One Team One Stat: Atlanta Hawks go from top 10 to bottom 10 on defense
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Atlanta Hawks, who took a big step backward defensively.
The Hawks allowed 108.2 points per 100 possessions last season (21st in the league), up from 103.1 the season prior (fourth).
That was the league’s biggest increase in defensive efficiency last season.
After three straight seasons of ranking in the top seven defensively (with the Eastern Conference’s third best record over that stretch), the Hawks fell into the bottom 10.
The Hawks saw the league’s second biggest increase in opponent effective field goal percentage, from 50.7 percent (eighth in the league) in 2016-17 to 53.6 percent (25th) last season. They were also one of just three teams that saw an increase in opponent free throw rate.
The Hawks saw drop-offs in both their ability to protect the rim and their ability to defend the 3-point line. They went from fifth (57.9 percent) to 15th (63.0 percent) in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area, also seeing an increase in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that came from there. That resulted in Atlanta opponents scoring almost four more points per game in the restricted area last season (32.7) than they did in ’16-17 (28.8).
Atlanta also saw the league’s third biggest increase in opponent 3-point percentage, from 35.7 percent (16th) to 37.7 percent (28th). The restricted area and the 3-point line are the two most important areas of the floor, and if you don’t defend them well, well…
In theory, you can be a good defensive team without a lot of talent. Defense is about size and length, energy and effort. And we have seen lesser-talented teams make the most of what they have by playing good defense.
In Brett Brown’s second season in Philadelphia, with new Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce as an assistant, the Sixers ranked 13th defensively (and were actually in the top 10 through March). Philly’s leading scorers that season were Tony Wroten and Michael Carter-Williams (who combined to miss 93 games).
But it’s probably not a coincidence that the three teams that fell from the top 10 to the bottom 10 on defense last season were teams that lost great players (Paul Millsap, Jimmy Butler and Mike Conley) via trade or injury.
In Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon, the Hawks have the makings of a good defensive unit. Trae Young may be only 6-foot-2, but he probably can’t be worse defensively than Dennis Schroder was last season. The Hawks allowed 112.3 points per 100 possessions in 786 minutes with both Schroder and Collins on the floor last season, but just 103.1 in 999 minutes with Collins on the floor without Schroder.
Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).
HAWKS NOTES – GENERAL
- One of four teams – the Bulls, Mavs and Clippers are the others – that have seen a win decrease in each of the last three seasons.
- Last season, they were the only team that had as many wins against the opposite conference (they were 12-18 vs. the West) as they did within their conference (12-40 vs. the East).
- Had the league’s worst record (2-13) in the second game of back-to-backs.
- Have ranked in the bottom five in rebounding percentage in five of the last six seasons.
- Saw the league’s biggest increase in pace from before the All-Star break (99.6 possessions per 48 minutes – 14th in the league) to after it (103.2 – fourth).
HAWKS NOTES – OFFENSE
- Only team that has ranked in the bottom five in offensive efficiency each of the last two seasons.
- Have ranked in the top six in assist percentage (AST/FGM) in each of the last eight seasons.
- One of four teams that ranked in the top 10 in both ball movement (378 passes per 24 minutes of possession – third in the league) and player movement (10.9 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession – eighth in the league), according to Second Spectrum tracking.
- Ranked first in 3-point percentage from the corners (42.6 percent), but 26th in 3-point percentage from above the break (34.1 percent).
- Have ranked in the bottom 10 in turnover percentage in each of the last three seasons, in five of the last six, and in 13 of the last 18.
- Saw the league’s second biggest drop in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), with 23.6 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field (23rd in the league) last season, down from 29.5 (fifth) in 2016-17.
- Saw the league’s second biggest drop in efficiency after the All-Star break, scoring just 98.7 points per 100 possessions (29th in the league), down from 103.9 (22nd) before the break.
HAWKS NOTES – DEFENSE
- Have ranked in the top 10 in opponent turnover percentage in each of the last seven seasons and in the top 10 in opponent free throw rate (FTA/FGA) in each of the last 10 seasons.
- Only team that defended better on the road (107.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) than at home (108.6) last season.
- Only 4.1 percent of opponent possessions, the lowest opponent rate in the league, were isolations. Opponents recorded assists on 64 percent of their field goals, the league’s second highest opponent rate.
- Only 8.0 percent of opponent possessions, also the lowest opponent rate in the league, came from pick-and-roll roll men.
- Ranked 28th in clutch defense, allowing 120.2 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
HAWKS NOTES – LINEUPS
- Players still on the roster accounted for only 50 percent of the team’s minutes last season. That’s the lowest returning rate in the league.
- 47 percent of last season’s minutes, the second highest rate in the league, were played by rookies or second-year players.
- Four returning players that played the most minutes – Prince, Bazemore, Collins and Dedmon – played just 127 minutes together. The Hawks did outscore their opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions in those 127 minutes.
- Of their 42 two-man combinations that played at least 300 minutes together, only one – Collins and Isaiah Taylor – had a positive plus-minus (plus-20 in 639 minutes).
- Lineup of Schroder, Bazemore, Prince, Ilyasova and Plumlee committed turnovers on 17.8 percent of its possessions, the highest rate among 48 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together.
HAWKS NOTES – INDIVIDUAL
- Kent Bazemore committed a turnover 11 percent of the time on drives, the highest rate among players who averaged at least five drives per game. Taurean Prince had the third highest rate (10 percent). They also had the second and sixth worst field goal percentages on drives (minimum 200 field goal attempts).
- Bazemore ranked in the top 10 in both steals (2.0) and deflections (3.7) per 36 minutes among 275 players that played at least 1,000 minutes.
- John Collins shot 69.3 percent in the restricted area, the second best mark among rookies with at least 300 restricted-area attempts in the 22 seasons for which we have shot location data, trailing only the new record held by Ben Simmons (71.0 percent).
- Collins had an effective field goal percentage of 59.1 percent, the second best mark among 25 rookies with at least 300 field goal attempts.
- Collins grabbed 16.7 percent of available rebounds while he was on the floor, the second best rebounding percentage among rookies who averaged at least 10 minutes per game in 40 or more games.
- Dewayne Dedmon shot 78 percent in the restricted area, the best mark among 249 players with at least 100 restricted-area attempts.
- Dedmon took 50 percent of his 3-point attempts from the corners. That was the the 10th highest rate among 238 players who attempted at least 100 threes.
- Tyler Dorsey shot 49 percent (32-for-65) from 3-point range in the fourth quarter, the best mark among 140 players with at least 50 fourth-quarter 3-point attempts.
- Alex Len saw a increase in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) from 45 attempts per 100 shots from the field in 2016-17 to 61 per 100 last season. That was the second biggest increase among 206 players with at least 300 field goal attempts both seasons.
- Prince made 1.6 more 3-pointers per game last season (2.1) than he did in 2016-17 (0.6). That was the second biggest jump (behind that of Gerald Green) among 260 players who played at least 40 games in each season. He shot 48.6 percent on corner threes, the fifth best mark among 20 players who attempted at least 100.
NBA TV’s Hawks preview premieres at 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 8.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.