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Hawks in the NBA - The Halfway Point

Keegan’s still good, Kris is stuck in Portland, and Luka doesn’t get any run

Atlanta Hawks v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a minute since our last Hawks in the NBA, in which Keegan Murray turned into a goddamn lightning bolt. We’re now at the halfway point in the season, so let’s check in with our former Hawks in the National Basketball Association.

Keegan Murray

Since his 47-point supernova game against Utah on December 18, Murray’s logged 7 games of over 20 points and his shooting continues to climb after a cold start. In the 18 game since the Utah outburst, Murray is averaging 16.7 points per game to go with 5.4 rebounds, with shooting splits of 50/39/70. The 3-point percentage that hovered around 30 percent through the first quarter of the season is now sitting comfortably at 37 percent. That’s a good recovery.

The highlight since the big night against the Jazz was a 32-point outing in Detroit on January 9, a 131-110 win over the hapless Pistons. He then scored 25 points and snagged 6 rebounds the next night in a 123-98 win in Charlotte.

During this whole run, Murray was talked about league-wide as a potential trade piece for the Kings, but those talks never materialized and I don’t know how much better the Kings would get trading Keegan for someone like Pascal Siakam (who was eventually traded to Indiana). I’m glad that didn’t happen.

As for the Kings, it’s been a weird season, despite a 24-18 record through 42 games. They have the same roster as a year ago in which they made the playoffs and lost to Golden State in Round 1. Murray has taken a step up. Domantas Sabonis is averaging 20-13-8. De’Aaron Fox is over 27 points a night. They have a decent bench. But it’s not clicking. The defense is poor - Sabonis is excellent but isn’t a rim protector and the perimeter defense is lacking from basically everyone. The point differential is virtually identical - they are +0.6 through 42 games. I don’t know if this is a situation where they caught everyone off guard last year and now the book is out opn them or they caught a year in which the West was a little down outside of Denver or what, but it’s just not clicking. Take the Detroit game I mentioned - Detroit led that game 47-29 after the first quarter. Of course, it’s Detroit, they stink, and they are currently on pace to have the worst record in league history, but the Kings trailed that team by 18 after a quarter of play. A week later, the Kings were handling business against Phoenix and led 112-94 after a Keegan 3 with 6:14 remaining...but lost due to a 23-4 run by Phoenix to end the game. It’s been really inconsistent like that all year.

They are still sitting in a good position through - they are 7th in the West, so in a play-in game and just a half-game behind Phoenix for 6th and a game behind New Orleans for 5th.

Kris Murray

We go from the fun, happy times with Keegan to the dark, sadness of the (near) bottom of the West with Kris. The Kings, despite some shaky moments, are still well above .500 and in the playoffs. Portland?

Bottom of the West as of 1/24/24

OMG.

Look, there are a few bad NBA teams per season. Most of the bad NBA teams season-to-season are merely bad though, clocking in around 20-30 wins. We don’t get a ton of historically bad teams - the last I note is the 2015-16 Sixers, who were in the middle of The Process on their way to a 10-72 record, 1 game off the worst in league history (a mark the Sixers own, in 1972-73). This year, we have five historically bad teams in Detroit, Washington, Charlotte, San Antonio (the roster they’ve put around Wemby should get people fired), and Portland. You watch those teams and you wonder how they’re in the same league as Denver or Boston or Oklahoma City. Until Monday when San Antonio just snuck under this mark at -8.9, all of them had a point differential of -9 or worse (Washington, as of this writing, is at -11.1). Detroit is on pace to finish 8-74. The others are lucky Detroit exists as an organization. And then there’s this curious case of Portland where they are semi-competitive some nights, but have losses of 21, 29, 36, 28, 62 (the 5th biggest margin of victory in NBA history), and 23 points since January 1. And Kris ended up with them. Damnit.

A huge problem for Kris is his minutes getting yanked around, and some nights he doesn’t play at all. Take the highlights from the game below, a 127-116 loss to Phoenix in which Kris actually played real minutes - 37:02, per Sports Reference - and chipped in with 13 points.

A nice night and probably warranting a steady diet of minutes, right? In Portland’s next game, January 17 against Brooklyn, Sports Reference clocked Kris at just 2:33 played. That’s been how the month has gone for Kris - he started the month with a stretch of 19, 15, and 20 minutes played against Phoenix and a mini-series with Dallas, then back to 7 minutes versus Brooklyn. 16 and 23 minutes against New York and OKC, then 9 against Minnesota. The whole month has been like that. Last night in a close game with OKC, a controversial OKC win, he got a DNP-CD, his 17th DNP/Inactive of the year. Someone please get him the F outta there.

Luka Garza

Luka is stuck as well, though at least he’s on a good team. I have to say though - Monday’s loss to Charlotte is about as stunning a loss as I’ve ever seen; Karl-Anthony Towns went for 62 points, but the T-Wolves lost and KAT was on the bench for much of the 4th quarter, getting subbed in and out for offense-defense. The loss, coupled with Denver and Oklahoma City wins Tuesday night, knocked the T-Wolves off their perch above the West, with OKC now at the top on tie-breakers (OKC is 4-2 combined versus Minnesota and Denver, while Minnesota and Denver have only played once and the T-Wolves won that game in October).

Back to Luka - since our last write-up, Luka has played just 6 minutes over a span of 3 games. He logged 2 minutes in a rout at the hands of the 76ers on December 20, 3 in a blowout of the Rockets on January 5, and 1 against Memphis on January 18. To his immense credit, Luka managed to fire up a shot against Philly while also snagging a rebound and picking up an assist plus two fouls, and got up 4 shots (1 make) plus a rebound, a foul, and a turnover against Houston.

The lesson, as always - get your shots up when you get the chance!