Like most sports organizations and the country, frankly, the Hawks have been ravaged by COVID. So much so that it’s almost ridiculous that the NBA keeps making them play. These are games that could have significant playoff implications, yet the Hawks are playing with guys that are barely hanging onto G-League rosters. However, the NBA seems hellbent on keeping this show moving, and nobody will feel bad for the Hawks at the end of the season. Every team is dealing with this issue in one form or another, but if there’s at least one positive to this entire situation, it’s that the Hawks have received some answers that could help them be more successful as the season wanes.
Cam Reddish and Onyeka Okongwu are the keys to taking the next step
We’ve seen the flashes of greatness from Reddish ever since he was in high school. His offensive game is super smooth, and he has the potential to be one of the best defensive players in the league. In a more prominent role, Reddish scored 34 points against the Magic while nailing six of his ten three-point attempts, but he was even better in a huge win over the Sixers in which he scored 18 points and played incredible defense. However, on Christmas, we saw the other side of Reddish, which can be incredibly erratic and inefficient. If the former Duke Blue Devil can ever become more consistent, the Hawks will quickly become one of the most feared teams in the league.
Hawks fans have been robbed of watching Okongwu all season. Offseason surgery forced him to miss the first couple of months, and once he finally returned, he almost immediately had to enter health and safety protocols. However, we did get to see him in two games, even if it was with a minutes restriction, and he reminded everybody of why he was a sixth overall pick. Okongwu’s defensive presence and energy are undeniable. That alone makes him extremely valuable, but as he grows offensively, I believe he could be recognized as one of the best centers in the league.
Jalen Johnson isn’t ready to contribute
Johnson is an incredible athlete, and I firmly believe he will be a very good NBA player one day. The sample size was also small, but on a team like the Hawks that is so deep and ready to compete for championships right now, there are no minutes for him. Every time Johnson has seen the court, he’s looked a little out of place and made minimal impact. If he was able to play more often, I believe that would eventually change, but the Hawks have too many players when they are healthy to let a rookie learn on the job.
Skylar Mays will be a solid role piece
Again, with so much depth, I don’t see Mays carving out a permanent role for the Hawks this season, but he’s shown over the last two games that he can play in the NBA. Against the 76ers, he recorded his first double-double, scoring 14 points to go along with 11 rebounds and three assists. He then followed it up with 11 points and two assists against the Knicks in just 23 minutes on Christmas Day. If a substantial injury occurred to Lou Williams or Delon Wright, I feel more than comfortable with Mays, and I would love to see the Hawks hang onto him past this season and give him a bigger role.
The Hawks are too Trae Young dependent
Most Hawks fans already knew this, and Young obviously hasn’t been the only key contributor missing, but the difference in the product when he is on and off the floor is staggering. It’s the biggest reason why I believe he should be right at the forefront of the MVP race. Few players, if any, impact their team as much as Young. The problem with the Hawks right now is that they don’t have a true second scorer. John Collins is not that guy, at least not yet. De’Andre Hunter hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and Cam Reddish isn’t consistent enough. This roster is filled with Trae Young and several good but not great players. If Atlanta wants to win a championship, somebody else has to take the next step, or Travis Schlenk will have to make a move for another All-Star to pair with Young.
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