Atlanta Hawks head coach trained $215M star this offseason

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks‘ have a plan for Trae Young next season and it is already underway. Atlanta fell to the Utah Jazz 72-66 in the summer league opener. But, for a good portion of the second quarter, head coach Nate McMillan was the guest of honor. McMillan joined NBA TV’s broadcast to talk about a wide range of topics.

Among them was the head coach’s take on the blockbuster deal that brought All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to Atlanta.

McMillan was clear that the Hawks’ primary focus in swinging the deal was to improve their perimeter defense. The Hawks ranked 25th in the NBA during the regular season allowing opponents to shoot 36.7% of their triples.

But the biggest question was how the trade would impact Young and what he has been up to.

Trae Young has worked with Nate McMillan on off-ball, strength, and conditioning this offseason

Winer asked McMillan how playing off the ball will help Young. Murray’s usage rate ranked in the top-50 but Young’s was top-10. That will be an adjustment for sure, though, Young’s father has said his son can thrive in a similar role. Still, McMillan pumped the breaks on Young essentially becoming a shooting guard.

“I’m not going to take the ball out of his hands. That’s 28 [points] and 10 [assists]. I’m getting 28 and 10 every night with the ball in his hands so we’re not going to totally take the ball out of his hands.”

That is certainly a wise decision after Young led the league in total assists and total points during the regular season.

He was not as successful during the postseason against the Miami Heat.

McMillan alluded to that and how they were able to really hone in on what he called the Hawks’ “only” threat on the perimeter.

“He’s seen so many defenses this past season. A box-and-1, they trap every pick-and-roll, putting big defenders on him. So he saw all these defenses and we talked about the adjustments he needed to make.”

Those adjustments are where Murray comes in. McMillan said he told Young this move allows Young to play off the ball more.

“One of the adjustments is just go down the floor. Allow the second guard to bring the ball down the floor. We can run you through the defense. It takes a lot of pressure off of you because now you’re not out front with all eyes on you. Run him through the defense and set some pin downs for him.”

That is similar to pleas we heard for Young’s future during the Hawks playoff series against Miami. And McMillan says he and Young have already started getting to work on making those adjustments.

“We’ve talked about that. We actually worked on that about a month ago. I went out to Oklahoma City to talk to Trae about this upcoming season and the things that he feels he needs to work on: getting stronger, conditioning needs to be better, and playing off the ball. So those are some of the drills that we worked on this summer.”

McMillan acknowledged the Hawks cannot switch like some of the best teams given Young’s size. He also said that they have certain rules when Young is defending on the ball.

But he also says that Murray’s versatility will help alleviate some of that.

The Hawks’ defense ranked 26th during the regular season. If they can bring that up to even the middle of the pack, they can win a few more games.

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If they do that, perhaps they aren’t fighting through the play-in tournament and on the road for most of the first round.