The Atlanta Hawks won a total of 29 games in the 2018-2019 season. In their division, (which is arguably the worst in the NBA) the Hawks finished last. Though the team had a few bright spots in John Collins, Trae Young, and Kevin Huerter last year, the Hawks still have plenty of work to do in order to secure a playoff berth.
In 2018-2019 Atlanta finished 23rd in offensive rating, 28th in defensive rating, 26th in net rating, and 29th in assist to turnover ratio. Not great for a team that would like to be competent, even in the Eastern Conference. The team was able to collect a handful of picks for the 2019 NBA Draft and ended up with the 4th, 10th, and 34th overall selections. The Hawks did well with said picks and did an exceptional job in filling out the rest of their roster. Cam Reddish could have tremendous upside, especially playing alongside one of the best young playmakers in Young. DeAndre Hunter is an excellent 3-and-D wing who showed he could shine on the big stage last year during Virginia’s title run. Lastly, big man Bruno Fernando out of Maryland was voted All Big-10 and All-Defensive Big-10 during a season in which the Terrapins excelled in the collegiate world of basketball. Every single one of these draft picks should be able to contribute in their rookie seasons.
Not only did the Hawks have an adequate draft, their two young playmakers are consistently getting better. For starters, John Collins nearly doubled in points per game from his first to second season. Virtually all of his other statistics and percentages improved as well. Most importantly, he looked remarkably more poised shooting the long ball in 2018-2019. He boosted his attempts from 0.6 up to 2.6 over the course of his career and shot 34.8 percent from distance. Something that most people fail to realize is that this percentage is better than Trae Young’s 3-point percentage of 32.4 percent.
A player often unheeded last year was Kevin Huerter, who made an all-rookie team. He was overshadowed for much of his rookie year due to Trae Young performing at a brilliant level for the second half of the season. Again, if Huerter can take a step forward with Collins and Young, the Hawks will be in a great position to achieve success.
It really is not much of a stretch to suggest that the Hawks will possess two All-Star players when the season approaches February. If these two guys can take the next step and fine-tune a few aspects of their game, it can happen. Combine this with the simple fact that the Hawks could have a ton of upside from their young rookies, and it is safe to say that Atlanta will be in a position to make a realistic playoff push down the stretch.
In order to be a top-eight team in the East, the Hawks must find ways to beat the other teams that will be fighting for the 6-8 spots. This means that they will have to outperform teams such as Orlando, Detroit, Miami, and Chicago, especially as the regular season comes to a close in April.
My guess is that they finish in the 8th spot and it comes down to the April 7th game at home versus the Detroit Pistons. Being able to beat a weaker Cleveland team on the last day of the regular season at home might be important as well. Clearly, there are a lot of “ifs” when discussing whether or not the Haws can be a playoff-caliber team this year. On paper they have made tremendous strides since last year and I firmly believe that the Hawks will improve their win total more than any other team in the Eastern Conference.