The Hawks recent postseason run was nothing short of spectacular, but what made it even more magical is it felt like we were witnessing the start of a special run of basketball in Atlanta, something that’s never happened in this city. They finished just two wins shy of the NBA Finals, and who knows what might have happened if they had stayed healthy. Hopefully, that’s a question we won’t have to ask for long, because the best moments should be just around the corner.
The young talent on this Hawks squad is remarkable. They have a plethora of players that are 23 years or younger that contributed during their playoff run. That’s a credit to Travis Schlenk, who has done nothing but nail draft picks since he was named general manager of the Hawks in 2017. In fact, arguably the three biggest pieces to the Hawks playoffs run where John Collins, Trae Young, and Kevin Huerter — also known as Schlenk’s first three draft selections — who are all 23-years-old or younger.
Obviously, those players aren’t alone, three out of Schlenk’s next four draft picks in the first round look well on their way to becoming impact players sooner rather than later. De’Andre Hunter was arguably the Hawks best player at the beginning of the season before going down with injury. Cam Reddish has also dealt with several injuries, but he’s incredibly talented and that showed in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bucks, and Onyeka Okongwu really came on strong at the end of his rookie season, most notably in the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine anybody has a better young core — which, I’m considering 24 and younger for this exercise — so I went through the other 29 teams in an attempt to find out if anybody else could hold a candle to the Hawks talented youth.
*For argument’s sake, I’ll be assuming John Collins re-signs. I don’t think it’s a guarantee, but I do feel like there is a high probability that he signs a contract with Atlanta or the Hawks match whatever he signs with another team.
5. Boston Celtics
The fifth spot could have gone to several different teams. I was also considering the Hornets, Heat, and Nuggets, but I ultimately landed on Boston because I couldn’t ignore their backcourt of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who are both All-Stars before the age of 25. The Celtics also have a plethora of other young role players that contributed throughout the season, like Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Aaron Nesmith, and Payton Prichard. It’s a top-heavy bunch, but it’s enough to earn them fifth in these rankings.
4. Memphis Grizzles
Led by Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzles were able to squeak into the playoffs in the Western Conference after beating the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament. Morant is a future superstar in this league. Having him alone qualifies you to make this list, but the Grizzlies roster several other young pieces that were integral to their playoff run outside of Morant and Jackson Jr. Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, and Xavier Tillman Sr. all have bright futures in this league.
3. New Orleans Pelicans
I don’t believe in coddling, but in the NBA you have to sometimes. That’s what the Pelicans need to be doing with Zion Williamson if the reports are true that his family is unhappy with the Pelicans organization. New Orleans needs to do everything in their power to ensure he doesn’t end up like Chris Paul and Anthony Davis. Williamson is a superstar in just his second season, averaging 27 points on 61.1% from the field, but it’s not just Williamson that Pelicans fans should be excited about. Brandon Ingram is an All-Star and just 23-years-old; Lonzo Ball took major strides in his fourth season (although he isn’t guaranteed to return), and Nickeil Walker Alexander and Jaxson Hayes are promising pieces. However, until they start stringing together wins as a group, it’s hard to move them past the top two teams on this list.
2. Phoenix Suns
Of all the young cores in the NBA, the Suns rival the Hawks the most, which is a big reason why they are in the NBA Finals. Devin Booker is already a superstar at 24-years-old, De’Andre Ayton is well on his way, and I love the wing combo of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Everything they’ve already accomplished this season is already incredible, and I expect it to end with them being named NBA champions. Still, I believe the future upside is greater with the Hawks.
1. Atlanta Hawks
Sure, the Phoenix Suns made it further than the Atlanta Hawks this season, but you can point to several reasons for that outside of each team’s respective young cores. Devin Booker and Trae Young are a wash; you could even give a slight edge to De’Andre Ayton over John Collins, but the Hawks just have a plethora of guys under 24 behind those two with unbelievable potential.
De’Andre Hunter is a player I firmly believe will be an All-Star in the NBA. I don’t think you can say that about Cam Johnson or Mikal Bridges. Cam Reddish also has limitless potential, and I really think Okongwu will make a lot of noise in his second season with the Hawks. Beyond that, Kevin Huerter proved to be a vital piece to this team, and he’s still just 22-years-old. So, not only do the Hawks already have star power with their youth, but they have the potential to develop so much more over the next couple of seasons.