• The Hawks have been chasing the ghost of their surprise 2021 run to the Eastern Conference Finals, slowly adding talent and reshaping the roster around Trae Young. Atlanta finally pulled the trigger on a John Collins trade and seemed to be gearing up for a guard-centric attack with a premium on shooting and spacing under Quin Snyder’s leadership.

    How’d It Go?

    Despite another batch of changes, the Hawks were once again a disappointing squad that had to settle for a Play-In spot, and even that was dicey. They finished 10th in the East at 36-46 and never looked like a real threat to take games off good teams when the postseason rolled around. Atlanta was less than the sum of its parts, as while the backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray is technically functional, there is a large enough sample to declare that neither is maximized by the pairing, nor is the team.

    Elsewhere on the roster, moving off of Collins allowed for more shooting, with the Hawks giving Saddiq Bey a start on opening night. The real coup of opening up minutes, however, was giving Jalen Johnson and opportunity to break out in full. A favorite preseason sleeper of ours, Johnson set the tone on opening night with 21 points, seven rebounds, two steals, a block and a 3-pointer. Multi-cat lines became a regular occurrence and Johnson quickly asserted himself as a player for the Hawks to build around.

    Injuries popped up throughout the season, with De’Andre Hunter, Johnson, Bey, Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu all disappearing from the lineup at times, though the biggest injury was undoubtedly Young’s pinky ligament tear. The one benefit is that it allowed the Hawks to try lots of different lineup combinations — and Murray was absolutely flying without Young — but they were heading into the Play-In without much consistency given all of the ins and outs.

    There was plenty to like about what a lot of the Hawks did as individuals, but the team never came together the way it was expected to. Beyond Johnson’s improvement, there wasn’t anything too exciting about this squad. The trade deadline came and went and while there were some big rumors, when the dust settled nothing had changed. Atlanta lost the first Play-In game on the road in Chicago, bringing a merciful end to a season worth forgetting.

    On the other hand, the Hawks did get extremely lucky in the draft lottery and shot up the board to get the No. 1 pick in the draft. It’s a much-needed win for the franchise, who will be able to plug in a top young talent without sacrificing other assets. Although this draft class isn’t overflowing with hot prospects, getting that selection, plus the knowledge of what is and isn’t working, made the whole thing worthwhile.

    Coaching

    Quin Snyder’s first full season as head coach in Atlanta didn’t reveal too much. The biggest change was getting rid of Collins to make space for better shooters, but there are still limited pathways forward with this roster; the Hawks always have one non-shooter at center, two guards who work best with the ball in their hands, and wings who are generally limited outside of 3-pointers, and who aren’t even elite at that (Jalen Johnson and his versatility excepted).

    The Hawks were able to put up points at a respectable rate and finished 12th in offensive rating, which is kind of the baseline expectation when your team is built around Trae Young. However, they’re not playing to their capabilities at full strength. With Young and Murray on the floor together, the Hawks had an offensive rating of 114.8 and a defensive rating of 121.3; with Young on and Murray off, it was 122.1 and 118.9; with Young off and Murray on it was 117.8 and 118.8. The Hawks offense is worse with both players together, and generally doesn’t defend at respectable clip unless both players are off the floor. Not every set of players fits together but Snyder hasn’t done a good job of getting the best out of the talent here. Management should also know by now that neither Young nor Murray is as effective off the ball.

    Defensively, Snyder’s system may not be a fit for the current Hawks. They lack the perimeter defenders to really make things sing, and funneling shots into Capela as he declines is compounding matters. Okongwu should be able to anchor the defense but it’s still a tall task, and as long as Young is a fixture it’s going to make this a very tough needle to thread. With Young off the floor the Hawks were more freely able to switch on screens and live with the new matchups, but with Young it was a lot more chaotic and the Hawks lacked the collective defensive IQ to make it all work. Atlanta finished 27th in defensive rating, a far, far cry from the true contenders (though the Pacers, sitting at 24th, get a tip of the cap).

    The rigidity of Snyder’s rotation and systems can be considered a problem, but at the end of the day the problems in Atlanta boil down to personnel more than coaching. Snyder isn’t bulletproof here and isn’t necessarily making the most of what he’s being given, but he probably isn’t top of the list in terms of issues to fix.

    The Players

    Trae Young
    PG, Atlanta Hawks
    SeasonTeamGPGSMPG FGMFGAFG% FTMFTAFT% 3PTM3PTA3PT% PTSREBAST STLBLKTO
    23-24 ATL 54 54 36.0 8.0 18.7 43.0 6.4 7.5 85.5 3.2 8.7 37.3 25.7 2.8 10.8 1.3 0.2 4.4
    22-23 ATL 73 73 34.8 8.2 19.0 42.9 7.8 8.8 88.6 2.1 6.3 33.5 26.2 3.0 10.2 1.1 0.1 4.1
    21-22 ATL 76 76 34.9 9.4 20.3 46.0 6.6 7.3 90.4 3.1 8.0 38.2 28.4 3.7 9.7 0.9 0.1 4.0

    ADP: 17.7/16.2 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 45/85 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 14/36 (8/9-cat)

    At this point, Young is a bit of a blank canvas for whatever you previously thought about him. It doesn’t take much twisting to see things one way or the other here. Simultaneously, Young is a high-scoring playmaker who is the better of Atlanta’s guards; the guy who led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals and the player with the highest ceiling and most dynamic offensive game on the roster, as well as an aesthetically unpleasing foul-baiter whose stature and effort make him a perpetual problem on defense, who has compiled a ton of stats without leading his team to much sustained success since that run over a weak version of the Knicks and the Ben Simmons Sixers.

    The vibes around this whole season were not great, and yet Young managed new career-highs in assists and steals while delivering a much better effort from the 3-point line. He was mostly masterful on offense, including a run of seven straight games of 30-plus points and 10-plus assists in December. A spike in turnovers was the only major issue with Young’s fantasy game, though it wasn’t exactly a surprise problem given the numbers he’s posted previously. Young even improved as a defender, with a defensive rating slightly better than Dejounte Murray’s and the new personal best in steals. He’s never going to be an All-NBA defender, but Young was able to compete on that end of the floor when he bothered to try.

    The second half of his season was derailed by a ligament tear in his left pinky, and while Young was able to return for the last three games of the season plus the Play-In game, he was visibly not himself. His season may best be remembered for a disastrous performance in the Play-In, including five first-quarter turnovers and a minus-27 mark in 43 minutes of play (on a night where Murray was minus-6 in 46 minutes and Bogdan Bogdanovic was plus-1 in 36 minutes). While Young delivered a quality fantasy season, the debate will rage on about whether the Hawks can build a winner with him at the center of the roster.

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