With the Braves amid an October playoff run and the Falcons beginning to look like a competent team again, it’s easy to forget the Hawks season starts in less than ten days. They open up at State Farm Arena on October 21st against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in a battle of one of the most polarizing trades in NBA history. It’s a fitting way for the Hawks to begin their campaign following a surprising Eastern Conference Finals berth that nearly saw them overcome the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s safe to say expectations are slightly different this time around, but that can’t stop me from coming up with some bold predictions for the 2021-2022 NBA season.
Hawks win more than 50 games and finish with a top-three seed in the East
I don’t think this is that bold, but Vegas currently has the Hawks win total set at 46.5, and that should be a number they cruise by. At no point last season was this team healthy, and they were winning at a 60-win pace under Nate McMillan, which continued into the playoffs. The Hawks may not quite be ready to compete for an NBA title, but their depth makes them built for the regular season. They have 12-13 legit options to turn to every night, which will pay dividends as players inevitably miss some time with injuries. As long as Trae Young can avoid a significant injury, this team will easily eclipse 50 wins, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they flirted with 60.
De’Andre Hunter finishes in the top-five for the Most Improved Player award
I would love to say Hunter wins it, and I definitely think he will be in the conversation, but that’s a little too bold for my taste. The most substantial concern surrounding Hunter is his health. When he was healthy to begin last season, he looked like the best player on the team at times — even better than Trae Young. I firmly believe Hunter will be an All-Star in this league one day, but he’s going to have to stay healthy for an entire season to win this award, and that may be a problem, unfortunately.
Kevin Huerter wins the Sixth Man of the Year award
I expect several Hawks to compete for yearly awards. Trae Young should be in the MVP conversation, Clint Capela could win Defensive Player of the Year, and Nate McMillan might win Coach of the Year; however, Hunter and Huerter are who I believe are the most likely to actually win one. Young has too much talent around him to put up the stats needed to win the MVP, and Capela strikes me more as a finalist than a winner. Huerter, on the other hand, could breakout and turn some heads this season off the bench. He was critical to the Hawks playoff run and has turned into a fantastic two-way player. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he took home the Sixth Man of the Year award at the end of the season.