The highly anticipated debut of this 2019-2020 Hawks squad did not disappoint. Led by their star point guard, Trae Young, they moved to 1-0 with a 117-100 victory on the road over the Detroit Pistons. Young finished with 38 points and nine assists after scoring 16 points in the first quarter to give the Hawks an early lead.
Did you think it was going to stop?
Trae Young gave me hope in Hawks basketball for the first time in my life, but even I have to admit the offseason after a 27-win campaign made me forget a little bit about why. It only took one game to remind me; Atlanta basketball finally has hope. Every time this guy has the ball in his hands, it’s must-see television. He’s so in control of his game for such a young player, making his teammates noticeably better while casually dropping 40 points himself.
Hawks fans: We have our first superstar since Dominique Wilkins, and he’s a 21-year-old, 6’1″ point guard from Norman, Oklahoma.
Young’s second-half breakout as a rookie was no fluke. Then again, if you ever thought averaging nearly 25 points and 10 assists over a 25 game stretch was a fluke, you probably haven’t been watching basketball for very long. All-Star nods are going to become like strolls down Centennial Olympic Park to Young, and it may not be long before we start hearing him in MVP conversations.
One of my goals for this team was obvious: they have to get significantly better on defense. Through one game, they have passed the test. Even when the Pistons scored 63 points in the first half, the Hawks were forcing them into tough one-on-one shots. Detroit was just knocking them down. Eventually, things were going to even out, and they did down the stretch. Atlanta held them to 37 points in the second half, as the Pistons chucked up nearly as many airballs as they did field goals.
The most promising part about it all? It was the rookies leading the charge. Cam Reddish had a miserable night shooting the ball, but that didn’t stop him from effecting the game on the defensive side, where his versatility to guard multiple positions shined all game. De’Andre Hunter was his normal stout defensive self, and Bruno Fernando was fantastic off the bench on Andre Drummond, who killed the Hawks last season.
We are going to love De’Andre Hunter
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time being around Coach Lloyd Pierce, he’s a remarkably even keel and honest guy. He’s going to tell it how it is to whoever wants to listen. Before the season began – after the Hawks first preseason practice – Pierce told the media we are going to love De’Andre Hunter. If you weren’t listening then, it’s time too.
Hunter is mature beyond his years. Pierce threw him in the starting lineup from day one, and he looked like he was out there playing basketball at Virginia again – and not just on the defensive side. Hunter’s offensive game is far ahead of where most people thought. He’s nailing three-point jumpers (2-3 yesterday) and has the strength to finish in the paint already in the NBA. I know a lot of the talk leading up to the season was around Reddish, and I’m taking nothing away from him, but Hunter is the one ready to make a substantial impact on a winning NBA team.
How about that new Hawks bench
Again, it’s only one game, but Atlanta’s bench severely hamstrung them a year ago, and they looked much better Thursday night.
We’ll start with the rookie, Bruno Fernando. He backed up Alex Len and gave the Hawks tremendous minutes, especially on the defensive end. Oh, and he also nailed his first and only three-point attempt. I talked a lot about that this offseason. The Hawks are going to try to make the three-point shot a part of his game, and he flashed it in college. If Fernando can add that to his repertoire, he could find himself as the starting center next year.
The star of this crew, however, was Jabari Parker. He put up 18 points on 8-11 shooting in 23 minutes. You can say what you want about Parker, but the man has been a straight bucket getter his entire career when healthy, and the Hawks were in desperate need of that this offseason. He could prove to be another phenomenal low-cost addition by Travis Schlenk.
DeAndre’ Bembry also continued his stellar play from the preseason, putting up eight points on 4-5 shooting, and Evan Turner filled in nicely as the backup point guard, scoring nine points on 4-4 shooting. Don’t forget, Cam Reddish will be joining this unit as well once Huerter is healthy enough to move back into the starting lineup. Atlanta’s bench looks thin no more.