Monday 11 December 2017 / 11:02 AM

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HAWKS?

Lost in the dominance of LeBron’s Heat, Celtics Big Three, LeBron’s Cavs and Raptors of the last few years have been the steady development of the Atlanta Hawks. Consistently among the Eastern Conference’s best, the Hawks have earned a reputation as the Spurs of the East, with former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer taking many of the philosophies and coaching tactics that make the Spurs and transferring them over to the ATL.

The Hawks had made a name for themselves in the last few years, with Al Horford and Paul Millsap and a slew of starters and bench players that are solid at each position. But with the departure of Horford, along with franchise stalwart point guard Jeff Teague, the Hawks certainly looked ready to take a step back.

That is, until they settled on hometown hero Dwight Howard to take his spot. It was there with Howard, and a revamped roster just a little bit younger, that the Hawks could turn a page and reinvent. Reports were the team just wasn’t satisfied with the solid regular season that ended with playoff sweeps by King James-led teams.

And the experiment looked like it would work early on. The Hawks rolled out to a 9-2 record behind some career play from Dwight Howard and some solid bench performances. They rocketed up the Eastern standings and looked like the favorite in their division alongside the Charlotte Hornets.

But since that start, the wheels have come off the bus. The marquee man has regressed back to the Dwight Howard we knew before, limited on offense and shooting below the mark he started the season with. He’s also turning the ball over, and has logjammed the paint – an area the Hawks have excelled in years past.

But the biggest issue with Dwight’s new wrinkle to the team is his lack of fit with cornerstone Paul Millsap. Millsap has been the glue of the offense in his time in Atlanta, but with both players on the floor together, Atlanta has by far the worst offensive efficiency in the NBA. The offense stops moving with the two on the floor, and it’s noticeable.

But the issues with Howard are far from Atlanta’s lone problem. Dennis Shröder, the young point guard that the Hawks doubled down on this offseason when shipping off Teague, has gone backwards. They knew to expect some growing pains in the young guard, but nowhere near to the level that they’ve seen thus far.

Going back to the anemic offense, the Hawks are actually worse with Shröder on the floor. According to NBA stats, “Atlanta has an offensive rating of 97.6 and a defensive rating of 103.2 with Dennis. Without him, though the offensive numbers increase to 101.4, while the defense becomes stingier at 96.3. In terms of net rating, Atlanta sits at 5.0 without their starting point guard, and -5.6 when he plays.”

That’s the definition of worrisome. Beyond that, the supporting cast just hasn’t been that good. Kyle Korver, a longtime respected deadeye in the NBA, has been awful this year on defense and shooting. So bad he’s been benched for Thabo Sefolosha. Beyond that, the bench has a pretty bad efficiency rating, and some of their previously well-performing players haven’t shown up (see: Mike Scott sent to the D-League).

All of this has culminated in Atlanta losing nine out of 10 games to drop to 10-11 after that blistering start. And in six of those losses, the Hawks were blitzed by more than 10 points, including two this past week that were back-to-back 40-point drubbings from the Pistons and Raptors. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are more than a few things wrong with this roster.

However, there are signs of hope in all the bad. Howard is still rebounding at alarming rates, and his solo efficiency is up. Millsap has also battled injury, and should get better going forward.

Kyle Korver actually played good basketball against OKC off the bench and could see his form return, while Shröder will get better.

Still, it’s hard to raise a ceiling too much for a team that can’t put its two best players on the floor together at the same time.

There should be optimism for the team, as they aren’t a bottom feeder based on talent alone. But the Hawks have some glaring problems – some that will only grow larger during April and May – including some of the same issues the Hawks semi-rebuilt to avoid.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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