Hawks making threes, so why are they not better offensively?

The addition of Marco Belinelli is one reason the Hawks are among the leaders in three-point shooting. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

I didn’t think the 2017-18 Hawks would be a good offensive team in large part because they wouldn’t have enough shooting (which is a subsection under the larger heading of not having enough talent). I was wrong, and I was right.

The Hawks so far rank third in NBA three-point shooting (40 percent), and 11th in effective field-goal percentage (52). Players have embraced an acronym that encourages an aggressive approach to three-point shooting: L.T.M.F., meaning “Let That (Expletive) Fly.”

Yet the Hawks rank just 22nd in offensive efficiency (102.9 points per 100 possessions). What gives?

First, the good news for the Hawks. Two newcomers are shooting well on three-pointers (Luke Babbitt and Marco Belinelli) and two holdovers who weren’t making them last year are now (Malcolm Delaney and Taurean Prince). Those developments have allowed the Hawks to be a good three-point shooting team despite getting little production in that area from Mike Muscala and Ersan Ilyasova, who were projected to be among their leaders.

So, if the Hawks are making three-pointers at a good clip, why aren’t they a better offensive team? The most obvious answer is that they aren’t shooting well on two-pointers and, in some ways, it’s that simple. (All stats via NBA.com.)

The Hawks’ 48.3 percent shooting on twos ranks tied for 22nd in the NBA. Their worst shooting is in the tough five to nine feet range (25.7 percent, ranked 29th), with Muscala (0-for-5), Belinelli (1-for-5), Kent Bazemore (1-for10) and John Collins (1-for-10) dragging down that number. But the Hawks have only attempted 6.6 shots per game from five to nine feet as a team (seventh-fewest).

The Hawks’ second-worst shooting range is 15 to 19 feet (38.1 percent, ranked 19th) and they take the third-most attempts per game from there (11.3). Delaney (4-for-15), Bazemore (7-for-28) and Prince (1-for-13) haven’t shot well from that range while Dewayne Dedmon (11-for-20) surprisingly has. From a shot location standpoint, poor shooting and heavy volume on mid-range jumpers is hurting the Hawks.

But another factor is that they rank just 19th in three-point field goal frequency. Obviously it’s harder to maintain a good percentage as attempts go up. But the Hawks have the right people shooting threes so they probably would benefit from launching more of them and less mid-range shots.

That is perhaps easier said than done, but it seems to be the most plausible path to better offense for the Hawks. The Hawks will be very deep with three-point shooters if Delaney and Prince maintain their improvement and Ilyasova or Muscala get on track, so I think they can and should L.T.M.F. even more.

The Hawks don’t get to the free-throw line much (26th in attempt rate) but don’t have many players with a track record of doing so. They turn the ball over a lot (ninth-highest turnover percentage) but none of the main culprits have a history of doing it less. And the Hawks are always going to sacrifice offensive rebounding for transition defense, so getting 20.6 percent of their opponents’ misses (tied for 21st) probably is about the best they can do–the one year they’ve ranked better than 28th is the year Dwight Howard was gobbling up rebounds.

The Hawks are a very good three-point shooting team, and I didn’t see that coming. It’s pretty much everything else that’s holding them back from being a better offensive team.

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