Hawks season preview: Could Trae Young lead them to win the East?

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·6 min read
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The Atlanta Hawks have the main ingredient required for breakout success in the NBA and that’s a bona fide star on the rise: Trae Young.

Aside from Young, the Hawks are loaded with talent and now have the added confidence of defeating the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers in the postseason. However, do they have what it takes to get over the hump and actually make it to the NBA Finals?

Below, check out our preview for the 2021-22 Suns campaign.

Roster changes

Gorgui Dieng, Atlanta Hawks
Gorgui Dieng, Atlanta Hawks

Returning: John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Trae Young, De’Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, Lou Williams, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, Solomon Hill and Skylar Mays

Additions: Delon Wright (Sacramento), Gorgui Dieng (San Antonio), Jahlil Okafor (Detroit), Jalen Johnson (Duke), Timothe Luwawu (Brooklyn), Johnny Hamilton (Mornar Bar), AJ Lawson (South Carolina) and Sharife Cooper (Auburn)

Departures: Tony Snell (Portland), Kris Dunn (Memphis), Bruno Fernando (Boston), Nathan Knight (Minnesota) and Brandon Goodwin

Strengths

Trae Young
Trae Young

* Trae Young is already a star in this league… One of the most fascinating storylines of the 2020-21 postseason was Young’s dominance. The guard was not only able to score at least 30 points in eight of the 16 playoff games that he appeared in but also reached as many as 48 points against the soon-to-be champion Milwaukee Bucks. Young notched 39, 35 and 34 points when he faced the Philadelphia 76ers – who had the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference. He was quite the showman in the process, too, and his on-court antics against the New York Knicks proved he isn’t lacking any confidence.

* This team is wildly deep… If you’re only as strong as your weakest link, Atlanta is going to be one of the strongest teams in the NBA. They don’t have any holes in their starting five. Clint Capela and John Collins are a great frontcourt duo. Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter offer a ton of upside on the wing. Even their bench has some solid options with Danillo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, Delon Wright and three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner Lou Williams.

* Their young players are only getting better… If you look at the core group set to appear in the starting five for the Hawks next season, none of them are yet 30 years old. Young (23), Bogdanovic (29), Hunter (23), Collins (24) and Capela (27) are all still finding ways to improve their game. Capela is coming off his best defensive campaign to date. Collins is one of the early betting favorites to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Hunter should be a sleeper for the award as well so long as he stays healthy.

* Good luck stopping them in the pick-and-roll… Atlanta averaged 1.25 points per possession from their roll men in pick and roll sets, per Synergy, which was the most efficient mark in the NBA. They also averaged 9.6 points from their screeners, which ranked second-best in the NBA. Both Capela and Collins were among the league’s most reliable options on screen and dives in 2020-21. Expect that to continue into next season as well.

Weaknesses

Danilo Gallinari, Atlanta Hawks
Danilo Gallinari, Atlanta Hawks

* Trae Young can be exposed on defense… For all of his awesomeness on offense, Young has some serious liabilities as a defender. No matter which defensive impact measurement you prefer, Young grades out as one of the worst in the league. Opponents can feast on him in the pick-and-roll and his assignments have had little trouble beating him off the bounce. While his defense wasn’t a problem against the Knicks, he will likely have more losses where he will shoulder the blame due to those shortcomings. Atlanta has a solid interior defense with Capela in the paint but their perimeter defense is not as promising.

* They rely on their jump shot but they’re inconsistent… If the Hawks are going to be a contender, they’re going to need to hit their jumpers on a more consistent basis. Young, who is their offensive anchor, shot 37.4 percent on his three-pointers in January. But that dropped to as low as 23.9 percent in his eight regular-season games in May. Collins was 43.1 percent beyond the arc in January but 35.0 percent in March. Bogdanovic was 49.5 percent from long-distance between April and May but 31.9 percent between January and March. You get the idea. Shooting is their bread and butter but they need to be able to count on it.

* It is possible that they have an embarrassment of riches… Although most winning sports teams have shown us that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Atlanta’s impressive depth may actually make the roster a bit too crowded. Is it possible that veterans like Danilo Gallinari and Gorgui Dieng get squeezed out to make room for younger players like Cameron Reddish and Onyeka Okongwu? How will coach Nate McMillan balance the need for developing rookie Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper when they already have guys like Delon Wright and Solomon Hill in front of them on the depth chart? It may get confusing in Atlanta.

Depth Chart

Possible moves

Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks
Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks

* The Atlanta Hawks head into the season with one of their deepest rosters in years. For the most part they are set and they still have the flexibility to make minor moves as well as the assets to make a big trade. Atlanta has one of the most optimized rosters in the league with every player either having a role or carrying upside into the future. They could get in the mix for the next available star if they’re willing to part ways with some of their players currently on rookie-scale deals. They have plenty of tradeable salaries and can offer multiple future first-round picks to make a compelling offer.

* Assuming they go into the season with 15 players on the roster, the Hawks will be just $1.9 million below the luxury tax line. They are extremely deep at point guard and as long as they’re healthy, they are loaded with wing players. They should have adequate big men after signing Dieng and will likely rely on Collins and Gallinari playing some small-ball center until Okungwu returns. Plus they still have $5.5 million remaining of their mid-level exception and their entire $3.7 million bi-annual exception available if they need additional depth. Those exceptions could be useful on the buyout market.

* After giving Young a max contract and Collins $125 million, they are likely to become luxury taxpayers soon. Huerter, Hunter, and Reddish could each earn eight figures in the mid-to-high teens annually on their next deals, which could lead to tough decisions by the front office. Of that group, Huerter is currently eligible for a rookie-scale extension and he earned himself a big boost in negotiations after his playoff heroics. Delon Wright is also extension-eligible but with so many point guards, they may want to get a look at him first before committing to him.

Salaries

Prediction

Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta Hawks

1st in the Southeast Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference

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