Season Preview

Hype is Real: Hawks can barge into contention

Published October 17, 2022, 4:00 PMMiguel Flores
Miguel Flores

Pairing newly acquired Dejounte Murray with franchise star Trae Young can work wonders for the Hawks.

Overview of their 2021-2022 season

After nearly making the 2021 Finals, the Atlanta Hawks nearly missed the 2022 Playoffs. That sounded like the Hawks disappointed, but there was an epic tinge to their crash.

Trae Young did everything he could to shoot the Hawks back into contention and he was as entertaining as any shot chucker in the league last season. There was some weird dynamics in their frontcourt, which they eventually remedied by trading former lottery pick to the Knicks for draft picks.

Still, the Hawks got it together just enough after the All-Star break to make it to the play-in tournament and salvage the eighth seed. They were gutted by the Miami Heat in the first round, but that didn’t stop them from trying to propel themselves this offseason.

What’s new this season?

Before any of the big drama like the Suns soap opera or KD’s will-they, won’t-they romcom hit last offseason, the Hawks made the first big move. They traded picks and Danilo Gallinari’s salary to the San Antonio Spurs for Dejounte Murray.

Murray was a classic San Antonio success story – a 29th overall pick that gradually improved and molded into a prototype Spurs guard. He made the All-Star team for the first time last season, averaging 21.1 ppg on 46.2 percent shooting with 8.3 rpg, 9.2 apg, and 2.0 spg – all career-highs.

There's some obvious questions about the move since Murray and Young play the same position and like the ball in their hands often. But let me make an unsolicited elevator pitch to Trae Young – what if you could be Steph Curry? What if you could master moving off the ball and shooting spot-up 3s and letting Murray initiate the offense more? On the other side of the ball, this tandem makes sense as Murray can defend opposing guards. Making it work on offense isn’t that complicated.

They also traded Kevin Huerter in the offseason, ending a long love story between the red rocket and Atlanta.

THE guy

Trae Young is probably one of the true faces of a franchise around the league. The team builds with his skillset in mind, he gets featured on Atlanta TV the most, and the Hawks’ overall identity relies on Ice Trae. Young was able to elevate his stats last year, dropping career-highs in ppg (28.4), eFG (53.6%), and assists (9.7).

Murray will be his best teammate ever, which makes this season revealing. Young has a chance to take the next step, only if he cedes some of the spotlight and usage rate to Young.

Sneaky fun guy

Onyeka Okongwu was probably the most intriguing prospect of the 2020 Draft. He had all the physical tools needed to be a solid NBA big at six-foot-eight with a seven-foot-two wingspan. It was just a question of him developing some finesse like catching the ball in tight situations and finishing in traffic. Last season, Okongwu was already showing signs that he could take on a bigger role if starting center Clint Capela didn’t have it going.

Look for Okongwu to get more leash this season, especially with him showing some defensive versatility over the Hawks’ other options at center and power forward. He’s springy and wild, both traits that bode well for his entertainment value this season.

Vibe check

All the Hawks really need to do to make a leap this season is play better defense. They can’t be in the bottom third of the league again in every defensive metric and expect to seriously contend. Bringing in Murray already shifts their purview. He's a rangy and smart defender that should at least add a bit more zest in the Hawks’ vapid defensive effort.

The offense will take care of itself – a cliché much easier to fire off when you have Trae Young leading the way. This is also by far the most viable team Nate McMillan has ever coached so it’ll be interesting how he squeezes the talent from Atlanta.

With the East’s upper echelon standing on wobbly ground, there’s room for anyone to barge into contention. The Hawks have nowhere to go but up.