Less than two years removed from a magical postseason run to the Eastern Conference finals, the Atlanta Hawks (12-10 straight up, 9-13 against the spread) are struggling. And now they’re going to be without a pair of starters for a stretch of games.
Power forward John Collins and small forward De’Andre Hunter both went down early in Wednesday’s 125-108 win at Orlando and did not return. The team announced Thursday that an MRI revealed a right hip flexor strain for Hunter, who will miss at least the next four games before being reevaluated in a week.
Collins also had an MRI scan that showed a left ankle sprain with swelling in the joint. The sixth-year veteran will miss at least the next two weeks.
Collins is averaging only 12.3 points per game this season. The Wake Forest product has averaged at least 16.2 PPG since scoring at a 10.5 PPG clip as a rookie back in 2017-18. Collins is also averaging 7.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocked shots, 1.3 assists and 0.9 steals per game.
Collins had his worst shooting season as a pro last year, hitting only 52.6 percent of his field-goal attempts. He had made at least 55.6 percent of his FGAs in his first four seasons.
Collins has been even worse from the field this year, draining only 48.4 percent of his FGAs. However, in fairness, we should also note that his usage is way down. When Collins averaged a double-double in 2019-20 (21.6 PPG, 10.1 RPG), he was taking 14.8 FGAs per game.
He only took 11.9 FGAs per game last season. This year, Collins is only getting 9.7 FGAs per contest. When you’re getting fewer touches and looks, it’s a lot more difficult to get into a rhythm with your jumper.
This is clearly evident in Collins’s shooting from beyond the arc. In his first five NBA seasons, he knocked down at least 34.0 percent of his 3-pointers. Collins is only making 21.9 percent of his launches from downtown through 22 games this year.
In 21 games, Hunter is averaging 14.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 APG. He is shooting at a 44.7 percent clip from the field, 35.4 percent from 3-point range and 80.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Team President Travis Schlenk has done an incredible job building this roster since his arrival in August of 2019. However, he was forced to trade Kevin Huerter in the offseason because ownership doesn’t want to get hit with the luxury tax.
Just 14 months ago, the Hawks had locked Huerter up with a four-year, $65 million rookie contract extension. The now 24-year-old Maryland product was sent to Sacramento for a 2024 first-round draft pick, Mo Harkless and Justin Holiday.
In 20 games with the Kings, Huerter is enjoying a career year. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 SPG. Huerter’s FG percentage (48.9%) and 3-point accuracy (45.1%) are career-best numbers.
Atlanta moved Harkless to Oklahoma City for Vit Krejci and a future second-round pick. As for Holiday, he’s averaging 5.7 PPG while logging 16.8 minutes per contest. Krejci (1.2 PPG) is averaging merely 4.3 minutes per game in nine appearances.
Although Danilo Gallinari ended up tearing his ACL during the offseason and is out for the year, the Hawks also let him get away to Boston on a free-agent deal. Without Huerter and Gallinari’s elite 3-point shooting skills, the absence of Bogdan Bogdanovic has been even more glaring.
‘Bogi,’ a 30-year-old Serbian with five years in the NBA, will be in his third season in Atlanta when he gets back from offseason knee surgery. The good news for the Hawks is that might be tonight. Bogdanovic has been practicing this week and is listed as ‘questionable’ for tonight’s home game vs. Denver.
‘Bogi’ averaged 16.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 SPG in his first campaign with the Hawks in 2020-21. He started 27 of 63 games last year, averaging 15.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 SPG. ‘Bogi’ buried 43.8 percent of his treys two years ago, but he hit only 36.8 percent from long distance last season.
Without Collins and Hunter for the next week or two, Nate McMillan will have to give rookie AJ Griffin and former lottery pick Jarrett Culver more playing time. In the win over the Magic on Wednesday, both players responded to their increased minutes.
Griffin logged 23 minutes and contributed 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 marksmanship from 3-point territory. Culver had nine points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes of action. The Texas Tech product had only appeared in two games previously, playing a total of four minutes.
On the other hand, Griffin has been outstanding all year. After a one-and-done season at Duke, Griffin was Atlanta’s first-round selection with the No. 16 overall pick. He’s appeared in 18 of the Hawks’ 22 games, averaging 17.8 minutes per game. Griffin is averaging 8.8 points and 1.9 RPG. Most important, he’s been providing desperately needed accuracy from 3-point range, draining 38.0 percent of his attempts.
Atlanta is ranked 27th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy, hitting only 32.5 percent of its attempts. With the return of ‘Bogi,’ those numbers are likely to improve.
If they don’t, Schlenk and General Manager Landry Fields are probably going to have to make a trade to get the team some help. I don’t expect that to happen until after Christmas, though.
For now, Atlanta still leads the East’s Southeast Division by one game over Washington and two games over Miami. The Hawks are tied for fifth place in the East with Philadelphia. They’re only one-half game back of the Pacers for fourth place and two games behind Cleveland for third.
However, Toronto is just one-half game behind Atlanta and Brooklyn is only trailing the Hawks by 1.5 games. And the Heat will be healthy in the not-too-distant future.
Therefore, it’s not quite time to hit the panic button in Atlanta’s front office, but don’t be surprised if this roster gets adjusted in January, especially if the coming weeks prove to be a struggle.
As of early this afternoon, most books had Denver installed as a 2.5-point road ‘chalk’ at State Farm Arena tonight. As you saw above, Clint Capela (11.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG), Frank Kaminsky and Jalen Johnson are ‘questionable,’ while Holiday is ‘out’ along with Hunter and Collins.