Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks fighting for their lives

Trae Young and the Hawks have been in a season-long funk.

Trae Young and the Hawks have been in a season-long funk.
Image: Getty Images

Led by Trae Young, the Atlanta Hawks started this season with extra buzz than town’s finest lemon pepper wings. They have been a top quality younger League Pass staff who’d matured into an Eastern Conference heavyweight in a single day. The 2021 postseason served because the setting for Young’s glow-up from empty calorie stat-sheet stuffer right into a bona-fide famous person.

Expectations for the Hawks 2021-22 season soared after they ricocheted into the Eastern Conference Finals final postseason. First, Trae Young lobotomized the Knicks in a 4-1 gents’s sweep. In the semifinals, Young then despatched the Sixers spiraling for the following 9 months, and within the Eastern Conference finals, went mano-a-mano for six video games in opposition to the eventual champion Bucks. In October, they returned extra undercooked than Paula Patton’s fried rooster.

A Hawks staff that was projected to deal with the East’s high groups has been on the verge of sending a rep to the draft lottery as an alternative. Meanwhile, Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies have ascended to a degree we anticipated the Hawks to realize first, creating the notion that Young was lagging behind his friends.

It’s potential Young gained’t be named to an All-NBA staff regardless of averaging practically 28 factors and 10 assists due to the narrative that the Hawks have underperformed. Amazingly, Young has by no means been named to an All-NBA staff, and if voting NBA media members punish the Hawks level guard the identical manner they penalized Jayson Tatum for a subpar Celtics marketing campaign in 2021, it may price him $30 million. In actuality, Trae Young has improved on all the pieces he has turn into synonymous with. He’s nonetheless a pyromaniac on the offensive finish, averaging career-high averages in factors, assists, 3-point capturing share, field-goal share and simply usually setting scoreboards ablaze.

However, the core group hasn’t developed with him. After April 1, final season, Bogdan Bogdanović averaged 22.0 factors per sport whereas capturing 50.6 p.c from the sector, 49.5 p.c on 3s and 88.9 p.c on the charity stripe. That’s the Bogdan Atlanta wants as an alternative of what it bought, somebody whose efficient field-goal share has dipped 7 p.c from final season.

At some point, Kevin Huerter or De’Andre Hunter have to leap the gulf between promising young players and supporting stars on a playoff team. Atlanta’s second-leading scorer, John Collins, has played only six games in the last two months because of a plantar fascia tear and a right ring finger sprain.

One of the signature moments of their run was Cam Reddish’s 21 points and 6-of-7 shooting from 3-point range in 29 minutes in Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Reddish’s breakout became a fixed point for Hawks fans to rest their hopes on. When Reddish was drafted, he was pegged as an All-Star-in-waiting. If you drank the Kool-Aid, his upside was compared to Tracy McGrady’s. In 118 games throughout three seasons, Reddish shot 38.5 percent from the field, averaging 11.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.1 steals in 26.3 minutes per game. At the midpoint of this season, the Hawks had seen enough and on Jan. 13, they traded Reddish to the New York Knicks for Kevin Knox and a 2022 first-round pick.

During the first half of the season, the Hawks were getting cooked defensively and allowing 116.1 points per 100 possessions, the 3rd-worst rate in the league. Since Jan. 15, right after the Hawks traded Reddish to the Knicks, the Hawks have been a middle-of-the-pack defense, ranking 14th in points-per-possession, allowing 114.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Supplemented by Young steering the NBA’s second-best offense, Atlanta has cranked out the NBA’s fifth-ranked scoring differential since Jan. 15.

In November, Young pinned the sluggish begin on their nihilistic realization that the common season was meaningless.

“It’s the regular season. I’m not going to lie. It’s a lot more boring than the playoffs. You’ve got to find that motivation to play like the playoffs,” Young admitted to The Ringer’s Seerat Sohi.

As the playoffs method, there are indicators that Young and the Hawks are constructing motivation and momentum. Between Dec. 10 and March 16, the Hawks hovered at or under .500. Winning six of their final seven video games since March 25 has positioned them 4 video games over .500 heading into the ultimate weekend of their common season. Last season’s 27-11 end after Lloyd Pierce was fired, appears eerily like this 12 months’s post-Cam Reddish 25-13 report.

The Hawks are lastly making their transfer. However, they’ve even much less room for error than in 2021. Atlanta sits at ninth within the East, one sport forward of the Charlotte Hornets, however has an similar 42-38 report because the Brooklyn Nets. Young needed the postseason; he’ll get to it sooner than most. The Play-in video games would be the playoff ambiance Young requested for. If this doesn’t awaken the younger Hawks, nothing will.

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