Migos, Smigos, Trae Young Runs the Best Show in The A
The Young Dilemma: Productivity vs Practicality
What is the cost of development for an NBA franchise? How are the optics when bottoming out for draft picks during a 20-win season? What of critiques during the quest for talent actualization? Playing time serves as the ultimate source of oxygen for young players, but is there a temporal expectation for development?
In either case, there are clear motivations for teams to press the reset button, but decisiveness is major key. With a clear hierarchy in the league, teams like the Atlanta Hawks have to shade their strategy around both productivity and practicality.
Let’s play Who Wants to be a Hero! The Hawks front office, basketball operations team, and coaching staff all work in the same ether, but often lack autonomy and can tussle with conflicting interests in regards to player opportunity and time management. Some parts of the organization may choose to play the young guys and in turn may bottom out, while for the status of fringe level playoff contention.
I’m of the mind that oxygen is more important than winning an extra 9 games, but I recognize the difficulty in kicking the can down the road. Building through the draft is not the most quantifiable roadmap to team success, but it is growing traction especially after the success of Hinkie-ism.
For the last few years, mediocre NBA teams have ignored winning in favor of building potential. In this year's NBA, the price of development could shape your favorite team's season and likely their future.
The idea is simple; ”let’s punt today so we can score tomorrow”.
Regardless of preseason expectations, many teams are already entering into the tanking conversations as we approach the 30 game mark. Clubs with aging veterans such as the 4-18 Cavs, the 11-11 Kings, or the 4-18 Suns must decide to either buyout their vets and begin to play young players, or maintain the course and strive for competitiveness. Younger teams like the 5-18 Hawks, the 8-16 Knicks, or the 5-19 Bulls, however, are already leaning heavily on their young ringers in hopes that the aforementioned oxygen that comes with more minutes will promote growth.
Do teams opt for respectable competition or the promise of ping pong balls this spring? Usually teams contending for the worst of the worst will have decided their fate far ahead of the Christmas break. The Hawks, however, are one of the few teams in the league's recent history that, due to their roster construction, fall somewhere in the middle.
Productivity: Black Hawk Down, Not Out
The Atlanta Hawks are a pitiful 5-18 on the season, and on pace for the worst overall record by seasons end. This seemingly “negative” outcome, like trading the rights to Luka Doncic for the opportunity to take Trae Young, may actually present the best long-term opportunities for a rejuvenated Hawks organization. In playing Trae and their young pieces, Atlanta will have achieved two key organizational objectives: poor play for a better draft pick and oxygen for their underclassmen.
The Hawks are not good, this is obvious. But in the early goings, they’ve done two things well. The first is the integration of a modern system, more spacing, smarter offensive actions, and three-man interactions. Head coach Lloyd Pierce presides over one of the NBA's fastest paces. Likewise, Atlanta currently sits inside the top-5 in both steals and blocks.
It's clear, however, that given the Hawks’ league-worst 112.8 defensive rating, their system revolves around scoring not just pace. The next step for Atlanta's front office is to build a roster to align with this new style. A time-consuming and difficult task, for sure, but the Hawks at least have a focal point to work around.
In applying this run & gun system to the current Hawks roster, Pierce and the Atlanta front office have created the start to a true stylistic fit. The team's young core has a higher and more defined ceiling because their players mesh well together. It is clear that they have found a one-two punch that fits on paper and in real life, at least on one end of the floor.
Roll tape of the most underrated pick & roll combination in the league, “Jam-City w/ three dabs of ranch”, featuring Trae Young, and John Collins.
As pessimistically optimistic as most Hawks fans were going into the year, I don’t think the early season results have aligned with expectations. Not in regards to their record, but in the overall play of their new Point God within Pierce's system. Trae Young is averaging a modest 15 points per game, while dishing out 7.6 assists. But his ultimate ceiling won’t be as black and white as simple counting stats.
We knew that this team was going to struggle, but outside of the wins/losses, their system has shown flashes of subtle brilliance. In short, the Trae Young show is real, real. And it doesn’t matter if the kid is more Nash than Curry, or Conley than Paul.
Leading the league in bench minutes and bench points to the tune of 22 per contest, this young Hawks roster is athletic, bouncy, and exciting. Most importantly the intrigue of Young was enough to spark interest among Atlanta fans and lift them into the national conversation. This I’ll call the Lin-Factor (ironically enough the Hawks currently have Lin on their roster).
The “LF” rests on player-popularity as the primary organizational value. i.e: If the Hawks are this fun when they’re terrible, imagine how much we’ll love the improved version of this team. When you lob in the continued perimeter shooting development of combo-forward Taurean Prince, this team has clear building blocks forward. While most of the league's young developing cores (Suns, Magic, & Knicks) have a good mixture of parts, most lack the clear cohesion among their young assets the Hawks currently enjoy.
Practicality: "Alexa Play ‘Number 1 Spot’ by Ludacris”
Before the Warriors were thrust into to the “Best Team Ever” conversation, they slow rolled their growth by living in the draft and letting the fit of their young guys create a sustainable system. Similar to the dark years in Golden State, Atlanta is on the path less traveled in an era of abject tanking.
In drafting the “project player” in Young who fit better with Collins, Atlanta has two high-upside assets while their team is in shape to earn another top draft pick in 2019. Young needs more polish to his game, but drafting him set a longer timeline for the team. In doing so, Atlanta will add another Migo to its young group.
Along the way, we’ll continue to critique Trae’s game; his finishing at the rim, offensive wins share, and on-off stats. Trae’s second in total points, leading rookies in total assists and assists per game. Even still, Doncic may in-fact be the superior player today, but the Hawks are playing the long game in hopes that Trae’s superstar level potential will validate their moves. We always try to tag someone the “winner” and “loser”, but results aren’t always absolute. Let’s relax, enjoy the great basketball around us, and for one second pretend that no one got left off Bad and Bougie.