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Hawksquawk

Peachtree Hoops: The Atlanta Hawks have a shooting problem

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Philadelphia 76ers v Atlanta HawksPhoto by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Even prior to the 2019-20 season, there were murmurs that the Atlanta Hawks simply didn’t have enough shooting prowess on their roster. While the top of the heap wasn’t a concern with Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and others, the roster wasn’t built with high-end shooters and, after a 2018-19 campaign in which the team finished 16th in the NBA in three-point accuracy (35.2 percent), shooting threats like Taurean Prince and Dewayne Dedmon weren’t coming back to stabilize the team’s overall spacing.

On the bright side, Atlanta did have a quartet of players that performed at least reasonably well from three-point distance in the first 67 games. Even after a cooling period just before the campaign was suspended, Young connected on 36.1 percent of his three-point offerings and, considering the volume (9.5 attempts per game) and difficulty of his shots, he is clearly a high-end shooter.

From there, John Collins saw a huge uptick, knocking down 40.1 percent of his three-point attempts, and Huerter continued his high-end shooting, burying 38.0 percent in his own right. From there, De’Andre Hunter was essentially a league-average three-point shooter (35.5 percent) on almost five attempts per game and, even if it wasn’t incredibly consistent, his shooting was perfectly adequate, especially for a rookie.

Everyone else, though, didn’t exactly pull their weight. In fact, the three-point shooting efficiency rest of the roster was downright disastrous.

Treveon Graham did end up connecting on 35.1 percent of his attempts in a small sample and, thus, it would be at least somewhat unfair to include him in the collection of rough shooting. With that said, he isn’t an established floor-spacer and, after Graham, the next-best three-point shooter on Atlanta’s roster in 2019-20 was Jeff Teague, who made only 33.3 percent of his long-distance shots.

Without going through the entire roster in individual detail, the overall numbers are damning. The top four shooters combined to convert 36.9 percent of their three-point attempts and, when compared to the league average of 35.7 percent in 2019-20, that foursome is exempt from this exercise. The rest of the team combined to make only 306 of their 1,063 three-point attempts.

To make things simpler, 17 players not named Young, Huerter, Collins and Hunter combined to shoot just 28.8 percent from three-point range.

28.8 percent.

Anyone paying even marginal attention to the NBA world in 2020 would recognize that is problematic but, in examining the full picture, we’ll take things a step or two further. The Hawks did manage to take plenty of three-pointers and, as discussed in this space on myriad occasions, Atlanta’s overall shot profile is very good, with a lot of attempts at the rim and beyond the arc. In fact, the Hawks sit eighth in the NBA in three-point attempts per game (36.1) and 13th in three-point attempts per 100 possessions (34.6). Those aren’t overwhelming numbers, but it isn’t as if the team is having trouble generating enough three-pointers.

As noted previously, league-average in the NBA this season is 35.7 percent and the Hawks, even with the top four shooters included, converted only 33.3 percent of their attempts from three-point range. That figure is good for dead-last (30th) in the NBA, albeit only percentage points behind the cellar-dwelling Golden State Warriors in the battle for 29th.

One might assume, if told nothing else, that the Hawks may have attempted a difficult brand of three-point shot, especially with the local and national focus on Young’s penchant for 30-foot bombs. Still, he was able to bury more than enough of those exceptionally long attempts and, more importantly, Young is one of the NBA’s best passers, regularly creating open looks for teammates that simply weren’t able to knock them down with enough regularity.

While the 2019-20 season may continue at some point, the campaign-long numbers paint a picture that the Hawks simply didn’t make enough shots, even though they were able to generate quality looks. The good folks at NBA.com describe “open” shots as having the closest defender between four and six feet away, and the Hawks ranked 11th in the NBA in producing those attempts from three-point range. Unfortunately, Atlanta was dead-last in converting them, making only 31.1 percent of what were, again, open looks.

Things were a bit better in the “wide open” range — described by NBA.com as having the closest defender six feet or more away — but that is only a small consolation. Once again, the Hawks did a great job, headlined by Young, at creating these attempts, landing eighth in the league in “wide open” three-point attempts per game. However, Atlanta made only 37 percent of them and, while that number may seem good in a vacuum, it ranks in a tie for seventh-worst in the NBA when remembering that the attempts were “wide open.”

Ultimately, it was plainly evident throughout the season that the Hawks simply didn’t have enough shooting, even when putting a more optimistic spin on things. For instance, Cam Reddish improved massively as a long-distance marksman during the season and, moving forward, it would be very reasonable to expect him to make more than the 33 percent of three-point attempts that he managed over the full 2019-20 campaign. The same could probably be said for Dewayne Dedmon (22 percent), especially when remembering his three-point exploits from two previous seasons in Atlanta.

Overall, though, the Hawks have to find better shooters to surround their core nucleus, even while acknowledging that Atlanta’s central, future-facing pieces (aside from Clint Capela) are all legitimate three-point threats. Free-agent options like Brooklyn Nets wing Joe Harris (as only one example) have made the rounds for months and the Hawks absolutely should be on the hunt for plus shooters, in the draft, free agency or both.

It is more than fair to point out that a lot of Atlanta’s three-point issues during the 2019-20 stem from players that aren’t a part of the team’s future. From there, it isn’t wrong to suggest that five members of Atlanta’s six-man core have the ability, as soon as the 2020-21 campaign, to be three-point shooters that are described as average or better.

Still, it is wildly important for the Hawks to fill out their roster with competent pieces, especially when taking into account the team’s public-facing focus on making the 2021 playoffs. Shooting isn’t the only consideration and, because of Atlanta’s roster makeup, it is possible to sure up some areas of need without plugging in an elite shooter at every spot. What is inescapable, however, is that the Hawks are in need of more than one addition to the roster that can stretch defenses and take full advantage of the tremendous shot quality generated by the gravity of Young as a heliocentric creator.

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