The future is where the Atlanta Hawks’ focus has been the past two seasons, and it’s where it remains now in the second year of the franchise reboot under coach Lloyd Pierce and with point guard Trae Young in place. They are the two key figures for a Hawks team that general manager Travis Schlenk has stocked with young talent and plenty of future assets. Missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons after owning the longest postseason streak in the Eastern Conference, second best in the league behind the San Antonio Spurs, was a calculated risk the Hawks had to embrace to get to this point. But now, the real fun and rebuild is taking shape.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Atlanta Hawks
The last player from the Hawks’ 60-win, Eastern Conference finals team departed the premises in the offseason. Kent Bazemore was traded to Portland in a deal that brought veteran combo guard Evan Turner in return … Taurean Prince was also a casualty of the summer purge, Schlenk traded him to Brooklyn, opting for a player who fit better with their other young talent … Center Dewayne Dedmon expanded his game while with the Hawks, stretching his shooting range out beyond the 3-point line, but opted for a free-agent deal in Sacramento … Veteran swingman Vince Carter decided to return to the Hawks for his final season, and will become one of just four players to appear in an NBA game at the age of 43 or older (Nat Hickey, Robert Parish and former Hawks big man Kevin Willis are the others). Carter will turn 43 on January 26.
1. Youth will be served. Led by Young (21), the Hawks will boast five regulars this season 22 or younger -- Cam Reddish (20), Kevin Huerter (21), De'Andre Hunter (21) and John Collins (22) are the others. The youth movement is by design. It’s also allowed the Hawks to create the salary cap space to make some major moves in free agency and trades in the coming years.
2. Finishing kick. A rough start (6-23) to the 2018-19 season invited the skeptics to write the Hawks off before Christmas last season. But they finished 23-30 down the stretch and drew attention in the process. Atlanta displayed an exciting brand of basketball behind two young stars (Young and Collins) who appear to be destined for stardom. Pierce needs his crew to take the lessons learned during the second half of last season and apply them to the start of this current campaign.
3. Is the real Reddish ready? While he was overshadowed at Duke by Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, Reddish showed up on campus with credentials just as flashy. If the injury issues he dealt with are behind him, the Hawks just might have one of the steals of the Draft on their hands. Reddish has the size and skillset to flourish in the Hawks’ wide-open attack, and he won’t have any of the pressure to be a franchise savior like his college buddies.
MAN ON THE SPOT
The easy answer here is Young. After the rookie season he put together, expectations for the slick point guard skyrocketed. But the heart and soul of this team might very well be Collins. The bouncy power forward turned in an eye-opening performance of his own last season, though injuries limited him to just 61 games, 20 fewer than Young. Collins was close to a 20-10 machine when healthy and is more than just an elite athlete overwhelming the opposition with his power and speed. He’s so fluid for a player his size and he’s fearless around the rim on both ends. If the Hawks take off this season, it’ll be with Collins and Young working in tandem.
Trae Young | 19.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 8.1 apg
Rookie of the Year runner-up and just the third first-year player in NBA history to average better than 19 points and eight assists.
Kevin Huerter | 9.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.9 apg
A sharpshooter with sneaky athleticism, Huerter is another one of the Hawks’ youngsters primed for bigger things.
De’Andre Hunter | 15.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.0 apg (Virginia)
The Hawks moved up in the Draft to select the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
John Collins | 19.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
Numbers never lie, right? The Hawks were 24-37 with Collins in the lineup last season and just 5-16 without him.
Alex Len | 11.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.1 apg
Another find by the front office, Len found his niche as a floor-stretching big capable of working inside and out.
Vince Carter | 7.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.1 apg
His contributions statistically don't do justice to the impact he’ll have in the locker room.
DeAndre Bembry | 8.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.5 apg
Earned his way into the rotation as a solid two-way player capable of guarding multiple positions.
Jabari Parker | 14.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.4 apg
An ideal option off the bench for a team in need of scoring punch from the second unit.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Hawks are likely still a year away from being a legitimate playoff contender in the revamped Eastern Conference. But they have everything lined up. Ownership, the front office and the coaching staff are aligned and the roster is loaded with intriguing young talent. How quickly Pierce can incorporate the newcomers into the system will determine just how competitive this team will be this season. But they have building blocks in Young and Collins and the right blueprint to build on that foundation.
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