The last time Atlanta buzzed with basketball excitement was in the early 1990s. The Hawks were then led by the high-flying Dominique Wilkins, who received a fitting musical tribute from Master P. in May. Since then, Hawks fans have had little to cheer about, except for that magical 60-win season in 2014–2015. That has changed thanks to young Trae Young.
Yes, the Hawks will be flying high again — as early as this season. Young will be at the forefront of Atlanta’s basketball renaissance, with his unlimited range, deft passing, and steely resolve. He was impressive as a rookie, averaging 19.1 points per game and 8.1 assists for the season. But Young’s sensational second half is particularly encouraging as he upped his averages to 24.7 points and 9.2 assists post-All Star break. After an off season working with Kobe Bryant, Young feels he will be even better. Crucially, he won’t be shooting a measly 41.8% (32.4% from deep) next season. The hope is, he will start shooting higher percentages again, and that will make Atlanta even more dangerous.
But the Hawks have more in their arsenal than just Young. There’s the über-athletic John Collins (19.5 points, 9.8 rebounds), who has become the perfect pick-and-roll partner for Young. Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce notes the “special connection” between Young and Collins, and is rightfully excited. “You got a point guard who’s really good at pick-and-roll and is a crafty and creative passer,” Pierce explains. “You got another guy who’s dynamic in pick-and-roll because of his ability to get behind the defense to finish basically on good and bad passes and can absorb contact while in the air. Great passer, great roller. Great creator, great finisher. It’s a naturally borne dynamic to have in those two guys.”
The Hawks also have shooters Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter to space the floor for the Young-Collins two-man game. Plus they have draft candidate Cam Reddish, who was the 10th pick for the Hawks in last June’s draft.
The Hawks are building an exciting, competitive team, and they are doing it by drafting smartly. Just as important, management has resisted splurging on free agents. That has left the Hawks with $41 million in cap space, which put the Hawks in position to be major players during free agency, this offseason. And they aimed big as they tried securing a meeting with Kevin Durant.
Warriors Wire reports that the Hawks targeted Durant, as their cap flexibility would have been more than enough to accommodate KD’s max contract desire. As one of the biggest names in the NBA, he is also one of the highest earning sports stars in the world, according to Ladbrokes. And while KD signed a two-year, $54.3 million deal with the Golden State Warriors in 2016; the magnitude of that deal didn’t put off the Hawks.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, Durant commanded another massive deal ($164 million over 4 years) from the Brooklyn Nets in July. Netting KD would have opened a championship window for the Hawks as early as next season. Yet even without a superstar like Durant, hopes are high in Atlanta this season.
The current Hawks are young and hungry for success, led by a dynamic duo with superstar potential in Young and Collins. They also have a pace-and-space supporting cast and a shrewd front office. They aren’t title contenders just yet, but they will be flying high again (and back into the playoffs) starting this season.