There hasn’t been this much hype around the Atlanta Hawks in a long time, and anything less than a playoff berth would be a massive disappointment. Individual accolades are important, but this team has to start winning for it to mean anything. I’ve got a few hot takes I’m ready to unleash, and hopefully, they all come true.
Cam Reddish & Danilo Gallinari bring home some hardware:
My expectations are sky high for Cam Reddish after he set 2020 on fire before the NBA stoppage, and for good reason:
January: 11.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 15 STL, 8 BLK (41% FG & 40% 3P)
February: 13.4 PPG, 3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 10 STL, 6 BLK (44% FG & 35% 3P)
March: 17.5 PPG, 4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 5 STL, 2 BLK (55% FG & 48% 3P)
If Cam forces Lloyd Pierce’s hands and carves out some minutes as a starter, he could become a serious threat and turn into a (Regular Season) Paul George-Esque player. Offensive game aside, I think he has a VERY outside shot at Defensive Player of the Year, but if he makes an NBA All-Defensive team, don’t be surprised. There are already reports he had Kevin Durant in Alcatraz in a few pickup games.
I think Reddish and Gallinari could both be finalists for Sixth Man of the Year, but I think Gallo ultimately brings it home. He averaged a little under 19 points, 5 rebounds, and shot 40% from three in about 29 minutes per game last season for the Thunder. The Hawks didn’t give him $61.5 million over three years to have him as a cheerleader. I think Gallo gets a lot of time with the starters. Alongside Trae Young, the dimes he’ll be fed should allow him to crack 20 PPG and win Sixth Man of the Year.
Trae Young leads the NBA in assists
Chase already talked about the odds of this earlier, and it will be no easy task with LeBron James showing no signs of aging. However, Trae isn’t working with strictly rookies and sophomores this year. He’s already been feeding Clint Capela lobs, and De’Andre Hunter has looked amazing in the preseason (more on him in a minute). With a new supporting cast on the bench, Trae can come in at any point in the game and do what he does best — create opportunities around the three-point line for himself and others. After averaging basically 30 PPG last year and finishing second in assists, I think Trae sees a small dip in points but starts dishing out way more highlight reel dimes. It’s up to the rest of the wings to knock them down when they’re open, something Atlanta struggled with in 2020.
Onyeka Okongwu falls just short of Rookie of the Year
It’s no shock I’m a big Onyeka Okongwu fan, and I’m not backing down from my Bam Adebayo comp coming out of the draft. He may have a slow start after missing the early part of the season, but if Okongwu gets chugging, he could be the best in what’s looking like a below-average rookie class. I don’t think Okongwu brings the Rookie of the Year award home, considering he’ll be limited to mostly bench duties if Capela is healthy, but he’ll put the rest of the league on notice and crack the top-five.
John Collins makes an All-Star Team
It is kind of crazy this hasn’t happened already, but John Collins broke records in 2020. His 25-game suspension after the first game of the season killed any hope for a 2020 appearance, but he finished about as well as a player could, posting a 23.58 PER. He was the first player in NBA history to record over 20 PPG, 55% FG, 40% 3P, & 80% FT. He posted one of the three best seasons ever in terms of TS% for a player who averaged over 20/10, joining Charles Barkley, Wilt, and Kareem as the ONLY four players with a 60% TS and eFG percentage. Finally, he is the ONLY player in NBA history to score 2,700 points with ten three-pointers and an eFG of 60%.
While these stats may seem cherry-picked, I don’t care. Collins is an efficient stretch power forward who can score at will and clean the glass. I think he makes the All-Star squad, and the murmurs of a new contract will only get louder.
Team defense is still a problem, but Atlanta makes big strides
It’s no secret that Atlanta’s defense was porous in 2020. The Hawks finished last in points allowed while finishing in the bottom three in rebounds allowed and defensive rating. However, their perimeter defense ranked 11th — and they finished just outside of the top-ten for blocks and turnovers forced. With Clint Capela, Kris Dunn, Rajon Rondo, Onyeka Okongwu, and others in the fold with D’eAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish developing — I think Atlanta gets a lot better. I’m not saying they’ll turn into the Tim Duncan championship Spurs, but they will hang around a Top 20 to 15 defense, even after a poor showing in the preseason.
Hawks finish Top 5 in 3 Point Percentage
Atlanta notably finished in the top-three in three-pointers attempted (and missed) in 2020, but this is a whole new club. Gallinari, Snell, and Bogdanović join an improving young tandem of shooters that have all progressed under Lloyd Pierce. I plan on breaking down a few of those guys, so I won’t get into it too much. The point remains — I think Atlanta’s shooting does a 180, and the threes start to fall as Atlanta’s offense sets the league on fire.
DeAndre Hunter takes the “Lloyd Leap” & averages 20/6/3
I’m trademarking the term “Lloyd Leap”, by the way. Hawks players tend to see a sophomore jump instead of a sophomore slump under Coach Pierce, and I think Hunter (along with Reddish, who I’ve already talked about) is due for a massive breakout. He posted seriously impressive numbers in the preseason, averaging 14.8 PPG and playing all over the floor defensively. His defense wasn’t quite where I hoped it would be, but it is the preseason. Through three games, he was shooting an eye-popping 56% from the floor and from behind the arc on about 11 shots per game. De’Andre becomes the 4th overall pick Atlanta expected to get out of Virginia and really takes this team to the next level.
Clint Capela sets new career highs in Points & Rebounds
Capela has played on some talented Rockets teams, and I doubt he’s used to being the “veteran” presence at 26 years old. Defensive presence aside, Trae will be spoon feeding open looks to Capela all year, and he will bring some immediate juice to a team that’s been pretty poor at rebounding outside of John Collins. His FT% crested at about 64% in 2019, and hopefully, he can get back to that range or even above. Capela will average 18 PPG and 15 RPG for the Hawks, leaving a lot of Rockets fans scratching their heads.
Kevin Huerter shoots 41% from 3
Red Velvet has been a 38-39% 3P shooter for both of his NBA seasons, and he’s shown flashes of being a pure deadeye at times. He shot 44% from behind the arc in 15 January 2020 games; it’s all about putting it together. With a bit of a reduced role and a viable backup PG tandem, I think Huerter gets a lot more consistent and becomes a guy you can’t leave open without getting hurt.
Kris Dunn finds his niche
Dunn has been a bit of a disappointing lottery pick, but I always thought he and the Hawks would be a perfect match. Barring injury, he won’t be forced into any major minutes and can work with Rajon Rondo off the bench, focusing on what he does best — passing and defense. From my offseason addition piece:
In 2020, Dunn posted a defensive RAPTOR rating of +4.1. That was good enough for third-best in the NBA behind Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis. The Hawks have badly needed defensive help on the bench, especially at point guard. Pairing Dunn with Rondo in defensive prioritized situations is a menacing combo that can distribute the ball to Atlanta’s young wings and high-flying frontcourt.
Dunn’s shooting HAS improved, but if he focuses on playing hard-nosed defense and getting Atlanta’s young wings and frontcourt involved, he’ll become an important piece and fan-favorite quickly.
Atlanta pulls off a playoff upset and gets a top five seed
We’ve already broken down where the Hawks could finish in the East, but they would likely be the underdog in any series they go into. The Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Nets, Heat, and 76ers could all potentially stand in their way. I think Atlanta gets a 5 or 6 seed and goes into one of these places and pulls off a HUGE upset. I’m super hopeful about this team, and as badly as I want to make the playoffs, I want to win even more.
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