2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks made huge moves during the offseason, but much work remains.

Sekou Smith

Sekou Smith

New-look Hawks built to compete for playoff spot.

When last seen, the Hawks were …  licking their wounds from another rough season and watching the NBA restart in the Orlando bubble from afar as one of the eight teams that didn’t receive an invite. An early fall minicamp (with COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, of course) was designed to give the Hawks some much-needed time together between the March shutdown of the season and the open of camp for the 2020-21 season. But with so many new faces added to the mix, that session will end up being more beneficial from an individual growth and development standpoint than anything tangible benefit for the team the Hawks will put on the floor this month. Trae Young and John Collins, however, put the finishing touches on huge seasons for the young franchise cornerstones. Young earned an All-Star starting gig and proved himself to be one of the league’s most dynamic young stars. Meanwhile, Collins shook off the funk from a 25-game suspension to close with a bang; averaging career best scoring and rebounding numbers along the way. There wasn’t much else to get crazy excited about in a 20-47 season that exposed the Hawks’ lack of quality depth and didn’t include a single appearance by bouncy big man Clint Capela, acquired in a trade with Houston, because of injury.

Whats new? Basically everything surrounding the young core. The Hawks went into the offseason with the most cap space of any team in the league and general manager Travis Schlenk finally cashed in all the assets he could in a truncated offseason. Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has so many new faces to work with he’ll be exploring his options nonstop early on this season. Veterans Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn and Solomon Hill highlight the free agent haul. USC center Onyeka Okongwu (the 6th pick in the Draft) adds even more frontcourt depth and versatility. And former Pacers coach Nate McMillan, fresh off an appearance in the playoffs in the bubble, joined Pierce’s staff as well. With a stated goal of making the playoffs this season, there won’t be any excuses for a revamped team that’s suddenly two-deep at every position. The starting group has young legs and star power and they’ll have ample reinforcements with plenty of seasoning. Rondo working as a team leader and point guard mentor for Young could prove to be the most critical offseason move of all.

Whats missing: Chemistry and seasoning for the youngsters are the main ingredients missing for this bunch. They didn’t get the normal month or so of pick-up ball and skill work that always benefits a new group. And with nine new faces, that’s time that would have been extremely beneficial. Schlenk and Pierce talk often about not skipping steps in the process of turning the program around, and for the most part they’ve stuck to that theory. But this one was beyond their control. The coronavirus pandemic forced them into virtual mode (like everyone else in the league), thus eliminating the critical feeling out period that accompanies a normal offseason. Time will tell just how significant an impact that lack of familiarity will have on this group. Pierce is counting on the plug-and-play readiness of the free-agent group to facilitate a transformation from lottery regular to a postseason contender.


Trae Young | 29.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 9.3 apg
Already an All-Star with all the tools but needs to improve defensively to go to another level.

John Collins | 21.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg
Improved outside shooter and a perfect pick-an-roll partner for Young.

Clint Capela | 13.9 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Elite rebounder and rim runner/protector the Hawks have lacked.

Bogdan Bogdanovic |15.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg
Underrated athlete with deep shooting range is ideal backcourt fit alongside Young.

Kevin Huerter | 12.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.8 apg
Versatile young talent who is still growing into his own as a high-level role player.


Rajon Rondo | 7.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.0 apg
Two-time champion brings veteran savvy and ability to perform his best on biggest stage.

Danilo Gallinari | 18.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.9 apg
Classic stretch-four who could push for Sixth Man honors this season.

Kris Dunn | 7.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.4 apg
A lockdown defender who can guard three positions and facilitate in a pinch.

De’Andre Hunter | 12.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg
A starter as a rookie, should be an effective defensive specialist off the bench.

Cam Reddish | 10.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.1 spg
Showed promise down the stretch of last season after rough opening.

Atlanta Hawks, last 5 seasons

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 20 47 0.299 107.0 25 114.4 28 -7.4 28
2018-19 29 53 0.354 107.5 23 113.1 28 -5.5 26
2017-18 24 58 0.293 104.4 26 110.1 24 -5.7 26
2016-17 43 39 0.524 104.5 27 105.2 4 -0.7 19
2015-16 48 34 0.585 104.6 20 100.8 2 +3.9 7

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Season Prediction

The baby steps era is over for these Hawks. You don’t engineer the most intriguing offseason of any team in the league and not raise the expectations to playoff (or at least play-in tournament) level. Schlenk knows it. Pierce knows it. And so does everyone else in the organization, from the executive offices down to the ball boys. The locker room is where the embrace of those raised expectations has to be translated into a much more sound product on both ends of the floor. The Hawks ranked in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. That won’t work anymore, not with the extreme roster makeover that went on in the offseason. This is no doubt a team that should compete for a playoff spot.

Predicted finish: 37-35

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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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