Even when healthy, the Hawks will only go as far as Trae Young takes them

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The Hawks fell to the Nets yesterday at home in overtime in what was probably the season’s best game. Everybody chipped in — Trae Young finished with 28 points and 14 assists despite a poor shooting performance; John Collins and De’Andre Hunter added 21 apiece, and Cam Reddish put together his best outing of the season, scoring 24 points off the bench. Still, it wasn’t enough to topple Brooklyn and their three-headed monster, who combined for 89 points, but it should have convinced the NBA world that Atlanta has the opportunity to be a threat by the end of the season.

The fact that the Hawks are 9-9 through their first 18 games is a bit of a miracle. They’ve been decimated by injuries and have yet to play a game at full strength all season, but slowly they are beginning to heal up. Rookie Onyeka Okongwu finally made his debut. Danilo Gallinari played his second game last night back from an ankle injury. Even though he’s still catching up to speed, it’s only a matter of time before he’s dropping 15-20 points on a nightly basis. Cam Reddish also made his return from the injury report last night, and there’s hope Kris Dunn will make his debut as a Hawk sooner rather than later.

By next month, Atlanta could have everyone available outside of Bogdan Bogdonović. That’s when we will really get to see what kind of chops this team has.

I have no doubt the Hawks have the talent to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If they don’t, it will be a colossal failure for the entire organization. But once they get there, their fate will lie in the hands of one man — Trae Young.

This isn’t to say Young doesn’t have help — he finally does. Collins, Hunter, Gallinari, Reddish, Huerter, Capela, and Bogdanović (when he returns) can all ball. However, come a seven-game playoff series, stars are what put teams over the top, and Trae Young is the only star the Hawks have.

These first 18 games have been a microcosm of Trae Young’s career thus far. When he’s on, he just might be the best point guard in the NBA not named Steph Curry, but when he’s off, it’s tough for Hawks fans not to start thinking about what could have been with Luka Doncic. Either way, the team goes as he goes.

The Hawks looked like world-beaters through their first four games, and you can attribute a lot of that to Young’s performance, as he averaged 33 points and 8.3 assists on over 50% shooting from the field. Then things took a turn for the worse over their next eight contests. Once again, you can attribute a lot of that to Young’s performance, as he averaged a measly 18.3 points per contest on an abysmal 32.9% mark from the field and 22.2% from behind the arc.

But since then, the Hawks have picked it back up, and so has Trae Young, winning four of their last five — with their only loss being last night’s overtime defeat to arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference. Over that stretch, Young has averaged 33.4 points and 9.4 assists on 46.5% shooting from the field and over 50% shooting from the three-point line.

The trend is simple — when Young plays well, the Hawks win; when he doesn’t, the Hawks looks like the 25-win team they have been for the last two seasons. Come playoff time; that will become even more apparent. Superstars win in this league; it’s why the Hawks — even when they won 60 games — never had a chance to win a championship. They do now, and they will for the foreseeable future, but it all revolves around Trae Young.

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