Five reasons: What is wrong with the Hawks?

What’s wrong with the Hawks?

Good question.

They are mired in a seven-game losing slump with 10 losses in 11 games. All the defeats have come after a 9-2 start.

The offense and defense were both ranked in the top two in the NBA. Not anymore. The Hawks have fallen to 27th in offensive efficiency. They remain second in defensive efficiency but there are issues there as well.

This streak has been full of embarrassing losses, several by more than 20 points, including back-to-back losses to the Pistons and Raptors by a combined 80 points. The Hawks played better in a 102-99 home loss to the Thunder on Monday. But a loss is a loss is a loss.

“The frustration builds,” forward Paul Millsap said Tuesday. “We are human beings. You can’t point to one instance where it went to crap but it did and now it’s about revamping and getting ourselves back on the right track.”

Here are five major things that have gone wrong in the past three weeks:

1. The Hawks' ball movement has nearly disappeared. There have been glimpses of the pass-first offense but nothing that has been sustained. The Hawks don't have a player, other than Millsap on occasion, capable of scoring at will. They need to be set up. The Hawks had an intense film session Monday before playing the Thunder. The message: Play with the pass. If you don't, you are not a good team. If you don't, you lose by 40 points.

“It’s only your identity if that’s what you do,” coach Mike Budenholzer said of the offense. “It’s not something you can talk about. You have to do it. I don’t think it’s been as good as we need it to be.”

The key is quick passes. Far too often during the current slide, individual players have taken it upon themselves to make something happen, especially when deficits were building. Then isolation basketball reared its ugly head.

“Getting the ball out of our hands faster, that’s when our offense is clicking,” guard Kyle Korver said. “That’s when we are going to be at our best is when the ball is moving. …. Part of it is the ball-handler, whoever it is, has to get it out of his hands. The other part is we’ve got to get open for him. We’ve got to create the spots where they can make those passes.”

2. The Hawks practiced at Philips Arena on Tuesday, the first time they have gathered at home for an off-day workout in 22 days. The last such practice was Nov. 14 before the team left for a game in Miami the following day. That was also the last time they had two straight days without a game, a streak that won't end until they have three days off in a row next Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

“We haven’t been able to have practice time,” Korver said. “We came out on training camp and that (first) month went 9-2. We didn’t practice for 22 days and we went 1-10. There is a direct correlation.”

3. The Hawks have been allowing 3-pointers at an alarming rate. Protecting the rim has always been a priority, even at the expense of allowing long-range shots. Remember, the team acquired Dwight Howard to be a paint presence. Over the past 11 games, opponents are 118 of 301 from long range, nearly 40 percent accuracy. Budenholzer defended the strategy.

“Sometimes, there is the activity and there is our commitment to really controlling the ball and taking away the paint, taking away the rim, that can open up a few more attempts and/or makes,” Budenholzer said. “We are always looking at that critically. It’s not cut and dry that it’s terrible. Sometimes the things we are doing, the net gain is greater.”

4. They say it's a make-or-miss league and the Hawks have been missing a lot. Kent Bazemore has been a case study. There have been others who have struggled but the starting small forward is 30 of 106 (.283) over the past nine games, including 10 of 42 (.238) from 3-point range. He has totaled 78 points in the span with 43 coming in two games.

“These are tough times,” Bazemore said. “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.”

Korver, Dennis Schroder, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Malcolm Delaney have all struggled with their shots as well.

5. With the Hawks struggling from the outside, opponents can make stopping Howard a priority. They run two or three players at him without consistent fear that the Hawks will make open shots. That has stymied Howard inside. Over the past 11 games, he has failed to score in double digits four times. His highest point total has been 23.

“Teams are doing a pretty good job trying to take away the pick-and-roll,” Howard said. “We have to find different ways to get into that action.”