With the regular season around the corner, we're looking into our crystal ball to get an idea of what's to come in 2019-20. Consider it our last chance to fire off the bold predictions and hot takes that have been simmering all summer long.
Today, the Atlanta Hawks are our focus.
The Hawks have a good problem on their hands.
In fact, they've got a few.
Savvy moves from general manager Travis Schlenk have accelerated the franchise's rebuild. So much so that you could say they're ahead of schedule.
How far ahead? Well, I'm here to tell you that Atlanta will be a playoff team this season.
No, not next season. That's when they'll move towards the top half of the playoff picture.
Sometime in the next five years, they'll be a title contender - but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
For now, allow me to focus on these good problems, or the reasons why the Hawks will be giving a top seed fits once the 2020 playoffs roll around.
Who is Atlanta's best player? The correct answer is that there are two correct answers.
In his rookie season, Trae Young took the league by storm, making a late-season case for Rookie of the Year honours with 24.7 points, 9.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds on .442/.348/.878 shooting splits over 23 games after the All-Star break. With a year under his belt, Young now believes he can be an All-Star and with numbers like those, he definitely has a case.
John Collins will have a case to be an All-Star this season, too. Last year, he was a nightly double-double threat and came close to averaging 20 and 10 as he averaged 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds over the 61 games he appeared in.
Now, take into account that:
- Young is just 21-years-old and Collins is just 22
- The duo played in 61 games together
- Collins missed the first 15 games of the 2018-19 season, and the Hawks were 3-12 to start off
Now, consider the fact that Atlanta was 12 games back out of the eighth seed in the East - it may seem like a lot, but the team started off at a disadvantage without half of its dynamic duo.
These two have a mutually beneficial relationship on the floor - they play well together and off of one another. With the opportunity to begin the season together, Young and Collins can both grow and learn on the same timeline.
It begins with Collins and Young, but it doesn't stop there.
Atlanta has been lights out when it comes to the draft in recent years, including 2018 No. 19 pick Kevin Huerter, who proved to be both better than expected and the perfect fit in his rookie season.
The 21-year-old Huerter earned All-Rookie Second Team honours after averaging 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He had a number of big games, including a 29-point performance in a big road win over the 76ers.
.@KevinHuerter is making his presence known in the league.- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) January 12, 2019
New career-high of 2⃣9⃣ points.#TrueToAtlanta
And some big moments along the way, too.
R E S P E C T- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) March 5, 2019
3⃣ @KevinHuerter x 3⃣ @DwyaneWade #TrueToAtlanta | #OneLastDance pic.twitter.com/cMLJo7sMgu
.@KevinHuerter with the BIG SLAM- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) March 24, 2019
Last night's @Xfinity Fast Break of the Game pic.twitter.com/ntDRRQ1zsT
The 2019 draft is looking to be no different, as the Hawks used their two top-10 picks to take De'Andre Hunter fourth overall and Cam Reddish 10th overall.
Hunter, 21, has the potential to be a scary two-way player. With the length and physical tools to be a shutdown defender, he projects to be a player in the mould of a Kawhi Leonard. Last season at Virginia, he earned multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards, averaged 15.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game and scored 27 points in the Cavaliers' National Championship win.
Now, he'll likely be the Hawks' Day 1 starter at small forward and is a prime candidate for an All-Rookie calibre season.
As for the 20-year-old Reddish, he was an extremely high-value pick for Atlanta. Simply put, Reddish is a bucket getter with the potential to be a terror for second units thanks to his size and shooting ability. He struggled during his lone season at Duke while playing through a core muscle injury but still had big moments where he showed just how potent of a player he could become at the next level.
Atlanta rounded out its 2019 draft class by taking big man Bruno Fernando 34th overall - an athletic big body that immediately adds frontcourt depth to a team that desperately needed it. Again, at just 21, Fernando has the potential to develop and become much more than just a player that adds depth.
The Hawks roster has a unique blend of youth and veterans, whose experience can be key to the team making true on this playoff prediction…
Any roster with an abundance of youth needs a group of players that have been there before.
Well, the Hawks have that as well.
This offseason, the team motioned to acquire Evan Turner from Portland to address the team's void as a reserve point guard. Turner, who is entering his 10th season, has played in over 60 playoff games and played an important role throughout Portland's conference finals run this past season.
Alex Len, the team's starting centre, is a former top-five pick who is entering his seventh season at just 26-years-old. Last season - his first in Atlanta - was quite possibly the best of his career, and ideally, his resurgence will continue in the upcoming year.
This offseason, Atlanta also signed free-agent forward Jabari Parker, another former top-five pick that is entering his sixth season at just 24-years-old. Parker has been dealt an unfortunate hand with injuries throughout his career but has shown plenty of promise and could very well get back on track to be a key contributor, especially as a scorer for the second unit.
In addition to this trio of veterans, who will be depended on to produce, the Hawks also have Allen Crabbe and Chandler Parsons, two players on expiring contracts that have the capability of contributing in spurts depending on what's asked of them.
Of course, the Hawks also have the ultimate veteran in Vince Carter, who is entering his NBA-record 22nd season and will serve as a contributor, mentor, vocal leader and coach on the floor - in games and in practice situations.
Carter is an ageless wonder - there will be times where his contributions are the difference between wins and losses. He'll be 43 by the season's end, adding to the impressiveness of what he is about to embark on.
Interestingly enough, Atlanta's "coach on the court" is just one year younger than its head coach, Lloyd Pierce, who is the man tasked with bringing it all together…
When rebuilding or re-establishing culture, it's extremely important to have someone at the helm that matches the identity of what the team is looking to do.
Lloyd Pierce is that guy.
The Hawks, who are clearly a young team themselves, have the league's sixth-youngest coach.
Pierce has been working in the NBA since 2007 and has worked with the likes of LeBron James in Cleveland, Stephen Curry in Golden State, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol in Memphis and, most recently, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Philadelphia.
It's safe to say he's familiar with the development of budding stars and established superstars in the league.
Last season, Pierce tailored to the identity of his team with the installation of a 4-point line in the practice facility and a shorter shot clock to promote a quicker pace.
Well, Trae Young has proven to be one of the rangiest shooters in the NBA and the Hawks finished the 2018-19 season with the league's second quickest pace.
As a second-year head coach, Pierce will continue to learn as his team learns. His ability to get through to and resonate with his team is a major reason they're ahead of schedule.
The results are soon to come, and their situation shows that this playoff push is truly doable.
It would appear that all roads lead to an Eastern Conference Finals meeting between the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, and while a few other teams could be considered locks, the East is much more fluid towards the bottom half of the playoff picture.
Atlanta is projected to finish 10th in the conference with a record of 36-46.
This team looks primed to prove that it is being underestimated, and could win as many as 43 games.
There are scenarios in which Atlanta could be the best team in the Southeast Division, though some questions still need to be addressed, namely surrounding the team's defence.
With Trae Young and John Collins making the leap this season, at least one of the two should become All-Stars this season, solidifying themselves as top talents in the East.
With one of the best young cores and coaches in addition to a slew of veterans to help bring players along, the 2019-20 NBA season will mark the beginning of a special era of basketball in Atlanta.
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