The Hawks’ Losing Streak Might Be Even Worse Than It Looks

The Atlanta Hawks have lost four consecutive games. Some of these losses were at least partially due to injury, but they have almost uniformly looked bad. Saturday’s home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, for example, was fairly lopsided, as was Monday’s defeat by the Charlotte Hornets.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, the statistical outlook over the last 10 games (a time period that covers more than just the recent losing streak) does not look good. The team has struggled on both ends of the floor, slipping from its lofty defensive numbers. Many on/off metrics for individual players don’t look good either, especially for the starting lineup.

In terms of defense, Atlanta is among the league’s best. Per NBA Stats, the Hawks boast the NBA’s fourth-best defense. Trailing on the Jazz, Warriors, and Spurs, Atlanta finds itself in good company on this end of the floor. Unfortunately, this strong performance has slipped notably recently. Over the last 10 games, the Hawks have the league’s 19th-best defense, falling from a borderline-elite level to somewhere a little below average.

The team’s offense has stayed mostly static over the same timeframe (25th in the league over the last 10), a combination that results in the league’s 26th-ranked net rating. Atlanta’s net rating has been mediocre all year, but the last 10 games represent a new low. A slipping defensive presence, combined with a poor offense have combined to produce several rough performances for the team. In this light, losing four straight games is hardly surprising.

The statistical outlook gets even worse in the on/off metrics. Dennis Schroder, for example, has played poorly recently, dragging the team’s net rating down by several points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor over the last 10 games. This isn’t an attack on Schroder, though: Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore also have ugly on/off numbers during the same span. All three of these players have been vital to Atlanta’s success this year, and the team wouldn’t be where it is without their contributions. In addition, these statistics should be taken with the considerable caveat that 10 games is a very small sample size. However, the overall point remains: the Hawks’ starters have struggled over the last few games.

Injuries are at least partially to blame for this mini-collapse. Millsap has been out since just before Saturday night’s game, and his absence clearly has had an effect on the team. Bazemore is injured as well, although his presence isn’t quite as important as Millsap’s. If Millsap can return soon, it’s reasonable to expect at least some of this recent malaise to go away.

These statistics may read like something similar to an attack piece, or an article ripping into the team, but that isn’t the intent here. This piece isn’t meant to level blame at individual players or Mike Budenholzer, but rather to try and understand some of the numbers behind some confusing losses. The Hawks have been a good team all year, and losing so uncompetitively to teams they should have a chance against is confusing. It’s clear that the team is nonplussed about this as well — both Budenholzer and the players have been visibly discouraged by recent games. This is a completely fair reaction. Atlanta is a better team than this, and the starting five have are much better than their recent performances.

A losing streak is always concerning, but the looming presence of the playoffs makes everything even more distressing. The Hawks once had an outside chance of challenging Toronto for the fourth seed, but now falling behind Indiana for sixth place seems much more likely. There’s no danger of missing the playoffs, or of falling past sixth place, but playing like this on the eve of the postseason obviously isn’t a great look. The Hawks still have plenty of time to put together some nice wins before the standings are finalized, but the time is starting to run short.

All statistics current as of Tuesday afternoon, March 21.

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