NBA Restart: 2019-20
NBA Restart: 2019-20

2019-20 Season Recap: Atlanta Hawks

Sekou Smith

Sekou Smith NBA.com

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Jun 5, 2020 2:27 PM ET

Despite missing the playoffs, there were several bright spots to Atlanta's season.

The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of  the coronavirus pandemic. The season will return on July 30 and NBA.com's writers are taking an updated look at each of the league's 30 teams.

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Record: 20-47, No. 14 in Eastern Conference

Season summary: Growing pains were expected this season, the Hawks’ second with Trae Young as their centerpiece. Young’s development as an All-Star (starter!) and scoring playmaker was realized, thanks in large part to his diligent offseason work and improvement. But any chance to build momentum early on was blunted when weeks into the season John Collins was suspended for 25 games for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program by testing positive for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide 2. Robbed of quality time developing his projected 1-2 punch, Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was forced to try to fill in the blanks. The extraordinary burden on Young to carry the Hawks to wins each night was a bit more than he could handle and the Hawks, while exciting, struggled to finish games as everyone knew where to focus their attention to stop them. The Hawks simply were not good enough or nearly consistent enough defensively to do much more than what they did through 67 games. And though they swung a trade to add Clint Capela alongside Collins and Young, an injury sidelined the former Rockets big man and kept him from making a single appearance before the season ended for Atlanta. So rather than a breakout season in Year 2 of the Young era, the Hawks had to settle for yet another painstaking step in their rebuilding process.

 
The best plays from Trae Young's sophomore season.

Breakout player: Young is the easy pick. The glimpses he showed during his rookie season turned into the norm for the crafty point guard with shooting range from halfcourt. But it was rookie swingman Cam Reddish who came on as the season progressed. Pierce and his player-development staff deserve credit for the improvement Reddish made over the course of the season. He was completely overmatched early on, playing out of position and at a physical disadvantage mostly every night. Something changes when the calendar flipped to 2020. Reddish became a much more sound performer on both ends of the floor and even if he wasn’t dazzling, he was holding his own. His scoring average jumped to double digits in January (11.9), February (13.4) and March (17.5). In those four March games, Reddish shot 55.1% from the field and 47.6% from deep.The end of the 2019-20 season interrupted what was setting up to be Reddish's best stretch yet. 

Statement win: A Wednesday night visit in late January by the LA Clippers presented the Hawks with a prime ambush opportunity. With just 10 wins to their credit at that time, the Hawks sprung a surprise on a Clippers team that couldn’t have seen it coming. Young was on the bench in street clothes nursing a right thigh contusion. Two-way player Brandon Goodwin replaced him and teamed with Collins to help the Hawks rally from a 21-point deficit and 102-95 win. Collins finished with 33 points and 16 rebounds, but Goodwin scored 19 points -- all in the fourth quarter -- as the Hawks stunned the shorthanded Clippers, who played without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley. There are no asterisks, though. Goodwin’s breakout night is etched in stone. And the final ledger will include a Hawks win over one of top three teams in the league.

 
John Collins and Trae Young talk about the Hawks with rapper Killer Mike.

Most exciting game: The Hawks took both games they played against division rival Charlotte, the second contest March 9 at Philips Arena, when they needed two overtimes to win. Young shredded the Hornets for 31 points and 16 assists, but failed to seal the game in regulation when he missed the second of two free throws that would have provided the winning margin. Rookie De’Andre Hunter sank three free throws with 13.3 seconds to play and Reddish iced the game with two more free throws to lift the Hawks to the 143-138 victory after a controversial finish to the first overtime. Hornets guard Terry Rozier dropped a career-high 40 points in the game but didn’t get his chance to win the game at the line for the Hornets, when an offensive foul on the Hawks was overturned with the score tied and 0.8 seconds to play.

Memorable moments: On Feb. 16 at the 2020 All-Star Game, Young took the floor with LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic and the rest of the starters. Anyone who says they forecasted this sort of stardom this soon for Young is either a relative or a revisionist historian. Young wasn’t being panned early in his rookie season as he struggled to make the adjustment from college superstar to NBA anchor. Fast-forward a year later and he’s in the top three in the league in scoring and assists, drawing headlines as the Hawks’ biggest star since Dominique Wilkins. Seeing him on par with the best of the best at All-Star weekend is a powerful image for an organization trying to re-establish itself.

Team MVP: Once again Young owns this hardware. His ability to milk every ounce of energy from his slight 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame makes him unique among the true stars in the league. He’s the least imposing physical figure in a league filled with specimens, but has a relentless array of offensive skills that make him incredibly difficult to defend. Any bellyaching about the Draft-night trade that sent Doncic to the Mavericks for Young (and the Draft pick that turned into Reddish) looks better and better by the day if you’re the Hawks. Because Young is everything a franchise is looking for, on and off the floor, to serve as a franchise player.

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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