The Atlanta Hawks finished the season with a 41-31 record. They started the season poorly which resulted in the firing of Lloyd Pierce a month into the season. The then-assistant coach Nate McMillan was named into the interim head coaching position, to which the Hawks would rebound and finish the season strong.
Atlanta was the topic of discussion every week as Trae Young became one of the NBA’s hottest players this season. Young and company outperformed their expectations after the firing of Pierce. The team looked totally different under McMillan, and part of that reason was the coach’s game plan. The team focused on pick-and-rolls and ball movement that allowed their shooters to spot up in the corner. Add the return of an injured Clint Capela, and the Hawks had a winning formula.
Going into the season, many projected the Atlanta Hawks to be a contender for the playoffs. They added much-needed depth off the bench in Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari from the free-agent market. The team also drafted promising rookie Onyeka Okongwu and traded for Lou Williams at the trade deadline. The team was poised to make a splash in the Eastern Conference this season.
The expectations were hitting hard at first as the team struggled. Once McMillan took over, the Hawks revamped their season and became one of the NBA’s hottest teams to finish the season. In a shortened season, the team finished well above their expectations. As they not only made the playoffs but finished as the fifth seed. The team would then shut down the hot New York Knicks in five games, and shocked the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. The team was red hot and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
Atlanta would then suffer a series-changing loss that saw their superstar Young go down with an ankle injury after running into a sideline referee. He would miss two pivotal games with the injury. The Hawks lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games, but the season came out as a success. The team saw their fifth-overall pick in the 2018 draft class rise in the playoffs. Young gave his presentation to the NBA world that he is here as the next superstar.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Trae Young
Impactful this season, as the third-year point guard averaged 25.3 points, 9.4 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game. The franchise player was the focal point and leader of this young Hawks team that brought mayhem to the NBA. Young was dominating game after game in the regular season. Young was so impactful that he brought the team to a playoff run that nobody saw coming.
In the playoffs, Young turned up to another level. The guard averaged 28.8 points, 9.5 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game. Young had arguably one of the best performances for a player’s first time in playoffs. It is comparable to LeBron James’ first time in the playoffs, and his performance was one to behold as he dominated every time he held the ball.
Defensive Player of the Year – Clint Capela
The Atlanta Hawks were not known for their defensive presence. As the team was built to outscore their opponents, rather than trying to stop them. However, there was one player that held all responsibility on the defensive side of the ball. Capela was a dominant force in the paint. With a defensive rating of 106 on the year, the center clamped down the paint. The center averaged two blocks on the season and 9.6 defensive rebounds per game. Capela on the season averaged 14.3, and most came from the defensive side of the ball.
Capela’s presence on the court gave Atlanta the defensive anchor that they needed to stay in games. The 26-year-old disrupted big named centers such as Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic and became a huge pest for Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. Being able to lock up the better centers became a huge momentum boost, especially during the playoffs as Capela had sole duty to cover Embiid and Milwaukee’s, Brook Lopez.
Sixth Man of the Year – Danilo Gallinari
Atlanta had a few contenders for this award as the team saw multiple players come off the bench that produced at a high level. Lou Williams was not up for debate in this due to his limited time in Atlanta. Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter started more than half the games they were eligible for. Gallinari was the best choice for Atlanta as the team’s sixth man of the year award. Gallinari started the season off slow, but was a major impact halfway through and in the playoffs.
The forward averaged 13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds per game on 43 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. Gallinari was the leading scorer for a player that never started more than ten games on this Atlanta roster. A very consistent shooter that had multiple games of 20 or more points. In the playoffs, he continued his shooting consistency and had multiple games reaching 15 points or more.
Biggest Surprise – De’Andre Hunter
The biggest surprise from this season was the emergence of Hunter. Hunter was the Hawk’s fourth overall pick in the 2019 draft. He was projected to become the league’s next best ‘3-D’ wing. After a mediocre rookie season, the wing took a step forward in his sophomore season. Hunter had a career-high in nearly every statistical category. On the season he averaged 15 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists per game.
He also became the team’s best defender, as he would guard the opposing teams best forward or guard. However, Hunter dealt with injuries throughout the season. His season ended with a knee injury in June that sidelined him throughout the whole playoffs. Hunter missed most of the season with other injuries and only played in 23 games. In those 23 games, he made a major impact that was a founding catalyst of the team’s second-half success.
Biggest Disappointment – Kris Dunn
Dunn was added to the Atlanta Hawks over the recent offseason as a free agent signing. Dunn’s role coming into the season was to be the defensive anchor off the bench. Unfortunately, Dunn came into the season injured and missed significant time. He would eventually come back and go through other minor injuries. After a few appearances, Dunn was relegated to the bottom of the bench.
The point guard would only appear in four games during the season. In the playoffs, he played in more games as he appeared in five games for an average of 6.6 minutes per game. Dunn has the potential to become a great backup behind an offensive Young. The guard provides the defensive capability that Young lacks. However, in his first season, Dunn barely played and his contract seems like a waste to the team that could be filled for another guard to replace him.
The Atlanta Hawks have all their main guys under contract. The biggest name that will be a free agent this season is forward John Collins. Collins had been in numerous trade rumors for the past few seasons, and it remains unclear what the Hawks want to do with him. The team did not trade him even after reports came out that multiple franchises made offers for the forward. It is also well known that the Hawks do not believe Collins is worth his asking price of $25 million per year. The team will need to figure something out, whether they sign him for that amount or do a sign-and-trade with another team.
If Collins were to not return, the team would have look into finding his replacement. Serge Ibaka would be a great fit in Atlanta and would be available if he were to decline his player option with the Los Angeles Lakers. Lonzo Ball would also be another great fit in Atlanta. Ball is a pass-first point guard who doesn’t need to score much. He is also a tremendous defender and would help Young in the backcourt. Ball’s price, however, might be too high for Atlanta.
At the moment, the Hawks have cap space to trade for another superstar. Damian Lillard has recently been rumored to request a trade in the coming days. The team could easily deal a few first-round picks along with Collins and Cam Reddish for Lillard. Kawhi Leonard could become a free agent if he declines his player option, and would be an option for Atlanta to sign him. Leonard would be the team’s best defender and help provide another scoring option.
In free agency, the team could look into another wing to add to the bench. Gallinari was great for them this season, but the team needs a better defender. Otto Porter Jr. and DeMar DeRozan will be good pricing for a solid starter or new sixth man on the team. Both players can average 15 points a game and provide great defense to the wing position.
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