The Atlanta Hawks run to the Eastern Conference Finals was as improbable as it was impressive. To take two games against the eventual champs, with or without their best player, is nothing to sneeze at. As any Hawks fan will tell you they weren’t exactly at full strength either with Trae Young dealing with a foot injury at the end among others.
There are many things that can help the Hawks be better next season and health is certainly one of them. Injuries wiped out much of the regular and postseason for De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish while Bogdan Bogdanovic dealt with an avulsion fracture in his knee.
But one thing the Hawks can actively do is get out of the gates faster next season.
The Atlanta Hawks were slow starters far too often in both the regular and postseason
Atlanta ranked 14th in first-quarter points during the regular season. For reference, the Milwaukee Bucks were third in the regular season. They ranked 10th in the postseason but saw their ranking improve each round from 12th in the first round to first in the Conference Finals.
It wasn’t a lack of efficiency either. They ranked fourth in first-quarter field goal percentage and seventh overall once McMillan took over. And the scoring burden was shared by the whole team with four players averaging at least 4.0 points and 45 percent shooting in the first quarter.
For all of the improvements made under McMillan, the Hawks actually fell from 13th to 16th in pace in the first quarter. Their overall pace fell from 16th to 22nd. That is indeed far from a definitive stat on its own. But, again for context, the Bucks were second in pace both in the first quarter and overall.
Of course, it does bear mentioning that the Hawks were a top-10 team in fourth-quarter scoring on the season, going from 15th at the beginning of the season when they were below .500 to seventh under McMillan.
The old adage goes, “it’s not how you start, but how you finish”. As true as that may be, the Hawks can make finishing easier by starting faster.
There is a lot to be said for having the kind of equality in scoring and consistency throughout games that the Hawks displayed last season. And their ability to close is beyond the years of their relatively young roster. This would just be a logical next step and, apparently, one that could make a significant difference.