What will it take for the Hawks to become championship contenders?

Atlanta Hawks Trae Young

We’re in the midst of the Finals, with the Celtics and Warriors duking it out for NBA supremacy while the Hawks sit at home following a disappointing 2021-2022 campaign. Changes are coming in Atlanta; Travis Schlenk has made that very clear since the end of the season, but just how drastic do those changes need to be for the Hawks to return to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond? 

Core

The Hawks have a solid core of players to work with, whether to keep or use as trade chips. There are no contracts that should hold Travis Schlenk back, and everyone could be kept in one scenario or another. Atlanta has a talented group, but last season showed they need to mix it up if they want to be a championship contender. It would be a waste of Trae Young’s best years to continue with a similar roster makeup. Trae Young and Onyeka Okongwu are two guys I’d love to keep, but Young’s roster spot is the only one that is guaranteed next season. 

Needs

Defense was a weak point for the Hawks and must be addressed; surrounding Trae Young with lockdown defenders is a necessity. Defenders that can shoot threes would be preferred, but it shouldn’t be a requirement. The Hawks need to find a way to get stops, first and foremost; however, their greatest need is acquiring another star to pair with Young. 

This year’s series against the Heat showed what happens when you attempt to play one-on-five against an elite defense. Miami was hyper focused on Young, blitzing him from all angles, and nobody else on Atlanta was able to step up. Expect Schlenk to be in on every All-Star caliber player that becomes available this summer. 

Stars

Unfortunately, grabbing another star that can also play defense is nearly impossible. Donovan Mitchell, Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal, and most other players linked to Atlanta play lackluster defense. The Hawks would pile on the points, but they’d also have a defense about as strong as a wet paper towel.

However, the game has always been about getting buckets. Finding guys that can fill it up every night is much more difficult than acquiring lockdown defenders. The Hawks’ top priority needs to be finding a second bucket-getter. Then they must surround that second guy and Young with high quality defenders that can shoot. If they do that, there’s no reason they can’t find themselves in the same situation as the Celtics are in right now. The East, and the entire NBA for that matter, is wide open. With a good offseason, the Hawks can become championship contenders overnight. 

Photo: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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