has added more cameras on the 24-second shot clocks that sit atop the Noah Shooting System that measures shots from anywhere on the court. The Noah Shooting System will give players instant feedback on things like shot arc, depth and other aspects, which will give them a chance to make adjustments in real time. It also will store all of that data online, so that players and coaches can look at those individual workouts, check out unique shot charts and rim maps, and understand where they can improve.

Last season, the Hawks ranked 21st in the NBA in 3-point percentage, making 35.2% of their attempts.

The Hawks struggled in other areas as well, with the only constant being the team gaining a reputation for being consistently inconsistent. The Hawks were 41-41 in the regular season, with a 115.5 offensive rating and a 115.4 defensive rating.

Despite the inconsistencies, the Hawks downed the Heat in their first game of the Play-In Tournament and drew the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Despite the Hawks forcing the series to six games, the Celtics eliminated them 4-2.

So, when Snyder had time to reflect on where he wants the team to improve, he thought about the constants that make a good team. He mentioned the ability to put the group first and the aim for the team to play unselfishly.

“I think kind of the whole process of going through competition and beginning to understand all the various things helps you begin to kind of conceptualize a map for where you want to go,” Snyder told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I think most of these things are independent of any evaluation. They’re just kind of, for me, constants that make a team, a good team, and being able to put the group first, which by definition is, being unselfish and really striving to play that way, where we can demonstrate that commitment to one another. Whether that means sharing the ball or defending collectively.”

Snyder added that he had to remind himself that improvement and growth take time and aren’t things that happens linearly. It’s an ongoing process.

To make sure the players internalize that, Snyder assembled a diverse coaching staff that he believed would consistently demonstrate that unselfishness, as well as a commitment to improvement even when there are setbacks. The Hawks worked in two new assistants last season and announced in June that they added nine new coaches to the bench. They’ve gradually added a few more over the offseason as well.

While there could be statistical benchmarks that measure the unselfishness of the team and the progress it is making, Snyder wants the team to look beneath that.

“Certainly a statistical, kind of objective benchmark is something that we can point to, but I think there’s a growth that exists beneath that, that drives those things,” Snyder said. “So, I think just from a developmental standpoint, the things that certain guys are working on individually, then they’re working on that translating into the pairs and combinations and then gradually seeing that reflected when we’re playing five-on-five, and then I think it’s just a constant process of recalibrating, ‘Where are we? What do we need to work on?’”

Players traveled in and out of Atlanta this summer to work on what Snyder and the Hawks front office tasked them with to take the next step. As players descend on the practice facility to work with coaches, Snyder has sensed an enthusiasm among them which has in some sense created an inspirational environment.

“There’s a palpable commitment, you know, that when we start practicing, the challenge is for that to continue, even through competition because the competition is what’s going to allow us to evaluate ourselves,” he said. “But I think our guys have an intuitive understanding of who we want to be as a team.”

The Hawks have plenty of things to evaluate before they think too far ahead. They have questions to answer, such as who will fill the open spot in the starting lineup that the trade of John Collins created.

Snyder said that the team would stay open to the process as it weighs its options.

“It’s, I think, well, first of all, John, was a huge part of this organization and gave so much of himself, and I think his teammates gave to him that and obviously wish him continued success,” Snyder said. “He was a big factor as much as anything defensively.

“So, for us, I think, that’s been an emphasis here for a while, right. And figuring out how, we need to defend collectively. I don’t think that it’s the right analysis to kind of look at a roster and find kind of spots. So, I think it’s one of those things, everybody’s got to do more. Everybody’s got to do something a little different. That’s kind of what growth is about.”

The Hawks have few options for who they could elevate to the starting five in Jalen Johnson or Saddiq Bey. They also could move Bogdan Bogdanovic to small forward and shift De’Andre Hunter to power forward.

Of course, training camp will help them determine what the best move forward would be. The coaching staff also will keep the lines of communication open between them and the front office as the team looks to foster the collaborative environment that led to so many of the changes it made last season.

Snyder provided plenty of feedback to general manager Landry Fields and assistant general manager Kyle Korver this offseason as they tried to execute their shared vision.

“I think the biggest thing that we all appreciate about one another is the communication,” Snyder said. “That to me is foundational. And we have a shared vision. I think the three of us all want the organization, we want to aspire to certain things. I mentioned one of them being love of craft. We want competitive people and people that love what they’re doing. ...

“Selflessness is something that Landry and Kyle and I have talked a lot about, and it’s been good communication about those things and having that shared vision.”

The Hawks unofficially open the season Monday when they host their annual media day. Then they get to work as they step into the team’s new era.

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