Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce (middle) reacts from the bench. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

Limiting turnovers a priority for Hawks

Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has been pretty steadfast in not reading too much into his team’s exhibition games ⁠— it’s the practice days in between that matter more to him.

But when it comes to the team’s turnover problem, Pierce was frank about how much stock he puts into it. 

“A lot,” Pierce said Friday. “The emphasis is on the turnovers, but today’s conversation was about when we’re organized, we’re good. Eighty percent of our shots, if you guys were here last year, 73% of our shots at the end of preseason were at the rim or 3’s. We’re at 80% right now. That’s an amazing number. And an amazing number is 28 turnovers a game, as well.” 

Essentially, when the Hawks maintain possession, they’re getting the shots they want, for the most part. But that many giveaways means fewer shot opportunities. It also means, on nights the team doesn’t shoot all that well, the margin for error is much slimmer. 

In Monday’s 133-109 loss to the Pelicans, the Hawks committed 29 turnovers, and in Tuesday’s 97-88 loss to the Magic, they committed 27. With three more exhbition games to go, beginning Oct. 14 in Miami, they’ve still got some time to get it under control before the regular season begins Oct. 24 in Detroit. 

This isn’t a new development, as turnover problems plagued the Hawks last season, leading the NBA with 17.0 per game. 

The team watched a lot of film on both of the exhibition games, Pierce said, trying to get things straightened out. 

When it comes to the team overall, youth isn’t the culprit so much as newness to playing together as a unit, and players who are new to the team learning the Hawks’ offense. It’s also just simple mistakes, such as six traveling calls in Wednesday’s loss. 

“It doesn’t matter young or old,” Pierce said. “It’s still patience, timing, execution. We’re about three or four plays (Wednesday) where we just didn’t know the play. So that just means we need to spend time in the gym working, continuing to work and getting on the same page. But that wasn’t just the young guys.” 

Through two exhibition games, second-year point guard Trae Young leads the team in turnovers (8 per game), with third-year power forward John Collins next (4.5) and fourth-year swingman DeAndre’ Bembry (3). 

As the team’s point guard and main facilitator, Young’s situation is unique, since he has the ball in his hands so often (averaging 8.1 assists as a rookie). 

Still, 17 turnovers through two games, even exhibition games that don’t really matter and are meant to afford players time to work through mistakes, isn’t acceptable to Young, who ranked fourth in the league in turnovers last season (3.8 per game). Crowded plays on the court are one reason he’s struggled. 

“It’s crowded plays, it’s me jumping in the air passing, looking for cutters,” Young said. “It’s stuff that I know I can fix, it’s just me focusing and locking in on doing it. So I’ll be better.” 

Said Pierce: “He got himself in a crowd a lot. They were the same ones. He was on the baseline, and he’s been really good in his year in the NBA, when he drives baseline, keeping his dribble alive, we say ‘Nash’ it (speaking of Steve Nash, an all-time NBA great point guard). He’s been able to Nash it, and he’s tough to deal with when he can Nash it.”

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