Hawks follower Jack Perry assesses the 2021-22 season for his team, and then casts an eye ahead to the 2022-23 campaign for Atlanta.
Where my love for the NBA and the Hawks came from…
My love of the NBA and more specifically the Atlanta Hawks comes from a unique place. At age eight, I was diagnosed with Perthes disease in my right hip (this is relevant, I promise) and was forced to give up my first love: football. To fill the sport-shaped hole in my childhood, it was wheelchair basketball that entered my life and never left. I am now part of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball men’s team and have represented my country across the world, including winning the Under-23 World Championship in Toronto, Canada.
As I began to learn more about basketball from the age of eight, the NBA very quickly entered my radar. After following the league casually on social media as a young teenager, I soon decided I needed a team to follow more closely. It was at this point in my life that another obsession had arrived and remains to this day: hip-hop. Marrying my new found love of hip-hop with basketball seemed to make sense, even more so because of the overlap between the two cultures. At the time, Outkast were ever present in my ears, particularly the 1996 album ATLiens. It was obvious, therefore, that the Atlanta Hawks would be my team.
My favourite player
Outside of the very obvious pick of Trae Young, it has to be Bogdan Bogdanovic. Since rescuing him from the NBA wasteland of Sacramento, when Bogdanovic has been fit he’s been extremely fun to watch. He’s one of those players who can heat up in an instant and before you know it, he has 15 points in the quarter. A very quiet and unassuming character off the floor too, it’s hard not to love the Serbian.
Grade for last season: C
In order to assess the 2021-22 season, we have to mention the 2020-21 season, because it really altered the trajectory of this franchise. If you’d said a couple of years ago that the Hawks would have 43 wins in 2022 and exit in the first round of the playoffs to the number one seeds, most fans wouldn’t have complained. But since making the Eastern Conference Finals the previous year, expectations have been reframed.
The Hawks fell short of those expectations in 2022, scraping into the playoffs via the play-in, which didn’t feel like the follow-up act we deserved. There were, as is almost always the case, caveats to the season’s underperformance. Key rebounder John Collins’ injury-disrupted season was perhaps the biggest of them. Regardless, it was clear that a shake up of the roster was required in the offseason – which the front office acknowledged and carried through.
Assessing the offseason for the Hawks
The question coming into this offseason was: how do you establish this team as a serious contender and make that 2021 Eastern Conference Finals appearance becomes a regular occurrence rather than an anomaly? The supplementary question to that was: how do we build around our burgeoning superstar Trae Young to maximise his strengths and protect his weaknesses?
The Hawks front office decided the answer to both of those questions was acquiring Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs. You can see how they came to that conclusion. Clearly, the over-reliance on Young offensively was a problem – Murray can take some of that load. Also, defensive reinforcement was required in the backcourt to help Young – Murray can take some of that load, too. Clearly, when Young was off the floor, the Hawks offense nosedived – and, again, Murray can take some of that load.
Yet there are also obvious question marks over the fit between the two guards. Young and Murray finished third and fourth in assists per game (APG) last season at 9.7 and 9.2 respectively. The only other team with two players even in the top 20 of APG was the Milwaukee Bucks with Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokoumpo. It’s fair to say that Young and Murray will be a unique pairing in the NBA – will there be enough ball for the both of them?
In an ideal world, it frees up Young to develop the type of off-ball movement and cutting that Steph Curry has mastered, leaving him with more open looks from three and having an elite passer and creator on the ball to find him. It should also provide him with a strong defensive backcourt partner who can shoulder the toughest defensive assignments night-in, night-out.
However it pans out, it is, without doubt, an incredibly exciting addition for the Hawks and there is a real sense of optimism within the fanbase heading into the new season.
