I might toot my own horn a bit here, but this really has nothing to do with me or my predictions — it’s all about the Atlanta Hawks, who are forming into one of the best basketball teams in the league. The national media clearly didn’t pay attention to what was going on in the southeast corner of the United States over the last couple of months of the season. That showed when a remarkable 15 out of 18 people picked the New York Knicks to beat the Hawks in the first round. Ramona Shelburne even picked the Knicks in five!
Never forget…. 18 ESPN Basketball experts….. 15 had the New York Knicks beating the Hawks in the #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/E4gsE80J7Y
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) June 3, 2021
I took the Hawks in six originally, but after seeing all the disrespect, I even upped the ante a bit and said Hawks in five. But the egregious errors in judgment went much further than just predictions. It was almost accepted as fact — even by beat writers in Atlanta — that Julius Randle would be the best player on the court, which I thought was ridiculous at the time, and we now know just how incredibly absurd that notion was. Trae Young has probably been better than Randle since he was in college, and he will always be better than Randle. And I’m not disrespecting Randle; Young is just that fantastic.
Now, leading up to their current series with the 76ers, I’ve made some pretty bold claims (according to some people). First, I said there is ABSOLUTELY no chance that Philadelphia would advance if Joel Embiid did not play. I guess we will never technically know, but I think people will understand after the series that it wasn’t a hot take — just facts. Secondly, I picked the Hawks would win the series if Embiid isn’t 100%. I got crushed by some, but after Game 1, are you starting to get the picture yet?
This is the best team the Hawks have had since Dominique was rocking the Pac-Man logo.
Trae Young isn’t just an All-Star; he’s a superstar. He’s unguardable and elite in every facet offensively. His first step might be the best in the league, his handles are superb, he might be the best passer in the league, and you have to guard him from 35+ feet out. Defenses have to pick their poison every time he has the ball in his hands because you can’t guard him one-on-one, and if you bring help, he will find the open man every time. Young is growing up right in front of our very eyes, and he gives the Hawks a chance to win every game they play.
But it’s not just Trae Young that makes this Hawks team click. They have a supporting cast of studs that are enjoying the spotlight just as much. John Collins is among the most efficient players in the NBA. He can score at all three levels, rebound, and defend. Bogdan Bogdanovic is like a Klay Thompson with playmaking ability. He nearly shot 50/40/90 from the field once he came back from injury and is extremely underrated defensively. De’Andre Hunter (when healthy) is a rising star in this league, and Clint Capela controls the paint on a nightly basis.
Off the bench, the Hawks have a plethora of microwaves capable of going off on any given night. Kevin Huerter is blossoming into an unbelievable two-way player that can stroke it from anywhere on the court. Danilo Gallinari is a seasoned veteran that’s good for 15 every night, and Lou Williams has had several impressive performances so far during the playoffs. Even Onyeka Okongwu has started to look like the sixth overall pick in the draft.
The Atlanta Hawks are a well-rounded basketball team that has been perfectly constructed to win in today’s NBA. They have excellent guard play, are loaded with players who can shoot the rock, have unbelievable depth, are led by a superstar, and under Nate McMillan, they’ve found a defensive identity. With all of that comes confidence, and the Hawks are oozing with it on the court every night.
Think about this: The Hawks are 34-13 with Nate McMillan as their head coach. That would put them on pace to win nearly 60 games over an 82-game series, and they did that without being healthy for a large chunk of it. Now, regular-season wins don’t always equate to postseason success in the NBA, but if anything, the Hawks are proving they perform even better with the whole world watching. This team has arrived, and they are going to be a handful for the 76ers… and beyond.
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