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Hawks GM Schlenk puts team defense on blast, hints at trade

Kurt Helin explains why Ja Morant deserves getting recognition for his performance with the Memphis Grizzlies and if he should be considered an All-Star.

The Atlanta Hawks have the 28th ranked defense in the league, and over the team’s last seven games it’s been 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse (stats via Cleaning the Glass).

Monday night, Atlanta gave up 136 points to a Trail Blazers team without Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum, wasting a 56-point outing from Trae Young.

Tuesday, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk went on Atlanta’s 92.9 The Game and put his 16-20 team and defense on blast, via Peachtree Hoops (hat tip CBS Sports).

“We’re seeing the same thing every game,” Schlenk said. “Again last night [in Portland], we had the lead going into the fourth quarter then we can’t keep it. I sound like a broken record here, but it’s the same thing every game. Again, ultimately this all falls on me. So we’ve got to take a long look at this and see if this group is the group we saw last year in the second half of the season or if it’s the group we’re seeing this year. And that’s what we have to determine and we have to make adjustments off those. Obviously, you can tell I’m a little frustrated.

“I think there’s a belief that we’re a good team, there’s a belief that we can score. But right now there’s no sense of urgency to make a stop, no sense of’s just not there. You guys watch the games, if somebody get scored on, they go down on the other end. It doesn’t bother them. It’s a hard pill to swallow when your team is not playing as well as you think it should. Maybe I need to lower my expectations for this team, ultimately this all falls on my shoulders. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to bring everybody back, that’s on me. We have a few weeks here at the trade deadline and that’s what I need to figure out.”

Schlenk is smart, and that rant was calculated for effect — go on a major radio station in the city, blast the team, threaten trades. Schlenk knew the team would hear about it, it was trying to light a fire under them.

There are some excuses for the Hawks’ poor defense. Trae Young can’t defend and they bank on De’Andre Hunter to cover up some of the perimeter issues, but he missed the last 24 games with a wrist injury. The Hawk defense at the point of attack is soft, with opposing ball handlers getting runs at the rim or clean looks form 3. Clint Capela hasn’t looked like the borderline All-Defensive Team player he was a season ago, he entered the season with an Achilles issue and has not looked the same (but the perimeter defense puts him in impossible positions, as well). John Collins has not been the shot blocking force they need.

All of this has taken a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago and has them four games below .500 and sitting 12th in the East, out of even the play-in.

The defense has to get better, and if that’s not happening internally then Schlenk needs to look hard at the trade market.