As the Hawks sputtered at the beginning of 2021, I started to get a little nervous about some of the big-time claims I made about Atlanta before the season started. Expectations were sky-high, but they were for almost every fan in Atlanta. As you’ll see, and in general with the Hawks, injuries de-railed a lot of potential with this team. That’s crazy to say about a team that finished with the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. So, let’s take a look back and see what I got wrong or right back in December.
Cam Reddish & Danilo Gallinari bring home some hardware: Miss
I had Cam Reddish making an All-Defensive Team and Gallo winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. Obviously, neither of those came to fruition. Like many of these predictions, injuries de-railed them, but neither guy was playing particularly well anyways. Reddish was probably the biggest disappointment of the season, but I think he could bounce back in 2022 when he makes his return. It’s worth noting Gallinari did play an important role for the Hawks, chipping in over 13 points per game and shooting over 40% from 3. In the postseason, though, he’ll certainly be counted on to come off the bench and keep the Hawks in games.
Trae Young leads the NBA in assists: Miss
It’s hard to lead the NBA in assisting when Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double. Still, Trae did finish fourth in the NBA in total helpers (only five behind Nikola Jokic for third); his 9.4 assists per game ranked second in the entire NBA. Not a bad miss; injuries certainly didn’t help this category either, but still a miss.
Onyeka Okongwu falls just short of Rookie of the Year: Miss
Okongwu has just started coming out of his shell, but he’s another guy limited by injuries in 2021. I think he still has a bright future in Atlanta, but he’ll need some more seasoning over the summer before he cracks the rotation as a mainstay.
John Collins makes an All-Star Team: Miss
John Collins and Trae Young *should* have made the All-Star team in Atlanta, but close doesn’t count. It’s a fan vote anyways.
Team defense is still a problem, but Atlanta makes big strides: Hit
This one is a hit, and I don’t even care about the personal accolades — this is a hit that matters. The Hawks have been much better defensively under Nate McMillan, and ranked 11th in defensive rating and 15th in points allowed per game. That is a massive leap from finishing last in 2019-2020. I almost want to label this as a miss for saying team defense would still be a problem. Atlanta hasn’t had a fully healthy squad for long enough to make a fair assumption, but this could have been a top unit this season.
Hawks finish top five in three-point percentage: Miss
The Hawks finished 12th, but they showed flashes in some games, like on opening night against Chicago when they could not miss. There were many great individual performances, but they didn’t make a dent in the team percentage when so many key contributors missed so much of the season.
DeAndre Hunter takes the “Lloyd Leap” & averages 20/6/3: Miss
Lol, “Lloyd Leap.” Anyways, DeAndre Hunter averaged about 15/5/2, shooting 48% from the floor and just under 33% from beyond the arc, but that includes missing 49 games this season. Not a bad miss, but no cigar.
Clint Capela sets new career highs in Points & Rebounds: Miss & Hit
Capela came just 1.5 points per game shy of setting a new career-high for points per game, but he led the entire NBA in rebounds and rebounds per game by a wide margin. His 14.3 rebounds per game was a career-high as well, and I’d consider 2020-2021 the best season of his career by far.
Kevin Huerter shoots 41% on three-pointers: Miss
Kevin Huerter ended up shooting just under 37% from deep, but even with the injuries to key players, he didn’t take the massive leap as a shooter that I expected. Still, he had a nice 2020-2021 season and played some very valuable minutes when other guys weren’t healthy.
Kris Dunn finds his niche: TBD
This is a strange one considering Kris Dunn only played in four games this season, but he was flying around on defense when he was healthy. The playoffs will tell if that trend continues.
The Hawks get a top-five seed in the playoffs: Hit
Oh yeah, you bet.
Atlanta pulls off a playoff upset: TBD
The Hawks will have an opportunity to make this happen, as they will face off against the 4th seeded New York Knicks to start the 2021 playoffs. I think the Hawks had a pretty good chance to knock off any team they face when healthy, but Julius Randle and the Knicks have been exceptional in 2020-2021. If Lloyd Pierce and injuries hadn’t hampered this team from the jump, we could be looking at a team that could have taken home-court advantage all the way until the Eastern Conference Finals.
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