Other key roster moves
Aside from adding Murray to the roster, there are some slight causes of concern following the offseason, mostly in terms of squad depth and the second unit. Losing Kevin Huerter and Delon Wright could leave the Hawks light on the wings and a lot depends on the durability of Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter – neither of whom have a strong track record of staying fit for an entire season. The addition of two of the Holiday brothers and Mo Harkless may go some way to offsetting those losses. But if injuries see Aaron and Justin playing heavy minutes this season, the rotation suddenly looks significantly weaker.
Danilo Gallinari could be a loss of sorts too, his firepower off the bench often ended dry spells that occurred all too often when Young was off the floor. But with every season Gallinari gets slower on defence and improving on the end of the floor was a priority for the Hawks this offseason.
Points of note from the 2022 NBA Draft
The Hawks may have landed an exciting prospect for the future in AJ Griffin – they selected him with the 16th pick out of Duke. Griffin is only 18 years old and unlikely to make an immediate impact, players entering the league at such a young age rarely do.
One thing is for sure though – the kid can shoot the ball. He made 44.7 per cent of his threes – a top 10 mark nationally among high-major players – on 4.1 attempts per game. At 6’6″, he has the length to develop into a solid 3-and-D player with perhaps an even higher ceiling, but there’s a lot of development that needs to happen in terms of strength and skillset for that to materialise. It’s also worth noting that he has the right genes for an NBA player – his father, Adrian, is a current Toronto Raptors assistant coach, after playing nine NBA seasons himself.
The one significant mark against Griffin is the ankle and knee injuries which sidelined him the latter half of his junior high school season, as well as his senior year. Hawks fans will hope that isn’t a sign of things to come throughout his career.
Most important players for the 2022-23 season
How Dejounte Murray adapts will of course be the key to the Hawks’ fortunes, but this season could be the one De’Andre Hunter finally makes good on those tantalising but frustrating glimpses of potential he has teased Hawks fans with since being drafted fourth in 2019. Hunter has not had a season in the NBA free of injury and at 24, now would be the perfect time for him to overcome those issues and build on last season’s impressive playoff series against the Miami Heat where he averaged 21 points per game.
To a certain extent, the Hawks know what they will get from their new ‘Big Three’ – if they can command that label yet, that is. Young and Murray are proven stars, while Collins has averaged around the 20 ppg mark long enough to earn respect around the league. Hunter, therefore, could be the unexpected X-factor for the team. The addition of Murray should provide Hunter with some easy looks and allow him to showcase his talents away from the spotlight that Young and Murray will command. If he does begin to fulfil that potential, he would be a very potent fourth option and possibly fire the Hawks towards the top end of the East this season.
Other teams I’ll be looking out for in the coming season
Away from the Hawks, I am absolutely intrigued by the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. Having seen the Golden State Warriors win yet another Championship playing small ball, the Timberwolves said: ‘Okay let’s do the opposite’ and added Rudy Gobert to create their own ‘Twin Towers’. With Karl Anthony-Towns uttering the fateful ‘Championship or bust’ mantra, expectations are clearly high within the squad. Whether it combusts or takes them to the finals, I can’t see any way it won’t be thoroughly compelling.
The Hawks’ aims for next season
Next season, finishing in a playoff spot without the stress of the play-in should be the priority. Ultimately this team is not ready to seriously contend for a title, but reaching the second round of the playoffs is definitely not a wild objective to set.
Three predictions for the season ahead…
- DeAndre Hunter wins Most Improved Player
- Trae Young finishes top 5 in MVP voting.
- The Hawks finish 4th in the East
Why should people watch the Hawks?
The simple answer is: Trae Young. If you don’t enjoy watching him pull up and drain threes from the car park, nutmeg his defenders or throw time and space-altering dimes – then I don’t know what to tell you… maybe go and watch some 90s highlights of centers backing down into the paint!
But really, the brand new backcourt pairing should be reason enough to tune into some Atlanta games. Two of the premier creators in the league last season playing side by side – will it be complete chaos as they both attempt to demand the ball offensive play after offensive play? Or will it be a seamless transition where the two lovingly create open look after open look for one another? Either way, it should be fun to watch.
This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here