Atlanta Hawks

Descending Hawks

By: Buck Blanz

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Hawk fans across the country seemed to be optimistic about this season with Atlanta looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017 when they played the Washington Wizards.

In order to reach those goals, Atlanta needs to win games and losing to the Knicks like they did recently 123-112 isn’t going to cut it.

Almost exactly a year ago the Hawks traded for Houston center Clint Capela but fans had to wait until this season to see him in action due to a heel injury.

However, so far this season Capela has averaged 13.9 ppg, 14.0 rpg, and 2.2 blocks per game which, to a team that ranked 27th out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency, is a tremendous addition to a team with great shooting ability.

The Hawks appear to be a team stacked with a young talent, and with young talent in today’s NBA that usually suggests many jump shots.

Atlanta does fall into the stereotype but they do it quite well. Behind the fan favorites in Trae Young, Cam Reddish, and Kevin Huerter, the Hawks have no shortage of shooting.

Hawks General Manager, Travis Schlenk even added depth for the shooters with additions of Gallinari and Bogdanovic, while also bringing in veteran leadership.

The numerous offseason moves made Atlanta look like they were going to be able to compete with everyone this season. The Hawks had people buying what they were doing early on while they were able to hang with the Nets on back-to-back games.

Now, with Atlanta sitting at 12-16 and third in the division (11th in the East), they are just a few spots out of the playoffs and Hawks All-Star hopeful Trae Young wants nothing less.

There is no doubt that Trae Young and company can sell tickets, but in a world where nobody can buy those tickets these consecutive losses seem much larger to the fans at home.

The Hawks are currently on a four-game skid beginning with their first nationally televised game of the season a week ago against the Mavericks.

Since then, they have taken losses from the Spurs, Pacers, and Knicks, all of which by more than 10 points. So, I think it is fair to say that Atlanta is in a slump and giving up 120 points a game isn’t going to make it any easier.

Although Clint Capela is having a career year, he can’t do it all. The Hawks need to have the veteran leadership from Gallinari and Rondo (who just won a championship last season) begin to assert themselves for the young and inexperienced players.

The three best defenders for Atlanta are Capela, Hunter, and Collins, all of which are consistently in the starting five for Head Coach Lloyd pierce. So, while the Hawks added many shooters to try and keep scorers on the floor, they have not been able to add depth and strengthen the defensive side of the ball.

I am not saying it is abandon ship mode in Atlanta, however, I am saying it is gut wrenching time. With the All-Star break a month away, teams and players will be putting their best foot forward to try and set themselves up to be in contention for a top eight seed within the conference while others will look to distance themselves from the pack.

If Atlanta cannot begin to turn things around, Hawks fans will begin to point a finger at someone here soon.

Soaring Down South

By: Buck Blanz

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Hawks have devoted the last three seasons to growing and building their organization since parting ways with then head coach Mike Budenholzer in 2017.

However, this season looks different as the 2021 NBA regular season is underway.

Preparation for the 2021 season began early last February by making moves to bring former Houston Rockets Center Clint Capela to the city of Atlanta.

General Manager Travis Schlenk continued to work to add more talent through a lottery pick to catapult Atlanta to an NBA championship contender in the upcoming season.

This move landed names such as Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, reigning NBA champion Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn and sixth pick Onyeka Okongwu from University of Southern California, putting Atlanta in a position to be one of the eight-best teams in the Eastern conference.

Adding to the mix, the talented young superstar Trae Young, who is looking to achieve some milestones.

Young is a key component to the Hawks success this year and with his ability to showcase his talent, he is certain to receive a contract extension when his rookie contract ends in 2022.

Atlanta’s talent pool combined with the NBA’s new play-in format to get into the playoffs, Atlanta just has to be a top 10 Eastern Conference team to earn a position in a three-game series to determine the two final seeds.

Moving into the season, the Hawks strength is offense. Last season, the Hawks were fifth in the league in their offensive rating at 111.2 points per game, proving that they can score on anyone.

The Hawks entire offense, centered around Trae Young, accompanied by John Collins and Kevin Huerter, is modeled after Golden State’s offense using Young as Stephan Curry in Atlanta’s system.

With the addition of Bogdanovic and Gallinari, who are two solid role players that can put the ball in the hoop, the Hawks open up more scoring options for the team.

