NBA Notebook: Hawks’ Young must grow as a leader, Jazz can’t get stops

Hawks guard Trae Young was shut down by the Miami defence on Sunday in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

The Atlanta Hawks appear to have gone through some leadership growing pains with their best player, the Los Angeles Lakers are hot, while the Utah Jazz are not.

Here’s what’s happening around the NBA right now.

Leadership issues in Atlanta?

The Atlanta Hawks have enjoyed a fairly successful season so far.

Sitting in a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 13-11 record and blessed with one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA led by the starting duo of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, the Hawks look to have a bright future.

The talent looks to be there for Atlanta to become a perennial power in the East, but there appears to be something that could hold back the Hawks from reaching their true potential.

Young missed Atlanta’s game Friday after a reported disagreement between him and head coach Nate McMillan. The Hawks listed his absence on the injury report as a shoulder issue, but it created a bit of a stir in Atlanta with both Young and McMillan forced to take questions about the matter in the aftermath.

Young ended up playing the Hawks’ next game on Monday as Atlanta fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-114. The team is attempting to move forward hoping this was just a small bump in the road, but the optics of the situation don’t look right.

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Young is Atlanta’s starting point guard and best player. In his fifth season with the club, he should understand there should be more accountability for things he does and says — something that, if you’re a Hawks fan, you would hope he has learned about more from this incident.

If Atlanta is going to take another step as a contender, Young will have to grow as a leader. This could be an important step in his development in that area.

Are the Lakers contenders again?

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The Los Angeles Lakers have won eight of their last 11 games, putting up 117.2 points per 100 possessions while giving up just 110.8 points per 100 possessions.

Put another way, the Lakers have played very well over their last 11 contests and it’s largely thanks to the play of Anthony Davis, who has been averaging 31.9 points, 14.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game on 64.8/45.5/86.3 per cent shooting splits during this time period.

Los Angeles has seen poor competition during this stretch, playing the San Antonio Spurs three times, but can claim victories over the likes of the Portland Trail Blazers and Milwaukee Bucks as well, giving legitimacy to this Lakers turnaround.

The Lakers sit 10-13 and given how little separation there is around the league it’s not out of the question to see them continuing to climb up the standings. However, in order for this to happen, Davis must remain healthy. The star centre left Tuesday’s game in Cleveland after playing just eight minutes with flu-like symptoms and will miss Wednesday’s contest in Toronto against the Raptors.

LeBron James (left ankle soreness) also will be out versus Toronto.

Jazz in decline

As the season started, the Utah Jazz were among the most pleasant surprises in the league, jumping out to a 10-3 mark as they leapt to the top of the Western Conference. Since then, though, they’ve won just four times and have plummeted down the standings to ninth place.

The dropoff Utah’s experienced isn’t all that shocking considering the fire sale the club held in the off-season with the expectation that this would be a rebuilding year, but considering how well the Jazz played to begin the campaign, the fall is a bit jarring.

The reason for this poor play is obvious when comparing one stat between the team’s first 13 games and its last 13.

During Utah’s 10-3 start, it boasted a defensive rating of 109.7. In its last 13, however, the Jazz have been giving up 117.6 points per 100 possessions. When you consider the team has consistently been putting up around 116 points per 100 possessions, the defensive struggles loom large.

New Jazz head coach Will Hardy has implemented new systems on both offence and defence. Clearly his offensive system is working but while there was early success with his defence to begin the season, it looks like it’s already being figured out. An adjustment should be made.

Unless, of course, the adjustment was made and the Jazz are now playing the way they always were supposed to, considering the talent to be had at the top of the 2023 draft.

Nike drops Kyrie

Finally, in news that was very unsurprising, Nike has officially parted ways with Kyrie Irving a month after it merely suspended its partnership with the Brooklyn Nets guard in the aftermath of him tweeting a link to a film containing antisemitic material.

Irving is now free to sign with another sports apparel brand, but considering the controversy he invites, it’s difficult to see him securing another shoe deal any time soon.

That said, his signature sneaker was a popular seller for Nike, so if he can keep his focus with the Nets on the court and avoid making headlines for the wrong reasons, you can never say never — even if that does feel very wrong.

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