As the opening of the new season draws closer and closer, Basketball USA continues its traditional presentation, franchise by franchise, of the upcoming NBA season. Like every year, this one takes the form of a countdown, from the worst record in the league to our favorite for the title of champion.
Passage today in Georgia, to look into the file of the Hawks.
In the 2020/21 season, the Atlanta club had greatly exceeded expectations by qualifying for the Eastern Conference finals, falling to eventual champion Milwaukee. But the following season was unfortunately very different: if continuity was in order since the group was renewed almost in its entirety, the Hawks did not however manage to capitalize on their brilliant previous exercise, and were generally disappointing.
Ranked 9th in the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season, they were forced to go through the “play-in” box to join the playoffs, before being sharply outclassed by the Heat in the first round.
Broadly speaking, the Hawks’ 2021/22 season was ultimately quite cartoonish: they were as effective on offense (116.5 points scored on 100 possessions, second best average in the league) as they were ineffective on defense (114.9 points against 100 possessions, the fifth worst average).
Dejounte Murray to the rescue of a picky defense
In a stalemate after this featureless season, the Hawks then made changes.
And unsurprisingly, it was the defensive sector that was targeted as a priority since the club signed one of the biggest transfers of the summer, that of Dejounte Murray from Spurs.
Member of the second defensive team in 2018 and best interceptor of the last campaign, the one who was All-Star for the first time in his career formed last year joined Atlanta at the peak of his career, to form an association of backs ” pretty scary” in the opinion of Trae Young, who will finally be relieved of part of the “playmaking” and will be able to evolve more without the ball. In a role ever closer to Stephen Curry?
To make room for the old Spur, the Hawks later parted ways with Kevin Huerterholder of position 2 216 times (in 274 matches) since the start of his career, sent to Sacramento.
– Arrivals : Dejounte Murray (Spurs), Justin Holiday (Kings), Vit Krejci (Thunder), AJ Griffin (Draft), Frank Kaminsky (Suns), Aaron Holiday (Suns)
– Departures : Kevin Huerter (Kings), Sharife Cooper (Cavaliers), Delon Wright (Wizards), Gorgui Dieng (Spurs), Kevin Knox (Pistons), Lou Williams, Skylar Mays, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot (Suns).
PLAYER TO WATCH: John Collins
Several avenues were possible here, in particular that of the “new look” rear-wheel drive of the Hawks. But when we observe the dynamics of the past season within the Atlanta club, it is good John Collins who appears to be the player to follow closely.
Constantly improving during his first three seasons in the league, the strong winger from Atlanta then stalled during the next two years. Particularly last year.
Repeated physical glitches certainly didn’t help but, on the field, the Hawks outfielder clearly lost efficiency, frustrated by his role in the attack of his club so much that transfer rumors intensified at mid-season.
Finally, after a painful season for everyone, the 19th choice of the 2017 Draft is still there and he will start his sixth campaign in Atlanta. Whether he will complete it in full remains to be seen, as his relationship with Trae Young and Dejounte Murray will be key to his side’s success.
The truth on the ground will be the determining factor: if the Hawks regain their level of play from the second half of the 2020/21 season, that the victories are linked and that everyone contributes their stone to the building, it will not there’s no reason to think that John Collins is leaving. Otherwise, if Nate McMillan and his men can’t get out of the quicksand they got stuck in last year, anything will be possible…
Average age: 25.2
Payroll: $160 million (16th)
THE IDEAL SCENARIO
The Hawks version (second half of) 2020/21 are back!
Still as flamboyant in attack under the impetus of a fairer than ever Trae Young, and well surrounded by effective arms behind the arc (Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Holiday, De’Andre Hunter, AJ Griffin), the Hawks can now also count on a respected defense, unlike the previous two seasons.
The arrival of Dejounte Murray is indeed, as expected, a “game-changer” on this side of the field, since the former Spurs player takes care of the best opposing exteriors every night, and can then hide the shortcomings of his colleague from the rear lines in this field. In the painting, Clint Capela and his understudy Onyeka Okungwu authoritatively guard the circle.
We even find a flourishing John Collins, once again a central point of the Hawks’ attack. On “pick-and-roll” or “pick-and-pop”, his two-man game with Trae Young and/or Dejounte Murray sparks.
As in 2021, the Hawks then qualify directly for the playoffs without going through the “play-in” box. And if they do not necessarily have the advantage of the field, “Ice Trae” and his teammates look like very serious “outsiders”, capable of overthrowing the hierarchy in the East.
The brilliant playoff run of the 2021 campaign is just a distant memory in Atlanta. Despite changes made during the summer, the Hawks are still the same: the attack is certainly still child’s play for Nate McMillan’s troop, but the collective defense is however still not developed.
If Dejounte Murray rolls up his sleeves every night and makes his direct opponents drool, his integration is on the other hand more sluggish in attack, because the sharing of leather with Trae Young is not very fluid and natural, contrary to what the two backs however promised during the off-season.
While John Collins, if he does not officially claim a transfer, still rails against his use in attack, which he considers far too limited.
On the bench, Nate McMillan does not last long: the tactician pays for the delay in lighting up his team, which is in the soft underbelly of the Eastern Conference as the new calendar year approaches, and takes the door to mid-January.
Finally, the Hawks somehow straighten the bar in the spring, just before the playoffs. Not enough, however, to do better than a place in the lower part of the “play-in”, synonymous with the obligation to win two matches to go to the playoffs. The Hawks have not improved compared to the previous season…
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