The Hawks Have Finally Built a Playoff Team Around Trae Young
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
Last season, Trae Young entered his sophomore season with the Atlanta Hawks, ready to take a leap both individually and with his teammates. Although he cemented himself as one of the league's premier scorers, the team around him wasn't thriving. In December, with their record sitting at a ghastly 6-19, Shams Charania reported that frustration has been mounting in Atlanta, resulting in an emotional locker room scene with Young in the middle of it all. The Hawks went on to finish their season with a 20-47 record, good for fourth-worst in the league. Going into this offseason, it became clear that they would need to make a splash in free agency, and that's exactly what they did.
Perhaps the biggest moves for Atlanta were the signings of veterans Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. The former signed for $72 million over 4 years after a botched sign-and-trade with the Bucks, while the latter signed for $61.5 million over 3 years. Bogdanovic should bolster the Hawks' shooting guard rotation, perhaps making 2018 first-round selection Kevin Huerter a trade piece. Although Gallinari is 32 years old with a significant injury history, he has a unique blend of height and skill on offense. Oklahoma City did an excellent job of managing his minutes last season, as he only missed 10 games. The Hawks need to follow a similar blueprint, as he's quite valuable when healthy.
The arrival of Bogdanovic and Gallinari will not only infuse the roster with shooting, but will also take pressure off their young wings De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. Both Hunter and Reddish played major minutes as rookies last season, and their inexperience was obvious in many games. Hunter should be able to improve upon the flashes of playmaking he displayed, and Reddish can focus on scoring with increased efficiency.
In addition to their newly-constructed wing rotation, the Hawks did a nice job of bolstering the point guard position behind Trae Young. Former Chicago Bull Kris Dunn agreed to a 2-year, $10 million deal, while Rajon Rondo will earn $15 million over the same length of time. Dunn is a pure steal for Atlanta, as he will provide some much-needed defense at the 1. Although he hasn't proven to be consistent offensively, there's nothing like a change of scenery to reinvigorate himself. Meanwhile, Rondo will be yet another veteran presence with one distinguishing factor: championship pedigree. The hard-nosed journeyman has won two chips in his 14-year career, including last year's win with the Lakers.
The final step in Atlanta's busy offseason was the draft, selecting power forward/center Onyeka Okongwu out of USC sixth overall and LSU's Skylar Mays 50th overall. Okongwu is definitely a questionable addition, as the Hawks traded for Clint Capela in February and have a young, talented forward in John Collins. However, Collins will likely start over Gallinari and Capela will start over Okongwu. Collins is due for a contract extension this year, which could be difficult for Atlanta's front office given their financial activity over the last month. If they were forced to trade the 23-year-old or let him walk, they would be giving up a star who has yet to reach his offensive ceiling.
Atlanta's focus this year was around Young, their 6'1" supernova who is likely to accumulate multiple scoring titles when he calls it a career. Though he is transcendent on offense, he's the league's biggest liability on the other side of the ball. Young ranked last in ESPN's defensive plus-minus at -6.17, and it capped his team's ceiling in his first two years in the league. This season will be different, as the Hawks devoted all of their cap space to masking Young's shortcomings on defense with tenacious veterans. Realistically, Atlanta's depth can cement them as an eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, perhaps one place higher if their new signings play at their best.