How Is the Young Core Doing in Atlanta?
The Atlanta Hawks had a brutal start to the season. Most of the blame for this poor start can be allocated to starting the season without another capable ball-handler and playing lots of young players. On top of all that, injury and suspension luck did not help either.
As of late, the young core has looked about as good as can be expected. The five different four-man lineup combinations that involve their core of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, and John Collins have posted the team’s best Net Ratings out of all the different four-man combinations, by a significant amount too.
Here’s how the aforementioned members of the core have looked:
Trae Young has been one of the best guards in the league this year. His offensive production has been insane, especially after considering both John Collins and Kevin Huerter have missed significant time this year. For a while the Hawks were the worst 3pt shooting team and they were also playing without a starting level NBA center; Trae Young has still managed to be among the league leaders in assists. He has also put up crazy scoring numbers, averaging just under 30 points per game. On top of all that, he’s made it routine to pull up from way behind the three-point line, shooting over 36% on shots 30 feet and deeper -- on over 100 attempts too.
Young’s defense is still very bad. However, guard defense is not near as important as wing/big defense. When the Hawks eventually get more defensive talent, Young’s defense will not hurt them that much. The prototype to this is Steph Curry, he came into the league super small/skinny and just a poor overall defender. He eventually learned how to just be in the right spots and give good effort, that’s all it takes a guard defender to not kill the team.
Kevin Huerter hasn’t quite made the strides the Hawks would hope for this year. However, I would attribute most of that to the fact that he had another injury-riddled offseason. This injury even carried into the start of the year and he missed a good bit of regular season games.
Huerter has not been bad this year, he just has not improved too much. He has almost identical shooting splits, resulting in an effective field goal percentage just under league average at 51.7%, last year he was at 52.2%. With Huerter being the long-range sniper he is, you’d like to see that number a little higher.
He has continued to struggle on non-threes this year. He’s only shooting 33% on mid-rangers and 50% on layups. His long-range shot has sustained around 38% on higher volume though, that is a very encouraging sign.
If he can have a healthy offseason for once in his career, it’s likely this can result in some natural progression in his weaker areas and he can become a real quality player.
Hunter was expected to be the prototypical 3-And-D forward for this team. It typically takes wings a little longer to develop and that has shown with Hunter. He has shown flashes of using his combination of size and athleticism to be a pretty good defender. He has also had moments where he’s a little slow as a help defender and a little out of position. Once he gets more comfortable with NBA schemes, he projects to be a very good defender. I’m not sure he ever turns into a wing-stopper, but I still expect him to be very solid.
While the numbers don’t jump off the page (especially for the four overall pick), I’ve been impressed with his offense. He’s shooting about 36% from downtown on 5.5 attempts per night. He was very efficient in college but on a low volume, the 5.5 attempts per night is very encouraging. He has also been a little more comfortable handling the ball than I expected.
Hunter’s path to living up his draft slot is becoming a very good defender and being around average to slightly above average on his offensive skills like shooting, cutting, and creating; that version of him is a very good NBA player. If that doesn’t happen, he still has what should be at least average 3-and-D skills, his floor is high.
Reddish had a rough start to the year. His shots weren’t falling, and he looked a step behind most of the time on the court. A few weeks later his defense picked up, and as of late his offense has really come around. Over the last 20 games he’s up to 14.8 points per game on great splits, he’s shooting 42.7% from long-range and has an effective field goal percentage of 57.4; those are very good numbers.
Coming out of college there were a lot of potential outcomes for Reddish. There was potential for his shot, defense, and secondary playmaking to be a weapon, but no one could have known which (if any) of these skills would work in the NBA. The shot and defense are looking as if they are real, the jury is still out on the secondary playmaking, but he looks like a great long-term fit going forward.
Like Huerter, John Collins had an injury-riddled offseason and was not able to use that time to work on his game and get healthy. He then faced a 25-game suspension. You would never know any of that based on his play this year, he has looked great.
Collins is among the tops in the league with an effective field goal percentage of 63.2%. He’s producing that efficiently while shooting the most threes he’s ever shot in his career; he is becoming one of the best offensive bigs in the league. His defense is still questionable, but if he can sustain this level of offensive play going forward, the Hawk’s future could be even brighter.