The Hawks offense will also be strengthened by allowing Trae Young to take on a leadership role on the floor, playing off the ball as well as allowing him to play freely within the system.

It is important to circle back around to the addition of two-time NBA Champion Rajon Rondo.

By acquiring Rondo, the Hawks balance the team with some much needed veteran leadership after the retirement of the long-time great Vince Carter.

Rondo is a great role-player. Throughout the Lakers Bubble appearance last season, Rondo averaged 8.9 points per game along with 6.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

The Hawks needed a key role-player that has been in the league long enough to know how to approach each day with a one-day-at-a-time mentality.

Even though there were many significant improvements made to the offense this offseason, Atlanta is sure to see struggles ahead in their already weak defense.

The additions of Bogdanovic and Galinari will provide entertainment to fans and they will put up a lot of points, but they do not provide much reprieve in the Hawks defense.

Increasing Altitude

By: TJ Hartnett

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Because nothing can be anything resembling normalcy can exist anymore, the NBA is releasing the schedule for the upcoming 2020-2021 season in two parts – the first chunk covers the starts of the season (right around the corner, on December 22nd) to March 4th, at which they’ll have the All-Star Break.

The remaining schedule will be released at a later time. Ideally, they’ll still get in a full season of 72 games before the playoffs start on May 18th.

However, the big change will be who they play. Each team will play the teams in their own conference three times and will double the usual amount of games against teams from the opposing conferences (from 15 to 30).

There are some extra complexities mixed up in there, but instead of dwelling on those, let’s look at how the announced schedule plays out for the Atlanta Hawks.

The beginning of the schedule, including just four games in December and 16 in January, could be a difficult proving ground for Atlanta.

They’ve got the Memphis Grizzlies, who are just getting started, and the Brooklyn Nets, with whom Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving like to hang out, as half of those December games.

After that, they’ve got two more against the Nets, a road game in Milwaukee, and a trip out west that could be a major challenge.

Those could be backbreaking, but the Hawks certainly have the chance to win at least some of those and then there’s games at the Cavs, the Hornets, the Knicks, the Pistons, and the Timberwolves that Atlanta should have good showings against.

February is going to likely be even more of a challenge. That’s when the Lakers show up, as well as the Mavericks, the Celtics, and the Heat.

That’s all bad pretty news. While the Hawks could upset some of those better teams, that difficult stretch makes it all the more important that Atlanta takes care of business against the teams that they are, in turn, better than.

There’s barely any March schedule to talk about, so that rough February is going to wind down into an All-Star Break that will be well-earned.

How the rest of the year shakes out is yet to be determined, but if the Hawks can play up to the level they expect of themselves, they’ll be in good position.

January really stands out as a month that could swing either way and one in which the Hawks really need to get off to a good start.

There are winnable games to start, and if they can come away with victories, then I think that momentum could help carry them through the tougher games that will pop up as the month progresses.

February is going to be a difficult month regardless of how January goes, so if the Hawks want to make a run towards the playoffs (and they do), the first month of the season is going make or break them.

The Hawks have the potential to be one of – if not the – most improved teams in the NBA this season. This season – or the first half of it anyway – is actually going to help earn that rep, so long as they can win more games than they lose. They don’t need to dominate, just win the games they should and a handful of the ones they could.

If they can pull that off and continue it into whatever the second half looks like they’ll have a great chance of returning to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-2017 season.

Loading The Nest

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

You can tell a lot about where an NBA franchise thinks they are with how they approach their free agency.

Do they sign long-term max deals to players that they want to have around for a while?

Is their approach to sign guys they believe will be able to help push them over the edge and get them into the NBA finals?

Do they even participate in it at all?

The Hawks may not be on the cusp of the NBA finals, but they’re free agent signings announced to the rest of the league, and I imagine to their head coach as well, that anything less than a playoff appearance will be unacceptable.

With the young talent on Atlanta’s roster I think most people believed the organization would target veteran players they could sign for two years at a reasonable salary to help those younger players mature a little quicker; basically, what they did with Rajon Rondo. I don’t think anyone expected them to be nearly as aggressive as they were.

