While the NBA regular season is over, we still do not know what all of the NBA Playoffs matchups are going to look like. Due to the play-in tournament there are still some series’ who we will have to wait to find out who plays who. Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks do know who they will play in the first round of the playoffs in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 seed matchup, and that will be Julius Randle and the New York Knicks.
Both teams have been major surprises in the Eastern Conference this season. No one expected the Knicks to finish the year with a 41-31 record in the fourth-seed of the East. Atlanta also was not expected to take such a big leap forward this year, but were able to finish the year with a 41-31 record as well.
Most of the Hawks’ success had to do with the fact that Nate McMillan replace Lloyd Pierce as the team’s head coach. McMillan brought a defense first mindset to the team and he got the most out of his players. That is exactly what the Hawks thought he would do for the franchise.
Just last season, McMillan put together another successful season as the head coach of the Indiana Pacers. He was fired at the end of the year following the Pacers being swept out of the playoffs by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. Landing with the Hawks was the best possible place he could have ended up.
All of that being said, let’s take a look at three ways the Hawks can stop the Knicks’ new superstar, Julius Randle, to win their playoff series in the first round against New York.
3. Take Away The Open Three-Point Shot
Perhaps the biggest development that took Randle to a new level this season was his ability to knock down the three-ball at a very high level. He went from shooting just 27.7 percent from the arc in 2019-20 to 41.1 percent this season. If the Hawks want to win this series, they cannot allow Randle to shoot open threes.
Randle has proven time and time again this season that his shooting is not a fluke. He has worked hard and has turned into a very dangerous three-point threat. Atlanta has to take that aspect of his game away.
No one is going to be able to completely stop Randle with his improved offensive game. There is no question that he will put up numbers in this series. However, if the Hawks can take away the open three-point shot, they will have a much better chance to contain Randle and make him work much harder for his stat line.
2. Limit The Drive-And-Kick Three-Point Looks
They™️ said the Knicks:
• Had a rudderless roster
• Were lottery bound
• Had a tough opening schedule
• Had a tough second half schedule
What actually happened?
🗣🗣🗣 FOURTH SEED pic.twitter.com/mNEUVL1eab
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) May 16, 2021
Secondly, the Knicks have thrived on Randle’s ability to be a playmaker for his teammates. New York may not have a ton of elite three-point shooters, but they do have some capable threats. With Randle’s ability to handle the ball, he has been able to kick out of drives and post-ups to wide open shooters who have knocked down looks.
Basically, the Hawks simply need to make sure that they do not allow the Knicks to shoot open threes. Randle can’t get open looks and they can’t focus too much on Randle and allow other players to shoot open shots.
In today’s era of the NBA, teams live and die beyond the arc. New York is a much more complete team than just jacking up threes, but the Hawks can’t allow them to get hot. Atlanta is a lethal three-point shooting team themselves, so making sure that the Knicks cannot match them in that aspect will be a major key.
1. Do Not Foul
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Hawks cannot allow Randle to get to the free-throw line. He averaged six attempts from the foul line per game this season. Atlanta cannot allow him to put up points in bunches by fouling.
Clint Capela and John Collins have their work cut out for them. Randle is a big, athletic body who can handle the ball and force defenses into tough situations. Atlanta has to focus on playing straight-up defense without fouling. That is something that McMillan preaches hard and the Hawks will have a good defensive game plan against Randle.
Like we already mentioned, the Hawks are not going to be able to stop Julius Randle. All they need to do is focus on making it more difficult for him to score. If they can make him work for his buckets, they should be able to wear him down and find a way to win the seven-game series.