Why Atlanta Hawks favorable start of 2022-23 season is much needed

Atlanta Hawks Trae Young

The Atlanta Hawks released their 2022-23 schedule on Wednesday, and there’s great news. The early part of the schedule is favorable for the club, which is much needed. Of their first 20 games, the Hawks have the 5th-easiest strength of schedule, play 11 at home, have four rest advantages compared to one disadvantage, are tied for the fewest back-to-backs with two, and have the 5th-easiest schedule in terms of travel.

It’s a new era in Hawks basketball as the team embarks on a journey to return to the Conference Finals and beyond. Last season, the front office decided to run it back with the same roster; it was not the right decision. The Hawks struggled for much of the season and squeaked into the playoffs via two play-in games. Once in the postseason, the Hawks were dismantled by a more physical Heat team. But this offseason has brought new life to the Hawks.

Before free agency even began, Atlanta acquired former Spurs All-Star Dejounte Murray, giving the Hawks one of (if not) the best backcourt in the Association. He’s the first All-Star Trae Young will play with in his career, and the pair seemed prime to take the league by storm — a perfect compliment.

Both young stars ranked in the top five in the league in assists per game last season, but they’re entirely different players. Ice Trae is a box office scorer, averaging 28.4 points last season, with unlimited shooting range but a small frame and a defensive liability. Murray is a downhill scorer who finishes at the rim with conviction but is inconsistent from deep, shooting 33% from beyond the arc over his career.

Murray is precisely what the club needs. He is an excellent defender who can hold his own in any perimeter matchup, forcing turnovers at an obscene rate. The former Spurs star led the league in steals last season, making him a key addition for a Hawks defense that ranked 28th in opponent turnover rate. Murray should be able to change the team’s defensive identity, consistently force turnovers, and doing all the little things right.

However, there are things to work out with this new-look roster. The possession split between the two All-Stars will be a story for much of the first part of the season. Young is one of the most ball-dominant players in the Association, which has prompted many to spout off about how this backcourt duo won’t work. However, Young has plenty of experience and had success playing off-ball. It’s something he can do but hasn’t necessarily had the opportunity to at the collegiate and pro levels.

Nate McMillan will also be tasked with staggering the two All-Stars’ minutes. The Hawks head coach has pointed toward Young playing more off-ball, which could work. But Ice Trae is a better playmaker, passer, and shooter than Murray, so there will be growing pains. Supplementing Young in an off-ball role while staggering the pair’s minutes seems like the most appropriate approach to begin the season.

McMillan has an embarrassment of riches, but his job is to tactfully gameplan lineups in order to maximize Young and Murray’s skillsets. Thankfully, the Hawks have a favorable start to begin the season, which will act as an experiment period.

Photo: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

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