Long-time assistant Lloyd Pierce had big shoes to fill when he was hired as the new Atlanta Hawks’ head coach, taking the place of a former coach of the year and current frontrunner for the same award in Mike Budenholzer.
Pierce’s arrival came at a crossroads in Atlanta Hawks basketball. The team had just endured its worst season in over a decade in 2017-18 and subsequently handed the keys to rookie point guard Trae Young. However, Pierce proved himself to be up to the challenge throughout his first year at the helm and should be viewed as one of the best up-and-coming coaches leaguewide.
No, the Hawks did not win very many games this year. However, Pierce, along with general manager Travis Schlenk and owner Tony Ressler, was able to help cultivate an identity for this young group, something not seen very often among rebuilding teams. Pierce constantly preached tempo and wanted to implement the run-and-gun style that has made teams like the Warriors and Rockets so successful, and the Hawks hit both marks, ranking among the league leaders in both pace and three-pointers made and attempted.
For a coach who has largely been thought of as more of a defensive mind, Pierce led the young Hawks to average the 12th most points per game in the league, a very respectable mark for a such a young and, well, tanking ball club.
Defense was understandably a struggle during Pierce’s first year in Atlanta, but he said himself recently in an interview that he has yet to implement the long-term defensive strategy he plans to run in Atlanta. If the Hawks are able to move forward with his defensive schemes next year, improvement in that department should be imminent.
But beyond just X’s and O’s, perhaps the most important thing coach Pierce did in his first year in Atlanta is allow a positive and enjoyable vibe to radiate off of this young ball club. It was clear throughout the season that this was a tight-knit team that truly enjoyed playing with one another and was having fun on the court even if they weren’t winning many games. This is a quality that not every coach is able to create in the locker room and is reflective of Pierce’s dedication to playing a fun, high-intensity style of basketball as well as giving off a positive vibe to his players and staff.
If he is able to successfully implement his defensive schemes into what is already a blossoming offensive ball club while maintaining the same level of joy and charisma with which the young Hawks played this season, it shouldn’t be long before Pierce is mentioned among the NBA’s elite head coaches.
Jackson Stone – @tdjs_network