The Hawks Could Perhaps Be Maybe, Slightly, Kind of Good This Year

Thomas Rice, Editor

Rejoice! for the Atlanta Hawks might not be terrible this year. At the time of writing, the Hawks have been the highest spending team in NBA free agency, with the team signing forward Danilo Gallinari, wing Bogdan Bogdanović, and guards Kris Dunn and Rajan Rondo, in addition to acquiring former USC center Onyeka Okongwu and former LSU guard Skylar Mays through the 2020 NBA draft. Also, center Clint Capela is set to play his first games for the Hawks after being injured since the Hawks traded for him in a colossal multi-team trade last January. All these acquisitions have Hawks fans like myself eagerly anticipating a significant improvement on last season’s fourteenth place finish in the Eastern Conference, a conference only including fifteen teams. 

Atlanta’s franchise overhaul has been an altogether short one, at least compared to franchises such as the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves, which seem to have been in a perpetual rebuild for the better part of the 21st Century. One must only think back to 2017 to remember Atlanta’s last playoff appearance, when the team was briefly led by the trio of Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, and Dennis Schrӧder. Since then, however, the Hawks haven’t finished any better than twelfth in the East. 

Sure, there have been highlights, most notably the rise of Trae Young, drafted in 2018 (although the Hawks did trade away the rights to Luka Dončić to select Young, which was a terrible move) and already an All-Star in 2020. There have been smaller victories, too. General Manager Travis Schlenk has drafted well, selecting Kevin Huerter and John Collins late in the first round, and both of those players, especially Collins, have outplayed their draft position. 

On the whole, though, Atlanta has had a pretty rough few years hovering just above the bottom of the NBA’s standings, with an average offense at best (and at worst, without Young on the floor, an absolutely atrocious one) and a defense near, or indeed at, the very bottom of the league. Which brings us to now. Schlenk was vocal about his desire to get Young help during this offseason, and his recent splurge has proven him true to his word. Gallinari and Bogdanović, the two more expensive signings of the offseason, are versatile scorers and playmakers who can, along with existing players on the team, most notably Young and Collins, hopefully make the Hawks into one of the league’s premier offenses. Will the Hawks be able to stop anyone else from scoring? Of course not! Young may very well be the worst defender in the entire NBA, and most of the rest of the Hawks assumed rotation players aren’t very good on that end, with the notable exceptions of Dunn, Capela, and perhaps Okongwu, Cam Reddish, and De’Andre Hunter (all of the latter three are quite young, so projecting defensive acumen is difficult). Still, at least races to 150 points between the Hawks and their opponents will be fun to watch. 

It’s really hard not to get excited for this Hawks squad for a diehard fan (I promised myself I wouldn’t write another NBA op-ed before 2021, but here we are) after the past few years of pretty consistent losing from the franchise. Obviously, there’s the entirely unrealistic dream of a 60-win team that wins this NBA finals after Young is crowned the league’s Most Valuable Player. Apart from that delusion, though, there’s real hope to be had. In my opinion, after the pretty solidly set-top seven teams in the East (Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Indiana, and Miami), Atlanta should be the front-runners for the eighth seed, the final playoff spot in the conference, and could perhaps finish higher if one of those top seven teams underperforms in the NBA’s shortened 2020-2021 season (both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets project to have high potential for volatility). On the whole, Atlanta basketball fans should be encouraged by the team’s offseason moves and should look forward to a playoff berth and being quickly vanquished in the first round by, probably, the Milwaukee Bucks.