Hawks opponents are off and running

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer’s team has allowed a lot of transition chances by opponents. (AP Photo)

All of this comes with a standard Small Sample Size Disclaimer™ because the Hawks have played only seven games. But so far, they have not been a very good defensive team: 22nd in defensive efficiency with 108.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.

The Hawks are also not a good offensive team but that was kind of expected after Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. departed. The poor defense (so far) is surprising to me because the Hawks have the personnel to be better and coach Mike Budenholzer has a track record of fielding good defensive teams. Defense was the focus during Hawks training camp, too.

And it’s not as if the Hawks have been playing great offensive teams. The Nets are (surprisingly) the only Hawks opponent that ranks in the top third of the league in offensive efficiency (sixth). The others: Bucks (13th), Nuggets (17th), Heat (18th), Mavs (19th), Hornets (22nd) and Bulls (30th).

What gives? One thing that stands out is that the Hawks have not defended well in transition. Good transition D (with offensive rebounding sacrificed) has always been a hallmark of Budenholzer teams but, so far, the 2017-18 Hawks are not carrying on that tradition.

Ben Falk at Cleaning the Glass produces a transition metric that accounts for the frequency that teams run (freq), how many points they add per 100 possessions through transition play (pts+/100) and how many points they scored per 100 transition plays (pts/play, which includes shots, turnovers and free throws). Here are the Hawks’ ranks during Budenholzer’s tenure.

(For a full explanation of Falk’s metrics, click here.)

Hawks transition D under Mike Budenholzer

The Hawks’ transition D slipped a bit last season in large part because opponents ran more often. But Hawks opponents this season are getting out in transition even more frequently and they are scoring more efficiently when doing so. That’s not what you would expect when the bigs group includes Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova, and John Collins instead of Howard, Millsap, and Kris Humphries.

What’s interesting is that live-ball turnovers have not been the main culprit for the Hawks.

According to Falks’ data, 53.6 percent of steals by Hawks opponents lead to transition chances, sixth-lowest in the league. But 47.1 percent of live-ball rebounds by Hawks opponents result in a transition play, the 10th-highest rate in the NBA.  That matches up with my subjective observation that the Hawks have given up a significant number of baskets this season because their defense wasn’t set in time after misses (and even some makes).

The Hawks have been OK at defending in transition on a points per play basis. The problem is that they are allowing too many transition chances. They might improve defensively if they can reverse that trend.

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