It’s officially game week for the Atlanta Hawks, who are set to tip off the much anticipated 2021-2022 season Thursday night at home against the Mavericks. While a few positive additions were made to the roster this offseason, for the most part, this is going to be the same Hawks team that reached the conference finals last season and fell in six games to the eventual champs. Needless to say, Hawks fans and players will expect to see a similar level of success this year, as first and second round exits are no longer the ceiling in Atlanta. With that being said, how will Nate McMillan handle this incredibly deep roster, which projects to carry up to 14 solid NBA players when all are healthy? While the actual positions these players play while on the court are fluid, for the sake of this exercise, I’ll be using standard NBA positions to define the Hawks 2021-2022 rotation.
Starting- Trae Young (33 minutes)
This is not controversial at all. In fact, none of the starting roles should be. Trae has cemented himself as one of the premier players in the league and should be pushing for MVP votes this year. While 33 minutes per game is about what he played last year, it would not be a surprise at all to see him exceed that number, especially if the Hawks are fighting for homecourt advantage late in the season.
Backups- Delon Wright (12), Lou Williams (3)
While Wright may also receive some minutes at shooting guard, I expect him to be Trae’s primary backup when the season tips off Thursday night. As a versatile two-way player, Wright will likely provide the best backup minutes at point guard in the Trae Young era (sorry Jeremy Lin). For Lou, I think he’ll be used very sparingly when everyone is at full health, but he will see his minutes ramp up in times of rest for other guys or potential injury. Williams will also see some minutes at the two and be used as a solid third PG.
Starting- Bogdan Bogdanovic (30)
Despite Kevin Huerter‘s remarkable postseason run, this is still Bogdanovic’s spot to start the season. Bogi was perhaps the Hawks’ second best player after McMillan took the team over, as he hit clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch of the season. He also seemed to pick up his play on the defensive end of the floor last year. Bogi is firmly a top 15 shooting guard in the league, with the potential to rank much higher on that list if he can remain healthy throughout this season.
Backups- Kevin Huerter (15), Lou Williams (3)
Kevin will likely split time at the two and three this year and may even play some point guard if need be. However, when the team is at full strength, he’s best served as Bogdanovic and Hunter’s primary backup to help bolster the second unit on both ends of the court. The Hawks have clearly committed to Huerter after handing him a four-year extension on Monday.
Starting- De’Andre Hunter (18)
Until he went down for the first time last season, some could argue Hunter was the best player on the Hawks. I expect him to split time here and at the four in small ball units. The biggest question mark for him this year will be his health, and while early reporting seems to be positive regarding the recovery from his knee injury, nothing is for certain when it comes to Hunter’s health.
Backups- Cam Reddish (15), Kevin Huerter (15)
How much Cam Reddish plays this year will be entirely dictated by how well he plays every given night. It has been made very clear by McMillan that the Hawks are looking to win every game, and that development will not be prioritized over production. If Cam comes out and plays at a level similar to what we saw in the playoffs, I could absolutely see him taking more minutes away from Hunter and Huerter. With that being said, I expect Cam to settle into a role as the fourth wing on the roster, with potential to end the season as the best of the wings if he hits his ceiling.
Starting- John Collins (20)
John Collins showed last season that he can do much more than just put up numbers on a bad team. Perhaps the Hawks’ second most consistent player during the regular season, he came through time and time again during the playoffs with big plays when it mattered. He’ll spend most of his time at power forward but should absolutely see time at the five until Onyeka Okongwu returns midseason.
Backups- Danilo Gallinari (18) De’Andre Hunter (10)
With Gallinari being limited so far and his status seemingly up in the air for opening night, his minutes will likely be distributed between rookie Jalen Johnson and Gorgui Dieng. Dieng, of course, would be playing center, meaning less of Collins at the five. For Hunter, I think he’ll get a decent amount of minutes at power forward in small ball lineups, and the Hawks can put out some very intriguing, switching units.
Starting- Clint Capela (28)
The anchor of the defense, Clint Capela brought the Hawks elite center play last season on the defensive end of the court, and did enough on the offensive glass to make up for his sometimes lackluster finishing. As important as Young is to the team’s offense, Capela may be close to as important defensively. He’ll only see the court as a center, even though it seems Bogdan Bogdanovic has been spending some time helping Capela with his jump shot.
Backups- Collins (10) Dieng (10)
As stated before, Collins at center can definitely give defenses issues on the offensive end, as he not only is an elite roller and finisher, but he is also a solid three point shooter. For Dieng, until Capela gets back, he’s the de facto true backup center. Perhaps the Hawks allow someone like Jalen Johnson to get more minutes early and Collins plays more at the five than I’m projecting here, but if McMillan decides to go with veteran experience over the upside of Johnson then expect Dieng to have a couple of brief stints each night at the five.
Guys such as Sharife Cooper, Skylar Mays, Jalen Johnson, and TLC all have the talent to play on most teams in the NBA. It’s just that when fully healthy, there isn’t much room for them to get on the court in non-blowout games as of yet. That may change over the course of the season, but until then, expect Nate to trust the vets over the young guys.