Hawks’ Nate McMillan will need answers next season

Hawks' Nate McMillan will need answers next season

I caused quite a stir two days ago when I proposed that the Atlanta Hawks trade head coach Nate McMillan to the Los Angeles Lakers. In the end, it’s unlikely to happen for a variety of reasons.

What are your plans if Trae Young is targeted?

It doesn’t change the fact that the Hawks’ coaching staff needs to improve this offseason. The following are five questions Nate McMillan must answer before the start of the 2022-23 NBA season.

You might read the question and assume I am asking about Trae Young being targeted on defense. No, the question is in regard to the increased frequency in which opponents are attempting to scheme Young out of the game on offense.

No team executed this strategy better than the Miami Heat. Thanks to their size and athleticism, the Heat roster was uniquely built to contain Young. Couple their top-four defensive rating with a perennial Coach of the Year candidate in Erik Spoelstra, and it was a nightmare for the Hawks.

The All-Star point guard has faced unrelenting defense since he was in grade school. However, down the stretch of the regular season, throughout the Play-in Tournament, and punctuated in the Playoffs, opposing defenses attempted more double teams and trapping of Young.

Young averaged just 15.4 points on 31.9% shooting from the field. Through equal parts strategy and bullying, the Heat stopped the engine of the NBA’s second-best offense.

This was entirely predictable and foreseeable. It’s a massive failure for the coaching staff to have no real answer for such a game plan. Now teams around the league will copy the Heat’s blueprint this summer and try to implement it next season. Will the results be any different?

When will John Collins get more touches? Nate McMillan has said that he doesn’t call plays for John Collins on the offensive end of the floor. He expects the springy power forward to produce based entirely on cuts, rebounds, broken plays, and anything that might fall into his lap.

Collins’ 16.2 points per game this season was a slight decrease, as were all of his shooting percentages (a nasty sprained finger can do that). Despite it all, Collins’ assist-to-turnover ratio jumped from 0.93 to 1.63 this season on a consistent usage rate. It’s no secret that the 24-year-old high flyer wants to spread his wings and fly for the Hawks offense. When will the coaching staff let Collins soar? What is your vision for rookies?

In April, I documented how Jalen Johnson’s rookie minutes were historically low. Despite being drafted 20th overall, Johnson finished 74th among rookies in total minutes played (120). The Hawks’ 2021 second round draft pick, Sharife Cooper, didn’t fare much better. While the expectations were lower for Cooper, he did finish 88th among rookies in total minutes played (39). Everyone from McMillan to team president Travis Schlenk is quick to point to the playing time the two rookies received in the G League. However, that is not the same as time logged in the association.

After a tough win against the Clippers on March 11, Nate McMillan was asked about John Collins’ health. The coach told the media with a sly smile, “We’re not going to tell you everything. I just respect him for his effort.” Come again? There were times this season when media and fans alike knew the coaching staff was less than forthright. Collins’ health was just one example. Another was on January 9, following a Clippers loss, acting head coach Chris Jent said Lou Williams didn’t dress “out of respect.”

How will you be more transparent? McMillan was initially hesitant to play Onyeka Okongwu during his rookie season last year until the front office nudged him in the right direction. The old-school coach has to adapt. The league is younger than ever, and even championship contenders play their rookies. What will become of Johnson, Cooper, and this year’s 16th and 44th overall picks?

Check the latest Sports news section for latest updates.

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