The Atlanta Hawks famously started the 2020-21 season with a 14-20 record, only to turn things around and make a Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team’s decision to swap Nate McMillan for Lloyd Pierce was a clear catalyst in the ascent, and one of the NBA’s deepest teams endured significant injury issues along the way. Trae Young enjoyed a national breakout with a playoff run and a heel turn, while Clint Capela landed on Defensive Player of the Year ballots and John Collins turned a fantastic season into an eight-figure free agent deal. While it was something of a bizarre, up-and-down campaign, the Hawks turned in their best-ever playoff performance since the franchise moved to Atlanta, and that creates buzz around the team that hasn’t existed since at least 2015.
Sharife Cooper (Two-Way)
Skylar Mays (Two-Way)
Projected Vegas Win Total: 46.5 wins
Biggest Addition: Delon Wright
It was largely a “run it back” offseason for the Hawks. However, Atlanta took their backup point guard issues seriously and invested heavily in the position with a trade for Delon Wright and the decision to re-sign Lou Williams. Since parting ways with Jeremy Lin via buyout in Feb. 2019, the Hawks have endured excruciating production behind Trae Young at backup point guard. In 2020-21, Rajon Rondo struggled mightily and, while Williams stepped in to provide stability, Wright is the best backup for Young to date. He isn’t a flashy acquisition, but the Hawks are incredibly deep and Wright’s versatility should help to create a high floor.
Biggest Loss: None
Only Tony Snell is gone from Atlanta’s rotation last season and, while backup guard Brandon Goodwin also played a role due to injuries, the Hawks upgraded their bench on paper. The only prominent player to reach free agency was John Collins, who the Hawks brought back on a lucrative five-year deal.
Biggest Question: What do the Hawks get out of De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish?
Atlanta has tremendous depth up and down the roster, including four wings that they are very comfortable with in Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Hunter, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. Bogdanovic is the most proven of the bunch, and he exploded for 22 points per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from three down the stretch of the 2020-21 campaign. Huerter produced something of a breakout in the playoffs and was the healthiest, most consistent of the wings last season. In Hunter and Reddish, the Hawks have two young players with small forward size, and each was selected with the goal to build around Trae Young with defensively versatile pieces.
Hunter was in the midst of a breakout, averaging 17 points per game with 64 percent true shooting, in the early going of last season before being hobbled and sidelined by knee issues. The former No. 4 pick is the team’s projected starter at small forward, but he also missed most of the offseason after exiting Atlanta’s playoff run with injury, and Hunter is perhaps the team’s biggest swing piece in his third season. Reddish isn’t quite projected for the same role as Hunter, but he is a former lottery pick who flashed considerably in the Eastern Conference Finals against Milwaukee. In short, the Hawks were faced with the prospect of navigating most of the last season without either of their big, physical defensive wings, and that greatly hindered both Lloyd Pierce and Nate McMillan’s lineup flexibility.
What Makes This Season A Success: Winning at least one playoff series has to be the goal for the Hawks. It probably isn’t fair to Atlanta to say that a return to the Conference Finals is the baseline, but the Hawks can be a better regular season team while not quite making the same deep playoff run. Of course, there is the upside to return to the NBA’s Final Four, and that is almost certainly the internal goal after a memorable ride last season.
What Makes This Season A Failure: A first-round exit or missing the playoffs would feel rough. Atlanta wasn’t “supposed” to crash the Conference Finals party last season, but that still happened and expectations are considerably raised as a result. Given that the Hawks are better on paper now, both due to depth upgrades and internal growth from youthful pieces, anything but a considerable playoff run is probably in the failure column.