Atlanta sports has a history of mediocrity. Most people I know can’t go more than a few seconds without talking about that Super Bowl. Or about how the Braves won what, 14 straight division titles but only one World Series. Or the Hawks history of gaffes on the night of the NBA draft. But for at least one regular season, there was a shining beacon of hope amongst the darkness that is typical Atlanta fandom.
Who provided that light? Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver: 60 wins, four all-stars, a Coach of the Year, and the 1st seed in the eastern conference. Then… swept by LeBron and the Cavs. Regardless of how familiar the end felt, the 2014-2015 Hawks were a special group, one that forced the media and NBA fans to pay attention. But that team (especially with the last remaining member in Kent Bazemore recently being traded to the Blazers) has faded into NBA oblivion, and the entire landscape of the league has changed dramatically since. A top-three player joined an established dynasty. The King moved west. The freaking Toronto Raptors just won a championship. I mean really, the Raptors??
2014-2015 was lightning in a bottle, but for a few years after, the Hawks continued to contend in the Eastern Conference, though they were not a championship contender. Dennis Schroder was decent at times. Mike Scott had cool emoji tattoos. Dwight Howard was kind of on the team. They were an organization without real direction. A strange collection of talent on the cusp of an unwanted rebuild. The Hawks once again faded into the familiar territory of NBA purgatory. That was until GM Travis Schlenk made a move in the 2018 draft forcing the league to take notice.
The night the Hawks passed on Luka Doncic for Trae Young, I was devastated.
LUKA DONCIC IS GOING TO BE A HAWK IM SCREAMING AT MY DESK
— Andy Knight (@A_Train00) June 21, 2018
Still crying over Luka
— Andy Knight (@A_Train00) June 22, 2018
Atlanta became a national story once again. But this time it was for very different reasons. Members of the media, myself, and many Hawks fans ridiculed the new GM for passing on a once in a generation talent for a player who MIGHT be Steph Curry 2.0 one day. I, thankfully, have already been proven wrong and am humbly reminded as to why I write about these decisions instead of making them.
Let’s fast forward to last week’s draft where Travis Schlenk showed again he knows how to eye out his guy and make moves to acquire him. By trading Taurean Pierce to the Nets and landing another 1st rounder, he immediately shipped the newly acquired pick and a haul of other selections to the Pelicans for the 4th pick. The Hawks selected Deandre Hunter, while also making a bet on the potential of Cam Reddish with the number 10 pick. The lanky wing out of Duke was much higher on the Hawks draft boards than ten where they selected him, according to Schlenk. They took a gamble, knowing that Reddish would have been there at eight, and hoped he would be there at ten. On the Hawks good fortune, Schlenk said, “It’s better to be lucky than good in this business.”
Every move, questionable or not, has a purpose – a long-term plan to build a contender by finding players with complementary talents to place around their two weapons – Trae Young and John Collins. This stability in decision making is rare in the NBA (see the Suns or the Wizards recent moves if you need examples or the Hawks entire history in Atlanta) and has the Hawks in position to make substantial splashes going forward. They have a vision, which leads to confident decisions.
Need to be convinced? Let’s look at this from the standpoint of talent and production. As a rookie, Trae Young showed tremendous growth in his shot selection. Admittedly, it was questionable early on, but he shot 44% from the field and 35% from three after the All-Star Break, while cutting his turnovers down by one per game in the same time frame. John Collins almost averaged a double-double last year and has shown increased confidence in his outside shot (taking nearly two more per game last year than in 2017) while making 60% of his two-point attempts. Kevin Huerter could end up being the steal of the 2018 Draft if he continues to add to his game and shoot 40% from three.
Not discounting the potential of recent lottery selections De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, and fellow 2018 first rounder Omari Spellman, this team is set up for years of success in the future.
Lloyd Pierce has been empowered to coach his way and has been creative in player development (see the 4 point line and taking his rookies to big-time playoff games to get a feel for the atmosphere). The players respect him and love to play for him. It doesn’t hurt to have a super energetic owner either in Tony Ressler – who is ready to spend in boatloads when the time is right, which could be coming next offseason. The Hawks will have over $63 million in expiring contracts coming off the books in the summer of 2020, opening up room for two-max slots plus some. And Atlanta will have quite a core to buy pieces around.
A team with versatile wings that can shoot and defend, an athletic force on the inside, and a point guard with excellent vision and flair – Atlanta sets up to at LEAST be an exciting League Pass team this year. All of this to say, if you are looking for a squad to jump on board with before they become a championship contender, the Hawks should be your new favorite team.
There are plenty of questions to answer. Atlanta led the league in turnovers last year. They were well in the bottom half in terms of defensive rebounding. Can Young develop on the defensive end as quickly as he did offensively? Is John a 4 or a 5? Is Hunter a 3 or a 4? Can Cam Reddish live up to his top 5 potential? Will they change those god-awful jerseys? Perhaps I’m too much of an optimist. But there is a lot to be positive about. Atlanta features limitless potential guided by stable leadership paired with a hungry city that has found hope in this young core. So jump on the bandwagon now, for your 2024 NBA champion will be the Atlanta Hawks.