Yesterday was a roller coaster of emotions for Hawks fans. Trae Young, who injured his ankle last Tuesday, was cleared to play. But not a couple of hours passed before the NBA announced they were suspending John Collins for PED use. Both the Hawks and Collins later issued a statement apologizing for the circumstances. Collins also said he plans to appeal the suspension, but we know how that usually goes. Then the Hawks stepped on the floor for the first time in five days, and things were no longer so gloom.
Trae Young started slowly in his return from injury but eventually reminded us all why the future of this organization is so bright. He racked up 28 second-half points to go along with his season-high 13 assists, leading Atlanta to an impressive win over the always tough San Antonio Spurs. Greg Popovich had no answer for the second-year point guard, as Young gave him a first-hand look at why he made a mistake when he passed on him for Team USA this past summer, choosing lesser guards like Derrick White and Marcus Smart instead. Maybe, poor roster management – not lack of available talent – is why the Americans struggled so much at the FIBA World Championships, but I digress.
The Hawks have looked like a different team with Young on the floor, defeating the Pistons, Magic, and Spurs, with their only loss coming by two to a loaded Philadelphia 76ers squad. If it wasn’t clear already that he’s the one piece that cannot be missing, it is now, but he won’t be able to carry the load by himself, and last night, he received plenty of help from his teammates.
Jabari Parker has been a splendid surprise to begin this season. He’s going to be the one asked to fill the role of John Collins, and while he may not be as good, there won’t be too much of a drop-off. However, Parker’s absence from the second unit will be much more evident. The Hawks’ bench was pitiful a year ago but was more promising with the likes of Parker and an improved DeAndre’ Bembry leading it. Now, it’s back to being as thin as a pringle on a diet.
The rookies are going to have to grow up fast; Kevin Huerter will need to heal up quickly, and the primary big men – Alex Len and Bruno Fernando – are going to have to carry a heavier load if the Hawks want to keep their playoff hopes alive with Collins out. That started last night and needs to continue today against a struggling Bulls squad.
Chicago is coming off a game last night themselves, blowing a 17-point second-half lead to the Lakers. The loss moved them to 2-6, and they are 1-4 away from home as they travel to Atlanta.
Like the Hawks, the Bulls entered this season with a young team hoping to take the next step towards the postseason. They haven’t looked the part early on, but they do have the athletes to make life tough each time out. Led by Zach Lavine’s 21.8 points per game, Chicago has six players that average in double digits. Their frontcourt features the touch of Lauri Markkanen and the physicality of Wendell Carter Jr., while rookie Coby White and Thaddeus Young provide the spark off the bench. This may look like a Hawks win on paper, but if they aren’t at the top of their game, they are liable to get run out of the building – almost like the Lakers did last night.
The Hawks and Bulls split last year’s season series, 2-2, which included a four-overtime thriller that Chicago eventually won 168-161. If you remember, that was Trae Young’s 49 point and 16 assist performance, perhaps the game that made the NBA world realize this kid is something different. He’ll have to be at that level again if the Hawks want to move back over .500.
Tip off is set for 7:30 ET at State Farm Arena.