Hawks: Too early to talk tanking

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The Hawks are a little past the quarter mark of the season, and there are already defeatists bringing up the need to tank. However, last night’s convincing win over the division-foe Charlotte Hornets highlighted many of the reasons why it’s too early to consider racing to the bottom of the league. Injuries and a slow start might be what keeps this team out of the playoffs, but there are several incentives to chase the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.


The most important reason not to throw away another season is because of Trae Young. The second-year point guard is playing at an All-Star – scratch that – All-NBA level this season – hitting career milestones on a near-nightly basis.

Most 30/10 games before turning 22, check. The first player under 22 to post three-straight games with at least 30/10, check. Just the third player under 22 with multiple 40/10 games (next to Michael Jordan and Lebron James), check.

Even the keyboard warriors on Twitter are having a tough time trying to detract from Trae’s season. The fact is, Trae’s 29 points and 8 assists a night is demonstrating he is playoff ready. I believe what he needs to reach the next level is postseason experience or at least playing in meaningful games.


Entering December, the Hawks had played the toughest schedule in the NBA. Since that time, they have won 2 of 3 games in convincing fashion. Looking ahead, their remaining strength of schedule is tied for bottom-10 in the league, according to Tankathon.

Not only does the schedule get a little easier, but it’s also ripe with Eastern Conference opponents. Thirty-nine of their last 59 games will be inside their conference, which will give them ample opportunity to gain ground in a hurry.


Another reason not to take part in the odious practice of tanking is that the 2020 NBA Draft isn’t projected to be particularly strong or deep. After LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, and Anthony Edwards, the excitement wains.

Young prospects on cheap contracts with high upside are enticing. But looking at this roster, they don’t need any more projects. General Manager Travis Schlenk has put the team in a very flexible position before the trade season and this summer’s free agency period.

On December 15th, approximately 40% of NBA players will be trade eligible thanks to the free agency frenzy of 2019. This summer will have a lot less All-Star caliber free agents, so if the front office doesn’t target any free agents, they have the pieces to bring in talent before February 7th.


There are teams like the Knicks, Cavaliers, and until recently, the Phoenix Suns, who live in the NBA Draft lottery. They have more ping-pong balls than winning seasons.

Most of the blame should be put on the front offices and coaches, not the teenagers they drafted. Luckily the Hawks don’t have a toxic environment like those teams. Besides a difference in character, Atlanta has always prioritized winning, which has a funny way of curing everything.

Ping pong balls and excel spreadsheets don’t win games, and they certainly don’t attract top players. Competitive rosters and winning cultures are what ultimately lift the Larry O’Brien trophy.

The number-crunchers over at FiveThirtyEight give the Hawks just an 8% chance at making the playoffs. I think with good health and a little bit of luck, this team can make a late-season push. So instead of chasing the ping-pong dragon, do as former first lady Nancy Reagan instructed us, and “Just Say No.”


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