Previewing and predicting the 2019-20 Atlanta Hawks

After a 29-53 2018-19 season filled with many up’s and down’s, the Atlanta Hawks look to make another step in their rebuilding process as they continue to add new rookies and develop their franchise cornerstones. The Hawks’ 2018 first round pick, Trae Young, had a sensational rookie season that proved many doubters wrong. Young finished second in Rookie of the Year only to Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks. Kevin Huerter, the Hawks’ 19thoverall pick in the 2018 draft, established himself as a legitimate scorer in the NBA, and after shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range, he’ll look to take the next step and make a greater impact on the Hawks this year, especially after the departure of fan-favorite Kent Bazemore. 

Second year head coach Lloyd Pierce has work to do in order to improve the Hawks’ defense this year after being ranked 26thin the league last season. In his time as an assistant for the Philadelphia 76ers, Pierce was known as a defensive guru, and 76ers head coach Brett Brown often credits Pierce for their defensive success during Pierce’s tenure with the team. Pierce will have quite the challenge building the Hawk’s defense as they don’t have many great defensive players on their roster. Young playmakers, Trae Young and John Collins, are both known as offensive stars but struggle tremendously on the defensive end, as they are both small for their position, have unfavorable wingspans, and  also aren’t naturally great at playing defense. 

Rookie De’Andre Hunter should be a help to the Hawks on the defensive side this year. Hunter, a decorated star from the University of Virginia, was selected by Atlanta with the fourth overall pick, which was a pick originally owned by the Los Angeles Lakers, then traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, and then passed onto the Atlanta Hawks. Hunter won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award last season and played a vital part in Virginia’s National Championship run last season. 

Here’re my predictions for the 2019-20 Atlanta Hawks season:

Team MVP : Trae Young

After a rough start last season, Trae Young followed with an incredible second half that made for a contested Rookie of the Year award. In 23 games following the All-Star break, Young averaged 24.7 PPG and 9.2 Assists Per Game. If it weren’t for Young’s atrocious November, where he averaged only 14 PPG and shot 19.8 percent from three-point range, his season statistics would better reflect the impact he had on the Hawks last year, especially down the stretch. Entering his second season, Young will be tasked with leading this Hawks offense from the Point Guard position. 

This year, the Atlanta Hawks will go as Trae Young goes. Young is an elite facilitator that makes everyone around him better when he’s playing well, so the team’s success on the offensive end will be highly dependent on how the 2ndyear star plays for the Hawks. Because of Young’s rapid development throughout the year last year as he got acclimated to the NBA game, he will continue to get better and will likely play more how he did in the second half of the season last year. The only concern I have for Young as he takes the next step is his shot selection and turnovers. Young struggled heavily with turnovers last year, and after the Hawks turned the ball over 56 times in their first two preseason games earlier this month, it doesn’t appear as if the problem is getting much better. Young will also have to continue to work on his shot selection, which is one of the reasons his game improved so dramatically throughout the year last year. 

Best Offseason Acquisition: De’Andre Hunter

The 2019 NBA Rookie Draft Class voted Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish to have the best future in the NBA, but I believe De’Andre Hunter will end up being the best rookie for the Hawks. Hunter fills a need that the Hawks and many other NBA franchises have. As offenses become more complex and effective, the need for perimeter defenders has skyrocketed. De’Andre Hunter is arguably the best defensive player in the draft class, and his value will be noticed right away, while Cameron Reddish, who is particularly raw as a player, will take a few years to reach his potential (if he ever does). Hawks’ big man, Alex Len, called Hunter a “baby Kawhi,” referring to Kawhi Leonard, the Clipper’s star forward. If Hunter can be anywhere near the level of Leonard, he’ll be one of the best draft picks in Atlanta sports history. 

X-Factor: Kevin Huerter

After an offseason that saw the Hawks acquiring Evan Turner, Jabari Parker, Damian Jones, and Bruno Fernando, the Hawks will have issues this year from beyond the arc. While it appears on the surface that Trae Young is a great three-point shooter, he only shot 32.4 percent from three-point range last year. Huerter is the best outside shooter the Hawks have, and he’s arguably the only true “sniper” these Hawks have. If the Hawks want to make any sort of run for the playoffs, Huerter will need to knock down three’s at a higher level while keeping his impressive percentage from last year. The NBA game today relies on being able to knock down the three, and when the Hawks need one, Kevin Huerter should be the one to take it. If Huerter can stay consistent from deep, the Hawks could make a run towards the playoffs. If he doesn’t, then the Hawks will have a hard time spacing the floor and making a big impact on offense.

Prediction: 37-45, 10th in the Eastern Conference

While many believe that the Hawks will make the playoffs this year, I still think that they are at least a season away from contending for the playoffs. The Eastern Conference will be tougher this year, as more teams around the eighth seed get better, including Miami, Detroit, and Orlando. I don’t think the Hawks will be able to improve enough from their 26thranking in Defensive Rating in 2018-19 to make the playoffs. I also don’t think the Hawks are going to be able to space the floor and shoot the three at an efficient enough clip to make the playoffs. The Hawks are another year of development and a star free agent in the offseason away from making the playoffs, but this season should be a fun one to watch as the Hawks look to improve and contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. I expect them to improve and make strides, but enough to make the playoffs as many other writers believe.