The Atlanta Hawks are quietly one of the league’s most intriguing teams as training camp quickly approaches. Here’s a breakdown of where Trae Young and company stand heading into the 2019-20 NBA season, one that could be the start of Atlanta’s rise up the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks have as much young talent as any team in the Eastern Conference, and optimists believe the league at large.
After getting off to a surprisingly slow start from beyond the arc as a rookie, Trae Young rebounded over the season’s second half to consistently exhibit shotmaking and playmaking talent reserved for truly elite ball handlers. He’s still a long way from a finished product and will always be limited by innate physical deficiencies, but Young, already one of the best passers in the league, seems poised to cement himself this season as the driving force behind an above-average offense for years and years to come.
The problem for the Hawks, and it’s a relative one, is that no other player on the roster realistically projects to reach Young’s potential level of All-NBA impact. John Collins is one of the league’s most explosive athletes with a burgeoning set of overall skills and rapidly developing 3-point range, but would likely be overstretched as a primary scoring option and is stuck between positions defensively. Few outside Atlanta paid proper attention to Kevin Huerter’s rookie campaign, one in which he flashed rare prowess as a shooter – spotting up, sprinting around screens, and even off the dribble. He’s a better athlete than advertised coming out of Maryland, but short arms limit his defensive versatility and ability to finish around the rim.
Every other young player for the Hawks is a question mark. Is rookie De’Andre Hunter, despite troublingly low rates of blocks and steals at Virginia, the defensive linchpin general manager Travis Schlenk believes? Will fellow lottery pick Cam Reddish even break into the rotation this season? Atlanta likes DeAndre’ Bembry and he was much-improved in 2018-19, but his long-term role on a good team is still unknown. Jabari Parker is a free-agency flier the Hawks might have been better off not taking given widespread defensive concerns and positional redundancy.
The veterans who proved crucial to Atlanta’s growth through last season are gone, too, with the exception of the ageless Vince Carter, in his NBA swan song. Evan Turner is stepping in to fill that mentorship void left by Kent Bazemore, and Alex Len, who now has legitimate 3-point range, is stepping in for Dewayne Dedmon at center.
Atlanta finished with the league’s fifth-worst record last season, an outcome incongruent with optimism surrounding the team throughout the offseason. The Hawks have tip-toed around a goal of making the playoffs, and analysts and fans across the basketball world are pondering whether they’re indeed ready to make that leap.
Of course, Atlanta’s final place in the East’s pecking order will come with the caveat of substandard in-conference competition, for better or worse. Either way, the Hawks expect to be better than they were last season – and league followers do, too.
10/26 vs. Orlando Magic – Atlanta’s home opener won’t just be an indication of the city’s interest, or lack thereof, in one of the league’s most promising young teams, but also of how the Hawks stack up to another team on the rise that’s a step or two ahead in its development.
11/20 vs. Milwaukee Bucks – What better way for Atlanta to prove it’s ready to move up the Eastern Conference hierarchy than with a home test against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks?
3/25 at Golden State Warriors – The Hawks make just one trip to Chase Center to face the Warriors this season, and it comes as both teams could be fighting for postseason positioning or their playoff lives altogether. Making this game even more intriguing? The matchup between Young and Steph Curry.
4/7 vs. Detroit Pistons – Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and the Pistons narrowly won the 8-seed last season, and there’s no guarantee they’ll improve in 2019-20. If Atlanta makes meaningful strides, this game could go a long way toward deciding the fate of both teams with the playoffs fast approaching.
Projected Record: 34-48
The Hawks won 29 games in 2018-19, a total that fails to reflect their midseason improvement after Young found his footing from deep. Lloyd Pierce will be more comfortable on the sidelines during his second season as a head coach and young players are bound to improve, but does Atlanta have what it takes to completely offset the loss of Dedmon and Bazemore? The Hawks should be league average, at worst, offensively; the other end will decide how good they are more than anything else in the 2019-20 NBA season.