Hawks’ Season Preview: Mailbag Edition (Part 1)

Nate McMillan

With the 2021-2022 Hawks season just over two months away and Summer League in full swing, I figured what better time than to open up the mailbag and answer some of the burning questions Hawks Twitter has regarding the upcoming season. I got pretty wordy on most of these answers, so I broke this up into two parts. Let’s get started!

@dylanatl325 asks:
How long do you envision [Sharife] Cooper staying in college park?

 

Great question, and one not easily answered. We’ll start by just talking about Sharife. Everything he’s shown so far at Summer League further reinforces why so many people were shocked he fell to 48. A borderline elite-level playmaker already; few NBA players can stay in front of him. His issues come on the defensive end, which can likely never be fully resolved due to his lack of size. The big swing skill that takes him from high-level role player to full-blown NBA starter is going to be the jump shot. As many have noted, his mechanics seem to have already improved since college. Evident in him hitting five threes, including a game-winner against Indiana in Summer League.

With that being said, it will be tough for Sharife to get any real playing time this year. Firstly, the franchise centerpiece in Atlanta plays the same position. Even if Sharife hits his ultimate ceiling as a rookie, he still will struggle to play next to Trae for defensive reasons, limiting his minutes substantially. Secondly, the Hawks heavily invested in backup point guard this offseason with the trade for Delon Wright and the re-signing of Lou Williams. While Wright had no say in the matter, I’m sure Lou Williams did not decide to return to Atlanta to be behind Cooper in the rotation.

Ultimately, I could see him having a role this year similar to Brandon Goodwin‘s the past couple of seasons in Atlanta. Goodwin was also on a two-way contract as a rookie and even started a few games these past two seasons when the Hawks’ injuries began mounting up. I would predict that he’ll be converted to a full-time roster spot by the cutoff date, but even then, I doubt he plays much at all outside of garbage time or as a backup when someone is out. Next season, however, I expect Sharife to be Trae’s full-time backup. That could certainly be among the best point guard rotations in the NBA.

@_broyles_  asks:
Who’s the next guy to have a breakout season?

 

This will depend on how one defines a “breakout” season. For instance, while Trae Young‘s numbers were not any different last season than the one before, he certainly “broke out” during the postseason and has now cemented himself as one of the league’s top players. De’Andre Hunter had a more traditional breakout season last year, as his impact, when healthy, was perhaps the second-best on the team following a less than stellar rookie campaign. Picking a player this year to breakout is really tough when looking at the roster, as the starters will all be established players who, outside of Hunter, have likely already hit their peak performance or close to it.

That’s why I’ll go with Kevin Huerter as my pick for who will breakout this year. As we all saw in the Philly series, most notably in game seven, he has all the tools to become a high-level two-way player. That’s right, two-way. Not only was his offense a major boost to the Hawks, but his defense in the absence of Reddish and Hunter proved to be a major difference-maker for the team.

The amount of 6’7″+ guys in the NBA who have his combination of shooting, playmaking, and defense is slim. If he’s given all of Bogdanovic’s backup minutes, as well as splitting time with Reddish as the backup to Hunter, he could easily approach twenty-plus minutes per night, especially when considering the games some of the starters will ultimately miss. He’s not only my pick to breakout next season for the Hawks, but he is also a strong dark horse candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award.

@moody_coleman asks:
Do the hawks need a top 15 superstar alongside Trae to reach the finals?

To answer your question literally, no, they do not. We saw just this past year that the Hawks were a freak injury to Trae Young away from not just potentially making the Finals but even winning the whole damn thing. The Hawks absolutely have the roster this season to make that run; however, their margin for error compared to other teams with multiple stars is much smaller.

We’ve seen over the years that this is a star-driven league, and ultimately, when a team has a chance to get an elite talent, it has to take it even at the expense of depth. When you’re competing with the likes of Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and the two teams in LA for a title, the more superstars, the better.

With that being said, it depends on who that player is and what they give up. For the Hawks, it doesn’t seem that one of those guys will be available via trade or even free agency anytime soon, but this is the NBA, and situations change daily. If one does, expect the Hawks to be one of the top destinations.

@hawksfan2523563 asks:
Since it is inevitable, who are we going to send away in trade package for a superstar whether it be this year or the next?

 

I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable, but it is certainly more likely than not at this point that all of these young players are not on the Hawks’ roster two to three years down the line. Not only will the Hawks have trouble paying them all, but as I mentioned before, they’ll certainly be one of the first teams to call when the next superstar demands out. I’d argue that the only “safe” players on the roster right now would be Young and Hunter, but even Hunter should not be completely off the board when you’re talking about acquiring someone like Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis.

Atlanta is in a pretty special place right now. Most of their draft picks seem to be hitting, they still have all of their future picks, and none of the contracts they’ve given to free agents have been bad deals. It’s about as perfect of a situation for making a trade for a superstar as it gets.

Even if the Hawks did give away three or four of their main rotation pieces this year, they’d still be considered a deep enough team to support the top-end talent of Trae and (insert player here). Again, no one other than Trae is untradeable when talking about the top 10-15 guys in the league, even if the Hawks would prefer to keep someone like Hunter or Collins long-term.

However, there is a different option for Schlenk. He could choose not to make a trade and pay everyone on the roster if Tony Ressler is honest about his willingness to go into the luxury tax. The Hawks are well-positioned to let their veteran talent leave in free agency while having their minutes taken over by players on rookie deals, especially since it seems Travis Schlenk will never stop drafting good players regardless of where his picks land.

That’s it for part one; check back soon for part two, where I’ll look at what we can expect from the team overall next year and which veteran could be on the move at the trade deadline, among other topics.

Make sure you follow me on Twitter @CSalvador24, and our main page @sportstalkatl to catch the next time we have one of these. If you disagree with anything I said or have additional questions about the Hawks, let me know on Twitter or in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

 

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