Even if you weren’t a bit surprised when Atlanta signed Danilo Gallinari to a 3-year contact for just north of $61 million, I imagine the most ardent Hawks supporter didn’t see them signing Bogdan Bogdanovic at 4 years/$72 million.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying either of those signings were bad, just not the moves most people were expecting Atlanta to make.

None of the four free agents Atlanta has added (yes, I’m including Kris Dunn) were brought in to merely be placeholders, bridging the gap until guys like De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and Kevin Huerter are ready to take the reins.

They were brought in to not only make the Hawks competitive, but as a signal to those young players that their learning curve just dwindled; it’s time to take that next step and they better be ready for it.

In the matter of a week the Atlanta Hawks went from a team not good enough to play in the bubble, which is like not being good enough to get a participation trophy, to being a team that could cause problems for others in the playoffs.

Which leads me to Lloyd Pierce, who is about to enter his third year as the Hawks head coach with immensely more pressure on him than he had a few weeks ago.

I imagine the next 8-9 months for Pierce will be like watching Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” music video on a continuous loop.

The good news for the soon to be on the hot heat coach (if he doesn’t already begin the season there) is that he has a lot of different lineup options he’ll be able to fall back on, giving him an opportunity to be creative with his substitutions.

If we’re being realistic, the best case scenario for Atlanta is a second place finish in the Southeast behind Miami and a favorable first round matchup as a five or six seed.

There is the slight possibility their season could turn out even better, but I imagine that would have to do with other teams struggling more than Atlanta having success.

Regardless, this should be the best season the team has had in the past four or five years.

It’s playoffs or bust for the Atlanta Hawks, or at least that’s what their free agent signings indicate.

Welcome To The League

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With everything going on in the world to go along with a lack of star power in this year’s draft, it would be completely understandable if you forgot the NBA Draft hadn’t taken place yet.

Honestly, the only reason I remembered is I haven’t purchased NBA 2K21 yet because the rosters couldn’t be up to date since there had been no draft (or free agency and trades).

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not a fan of giving out grades when to comes to drafts.

I know they’re interesting to read, which is why most media outlets post them, but unless it’s just a no brainer pick, or one that makes absolutely no sense, it’s three or four years before you can really make any judgements.

So, instead of telling you how well or poorly the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic did, here are a few remarks on the type of player each team is getting.

Atlanta Hawks

Oneyka Okongwu, C, USC. The former 1st team All-PAC 12 player was largely considered to be the best low post player in the draft.

Like most young big men with similar size and athleticism his strength is on defense, however his offensive skillset is farther along than most of his peers.

I imagine the plan is for Okongwu to back up Clint Capela while he adjusts to the NBA, but if his development is quicker than expected Capela could become expendable, something that may be appealing to Atlanta at the trade deadline.

There’s a very good chance the Hawks drafted their long-term answer down low.

Skylar Mays, G, LSU. With the NBA’s emphasis on drafting young players based on potential, hopefuls like Mays- four-year players with NBA level skills- oftentimes find themselves waiting until the second round before they hear their names called, if at all.

Mays, who started all four years at LSU and was named 1st team All-SEC this past season, is certainly good enough to play at the NBA level, the only question is whether he’ll get a chance to prove himself with Atlanta.

Not many players drafted in the 50th spot hang around, Mays has the potential to be an exception to the rule.

Orlando Magic

Cole Anthony, G, UNC. As a devout parishioner from the church of ABC (Anybody But Carolina) I was able to watch Anthony a few times during his lone, injury riddled season in Chapel Hill.

I try not to make player comparisons, but the best way I can describe Anthony’s game is “Kyrie Irving Lite”.

Anthony has great handles, can get to the rim with relative ease, and has a knack for making the “no, what are you thinking…. yes, great shot” shot, a la Irving.

But, also like Kyrie, the former Tarheel tends to forget he has teammates he can pass the ball to and avoids playing any semblance of defense.

Now, In Anthony’s defense, he wasn’t surrounded by a plethora of talent at Carolina this past season, so I understand to a point why he was the volume shooter he was.

However, I have a feeling things wouldn’t have been all that different, even if the talent level had been greater.

The Magic may have just found their most beloved, and frustrating, player on their roster.

We’ll see how these guys turn out over the next few years. For both the Hawks and Magic, they’re hoping the 2020 Draft will be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary year.