Let’s just get down to the facts. The Atlanta Hawks making the Eastern Conference Finals was amazing to watch. The No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference shocked the world by taking down the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round and playing the Milwaukee Bucks to six games. It was great while it lasted, but the rest of the East is back and healthy.
For a team to win, there are many variables. Luck is one of those variables and the Hawks were lucky to an extent. The lineup that the team boasts has young star power on it, but when it comes to the postseason, that was just their first taste of losing on the grand stage. With little upgrades from the offseason, the Cinderella story that was the Hawks last season has struck midnight.
Point Guard - Trae Young
Which Trae Young are we going to see at the start of the season? Will we see the one that got off to a slow start in his first 18 games of the season, where he struggled to shoot close to 40% from the floor or the one that caught fire and led a Steph Curry-like scoring run in the postseason? Young finished the season with All-Star numbers but was snubbed from the All-Star Game, as well as the men’s Olympic squad.
The key factor was Nate McMillian. When McMillian took over as head coach, the trust in Young grew, while his superstar produced. Young averaged 25.3 points and 9.4 assists last year. He is just 22 years old. We haven’t even seen his full potential. If Young can return to his 2019-2020 form, where he averaged 29.6 points and develop a three-point shot, the rest of the league will need to look out.
Shooting Guard - Bogdan Bogdanovic
Bogdanovic flourished by playing alongside Young. He averaged a career-high 16.4 points per game while shooting 43.8% from outside, which was a six-percent increase to his previous year. The last time the Hawks made the Conference Finals, the backcourt displayed Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver. The team needs Bogdanovic to get to Korver’s level.
When the Hawks made the Conference Finals, Korver shot 48.7% from outside. Is Bogdanovic skilled enough to get to that level? That remains to be unseen, but if he can, it only makes this team get better.
Small Forward - De’Andre Hunter
Assuming Hunter can stay healthy, he provides an intriguing element to the position. Hunter averaged 15.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23 games. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward showed glimpses of being able to play solid defense. The Hawks missed his size when the team played the Bucks, who were bigger with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez on the floor.
With Hunter back in the fold, it allows Kevin Huerter to come off the bench, which is huge. Huerter is a solid shooter but needs to provide the offense with the second unit. Hunter shot 48.4% from the field last year. With the offensive weapons on this team, the Hawks could be spoiled with anything Hunter provides.
Power Forward - John Collins
In the series against Philadelphia, Collins averaged 15.1 points and 10.0 rebounds. Then, in the Conference Finals, he averaged 13.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. These are respectable numbers for a power forward, but the team uses Collins as a stretch-4 and his three-point shooting was in the dumpster where he hovered around 26%.
Collins is a career 38% shooter from outside and once averaged 20.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. His numbers took a dip last year with the additional offensive weapons. His fit needs to be figured out this year because he is the team’s second-best overall offensive weapon.
Center - Clint Capela
It’s nice having the league’s leading rebounder on your team for another year. Capela averaged 15.2 points and 14.3 rebounds last year. Capela wasn’t just the best defensive rebounding player in the league either, as he also led the league in offensive rebounding percentage too.
He just missed out on 60% shooting for the fifth straight year but missed by just 0.6%. His defensive win shares also improved. With a full offseason to work with the defensive-minded McMillian, who knows how much more Capela could break out this year?
Delon Wright, Sharife Cooper, Louis Williams, Cam Reddish, AJ Lawson, Kevin Huerter, Jalen Johnson, Danillo Gallinari, Solomon Hill, Gorgui Dieng, Johnny Hamilton, Onyeka Okongwu
Delon Wright was a solid pickup this offseason. After being traded by the Pistons to the Kings, Wright averaged 10.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and shot 39.8% from outside. Sharife Cooper, taken out of Auburn from this year’s draft, could potentially be a steal. Once heralded as a first-round pick, Cooper was taken No. 48 overall.
Lou Williams, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, nearly left basketball but bought in on the Hawks. If he is locked in, that’s a dangerous shooter lurking off the bench. Cam Reddish took a step in the right direction but played just 26 games last year. Hurter displayed similar numbers as Reddish, but his outside shooting percentage decreased. Danillo Gallinari is one of the most underrated bench players in the league. Gallinari averaged 13.3 points and 4.5 rebounds.
They Are Good, But Are They Good Enough To Beat The Best Teams In The East?
The Hawks have a really good team. The emphasis is on the word good and not great. The Hawks caught lightning in a bottle last year. Had the Hawks played the Nets in the second round and not the 76ers, we would be talking about how the team could take a step in the right direction and compete for a Conference Finals. However, that is all this team is. They are one of six teams that could compete for a Conference Finals.
When you look at this lineup on paper, is it better than Milwaukee or Brooklyn? If the series is run back with the new-look Knicks, do the Hawks easily win that series? Even though the 76ers were taken down by Atlanta, the 76ers were the No. 1 seed in the East and should figure to compete for that title again.
The team lacks veterans with championship experience. Rajon Rondo was supposed to be that guy last year, but after the slow start, the team traded him to the Clippers. There is not a single player in the starting lineup, nor the bench that has played in the NBA Finals. You need that type of leadership. The current veterans on the team have very limited postseason success. That is going to eventually bite the team in the future.
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