The Atlanta Hawks are coming off from arguably their best post-season run since relocating from St. Louis to Atlanta. They reached the Eastern Conference Finals after being underdogs in the first two rounds against the Knicks and 76ers. They pushed the Milwaukee Bucks to the brink, forcing the series to go six games. Unfortunately, they suffered injuries throughout the playoffs which led to their demise. Key players such as Trae Young, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish missed multiple playoff games.
After a strong draft and an underrated free agency, the Atlanta Hawks look to once again be in contention for a deep run and a possible finals berth.
Travis Schlenk seems to have done it again. Since taking over as GM of the Atlanta Hawks, Schlenk has arguably been the best drafter in the league. The abundance of talent he has selected from Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, and Onyeka Okongwu has been unprecedented. Now looking at the 2021 draft, he seems to have gotten incredible value at both his picks.
Jalen Johnson preseason was a fringe top 5 prospect in the 2021 draft. A virtual lock in the top 10. An athletic 6’8 forward who can pass, dribble, and has shooting ability is rare to find. He shot incredibly efficiently in his limited time at Duke. 52.3 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from the three. Johnson’s stock seemed to drop, however, due to character concerns after leaving Duke early. Regardless, his talent is undeniable, and if he’s all in as he says he is, the hawks have a day one contributor. He’ll be another lob threat with point guard abilities. In his time at the summer league, Johnson averaged 19 points and 9.5 boards. Once again efficient, shooting 57.4 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. Hawks may have found another gem.
Sharife Cooper falling to 48 seemed to be the shocker of the draft. Throughout college, Cooper displayed his elite playmaking despite his small stature at 6 feet tall. He was the only freshman in the last 25 seasons to average 20 and 8 since Trae Young. Now Sharife isn’t Trae, but he has similar qualities. The similarities in stature, vision, and speed are all there. If he continues to develop his shot, he can eventually be a great 6th man for the hawks.
Free Agency (Additions and Losses)
The Atlanta Hawks had one of the most underrated off-seasons in the NBA. They made their top priorities clear, to lock up their young talent and gain more depth.
We start with the hawks’ most notable move, extending Trae Young. Undoubtedly the franchise player, Trae has leaped in all three seasons. From rookie of the year finalist in year 1 to all-star starter in year 2, and now to the best player on an Eastern conference finalist team. He’s answered every critic’s questions this season, leading his team to the playoffs and performing at an elite level there. There’s no doubt Trae’s worth every bit of that 207 million dollar contract.
Resigning John Collins to a non-max contract was one of the biggest wins this offseason. John has had solid production these past three seasons. He averaged nearly twenty points and ten boards in his 2nd and 3rd year before taking a step back. He’s always been efficient, shooting in the high 50s from the field and nearly 40 percent from three. However, John has had the luxury of benefiting from generational playmaking at the hand of his PG. John’s play warranted a large contract but giving a max would’ve hurt the Hawk’s future flexibility tremendously. Twenty-Five million dollars per year is a fair deal to both sides that keeps the cap space flexible and Trae happy.
Solomon Hill and Lou Williams
Making sure Solomon Hill and Lou Williams returned was also a great move. In terms of chemistry and team building, these two will help the young guys tremendously. Their voice and leadership matter. They’re also great depth pieces in case of more injuries.
Hawks signing Gorgui Dieng as the backup big was one of the few underrated moves this offseason. The 6th pick in the 2020 draft, big O had shoulder surgery and was ruled out until January. Gorgui, a solid backup who can defend and shoot the three, is a tremendous replacement until Okongwu returns. He’ll also give more veteran leadership to a very young squad.
Solving the backup point guard dilemma has been an emphasis for the past two years. They’ve experimented with Rondo, Teague, Goodwin, and more. With the trade for Delon Wright, the hawks may have their answer. Wright is a 6’5 point guard that can shoot, defend, and play alongside Trae Young. He’ll do a much better job leading the 2nd unit and give Trae more of a breather.
Kris Dunn and Bruno Fernando
To trade for Delon Wright, the hawks had to give up Dunn and Fernando. Both were non-contributors throughout the regular season. The Hawks hoped Dunn could be a defensive presence next to Trae, but injuries and struggles on the offensive end hindered him. When Okongwu was drafted 6th overall by the hawks, it seemed to be the end for Fernando. Travis Schlenk was able to replace arguably their two worse players for a solid backup. Another great move on his part.
Starters: PG: Trae Young, SG: Bogdan Bogdanovic, SF: De’Andre Hunter, PF: John Collins, C: Clint Capela
It’d be wise for the Hawks to stay consistent with this starting lineup unless injuries occur or Cam Reddish takes a leap. It’s a great combination of shooting, size, length, and defense. The one underrated aspect of this unit is De’Andre Hunter. Before his first meniscus surgery, Hunter was legitimately the best player on the Hawks. If healthy, he has a two-way star written all over him.
Bench: PG: Delon Wright, SG: Kevin Huerter, SF: Cam Reddish, PF: Danilo Gallinari, C: Gorgui Dieng/ Onyeka Okongwu
The backup point guard may be up for the most debate. As great of a vet as Lou is, Delon Wright should undoubtedly be the lead back up. Wright’s proven to be a serviceable defender, a decent three-point shooter, and an underrated playmaker. Last season on the Kings and Pistons, he averaged 10 points on 47 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from the three. He also grabbed four boards and averaged four assists. As presently constructed, Wright is a flat-out better player and will help win more games. There should be no question about the wings as Huerter and Reddish are two young guys who can provide great two-way play. The backup power forward spot was solidified for the next two years with the signing of Gallo last summer. The hawks signed Dieng to backup Capela until Okongwu returns.
Overall, the Atlanta Hawks improved upon a roster that was two games away from the NBA finals. With more depth, young talent, and a leap they have all the tools to make a deep run again. Expect them to be a top 4 or 5 team in the East and one of the most exciting young cores in all of basketball. With a full year of coaching under Nate McMillan, this team could be a sleeper to come out of the East.
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