Atlanta Hawks: Nate McMillan’s greatest coaching strength also his greatest weakness

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Atlanta Hawks interim Head Coach Nate McMillan took the team further than his predecessor, Lloyd Pierce, while also connecting with the team in a way the latter couldn’t. Unfortunately, they ran up against a pair of former Hawks in Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and point guard Jeff Teague, ending this Cinderella story.

The 118-107 loss was a reminder that what makes him great makes him vulnerable. A lot of the talk entering this series revolved around Budenholzer’s lack of a counter punch. The narrative around McMillan was that his steadiness was just what the Hawks needed.

Both assessments are accurate but double-edged.

Atlanta Hawks interim Head Coach Nate McMillan’s even-keeled temperament came back to haunt him at times

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Bud began blitzing the Hawks ball handlers and unleashed Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis after losing Game 4 without his star, Giannis Antetokounmpo.

He didn’t need to do much beyond that.

The Hawks, to their credit, moved the ball exceptionally well in Game 4 without Trae Young but reverted to one-on-one basketball in the Game 5 loss. Young’s return in game six only marginally solved the issue.

They also ran out of those fast starts like the one they wasted in Game 3.

McMillan was questioned during the Eastern Conference Semifinals for using regular season rotations, it began to pay off as the Hawks wore down the 76ers. He went with a more conventional playoff bench rotation against the Bucks and the results were mixed at best as he seemed hesitant at times to make substitutions.

Take the deciding Game 6 for example. Kevin Huerter had his worst game of the postseason by far with just five points on 20 percent shooting from the floor and 16.7 percent from deep.

Worse yet he was minus-33 as the Bucks searched him out on defense repeatedly.

Yet he played 29 minutes, fourth-most on the team. Cam Reddish, who was on a minutes restriction, was right behind him. Why not give the kid more floor time? What reason is there for Lou Williams, a hero in Game 4 and part of the problem in Game 5, given just 11 minutes?

"“He was a player, so he knows how to challenge players and he would challenge them all the time. Every single one of us. He sees all these little things. When someone is down, how to get them up, how to give them that confidence, how to get the players to listen to what he sees, what a player sees, so I like him. I like him and I’m very proud of him” – Bogdan Bogdanovic on Nate McMillan via Sarah K. Spencer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution"

The steadiness that McMillan displayed throughout the series against Philly came back to bite him in more than one way, though. Clint Capela averaged his 10 boards, but he averaged just 9.5 points and managed to shoot an underwhelming 41 percent from the free-throw line. Rookie Onyeka Okongwu outperformed Capela but only averaged 11 minutes this round.

Injuries obviously forced McMillan into some tough decisions and they’ll need to add more star power in the offseason. But the breakdowns in the Hawks offense and the slowness to get it corrected fall on him too.

At any rate, Atlanta had a great season and McMillan would appear to have been the key.

Next. The Atlanta Hawks show they have a very bright future with their young core. dark

The players love and respond to him and he seems to know what he wants out of them. Who knows what the Hawks will ultimately do. But it is hard to see them removing a key figure in getting their season back on track and surpassing expectations. It seems like an easy decision to make, just not a forgone conclusion.