30 Teams in 30 Days: Hawks flying in right direction with Trae Young, John Collins
NBA.com Global on Sep 06, 2019 08:31 AM
FILE - CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 15: John Collins #20 and Trae Young #11 of the U.S. Team pose for a portrait prior to the 2019 Mtn Dew ICE Rising Stars Game on February 15, 2019 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
* * *
Today's team: Atlanta Hawks
2018-19 Record: 29-53, did not qualify for the playoffs
Key additions: De'Andre Hunter (Draft), Cam Reddish (Draft), Evan Turner (trade), Allen Crabbe (trade), Jabari Parker (free agency), Chandler Parsons (trade)
Key departures: Taurean Prince, Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon, Omari Spellman
The lowdown: It isn’t often that a team loses 53 games and hears applause, but such was the case with the rebuilding Hawks, who took meaningful steps into the future with a young core and opened the curtain slightly to reveal a promising vision.
Most of the focus was, and deservedly so, on the point guard-power forward tandem of Trae Young and John Collins. In their first season together, the duo connected nicely and rather quickly, bonding through pick-and-rolls and a load they shared equally. Young had a few rookie lapses early but finished stronger than any rookie, including the Mavs’ Luka Doncic, who won Kia Rookie of the Year. The shooting range he displayed while leading the country in scoring at Oklahoma was much sharper post-All Star break and Young had consecutive games of 36, 36 and 49 points.
He also finished fourth in the league in assists (8.1), raising the possibility that someday, he can rank top-five league-wide in scoring and assists the same season. Equally important, he was entertaining and the Hawks certainly crave an attraction to wake up the basketball sensibilities in town. Collins was beastly with 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, both team highs, and showed growing awareness and impact at both ends. Collins and Young were complimented by sixth man Kevin Huerter, a rookie guard who became a weapon from deep, shooting 38.5 percent on 3-pointers.
The other bright spot was Alex Len, who reclaimed his career after being a bust in Phoenix. In March and April, the 26-year-old seven-footer averaged 15.6 points (51.9 from the field, 40.4 from deep) and 5.9 rebounds and bought himself another look at starting center. The major issue with the Hawks was defense; they were dreadful for much of the season, which was somewhat understandable given their emphasis on youth. Yet: The Hawks were so smitten with the development of their young core that the purge of pricey veterans began in earnest once the season ended.
Summer summary: It’s a small sample size, given that he only arrived in town just three summers ago, yet is there any question the Hawks’ leadership under Travis Schlenk is sound? Schlenk, plucked from the Warriors’ front office to run the Hawks, has yet to make a costly mistake or set the club back.
That wasn’t supposed to be the case in 2018 when the basketball world was set to crucify him for trading the Draft rights to Doncic for Young and Dallas’ 2019 first-rounder which became a lottery pick. Young was just short of terrific for the Hawks as a rookie, showing star potential, and the point guard spot is one less worry for Schlenk, who earned a contract extension himself this summer.
Here’s how Schlenk has done in his three Hawks drafts: Collins, Young, Huerter and now Hunter and Reddish after swinging another Draft-day deal to get an additional pick. The philosophy is simple and sound: Take as many swings at the Draft plate as possible and hope to hit a home run. It’s the best way to get a franchise player in today’s NBA.
The jury’s still out, but it could be that Schlenk managed to get a star (Young), an All-Star (Collins) and three useful rotational players with those five picks. And maybe Hunter or Reddish might be better than expected.
Hunter was targeted for his defense, where the Hawks desperately need a presence. Reddish is a wild card as he played to mixed reviews at Duke, yet his skill set is undeniable. He’ll get plenty of chances to prove the Hawks right, at least initially.
Schlenk’s additional deals resulted in the Hawks getting future first-rounders from the Nets and Thunder. Once again, Schlenk used the Hawks as a dumping ground for bloated contracts mainly because the Hawks have cap room and those contracts came with Draft-pick sweeteners. Turner, Parsons and Crabbe are mainly passing through town. They’re all on the final year of their deals, and once they’re sent packing in the summer of 2020, the Hawks can use that money to enter the free-agent market for the first time in this rebuilding process.
In a best-case scenario, then, the young core, still on rookie deals, will flourish and the Hawks will use their cap space next summer on veterans who can push the club into playoff contention. Or they can use that ample space to swing a trade for an A-list star who qualifies as a disgruntled asset -- much the way Anthony Davis, Paul George and Russell Westbrook changed teams this summer for one reason or another.
As if his drafts weren’t solid enough, Schlenk demonstrated an ability to spend wisely when he signed Parker to a two-year, $13 million free agent deal. That's a decent buy and low risk for a former No. 2 overall pick who might deserve a longer stay if he produces.
Essentially, the Hawks used this offseason to position themselves for the next step forward. With a revamped team, a dazzling point guard who could sell tickets in an updated arena, the Hawks are giving the basketball fans of Atlanta fewer reasons to root for the visitors (something the city did quite regularly in years past).
Can Atlanta actually become a basketball destination in a football town? You can argue that the Hawks were never the main attraction ... even during the Dominique Wilkins days. Suddenly, anything’s possible for a franchise that’s looking up.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.