If you're looking for a sleeper Executive of the Year, keep an eye on Hawks president and GM Travis Schlenk, who has been piling up cap space for a few years and used it this offseason on a slew of ready-made contributors that could have Atlanta pushing for a playoff berth. Either that or these additions could net minimal returns, in which case Schlenk and coach Lloyd Pierce might end up on the hot seat.
It's a big year for the Hawks, who have expedited their competitive timeline by acquiring Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn in addition to drafting Onyeka Okongwu No. 6 overall. This after Atlanta traded for Clint Capela last February, a rolling big man to pair with Trae Young who will also get them plenty of extra possessions on the offensive glass.
No longer are the Hawks playing completely for the future. They want to make the playoffs. Young is an emerging superstar and they can't be getting into the final year of his rookie deal, before which he'll be eligible for a monster extension, without something to show for the last three years they've devoted to his and their growth.
The bottom of the Eastern Conference is wide open, and two more teams will get shots at a playoff berth this season with the new play-in format. All Atlanta has to do is grab the 10th seed or higher, and they'll at least get a three-game series for one of the two final spots.
Taking the temperature
Hawks believer: Schlenk has spent the past few years copying the Golden State blueprint, with Trae Young as his Steph Curry and a supporting roster lined with versatile players who can all shoot, pass and dribble. Even without Gallinari and Bogdanovic, the Hawks had a 111.2 offensive rating last season when Young was on the floor, which would've been good enough for No. 5 in the league.
That rating cratered to under 96 points per 100 possessions when Young sat, but this season they've got options to create offense outside of Young. We've already seen it in the preseason even when Young is on the court. Bogdanovic can initiate pick and roll and has a deft feel for getting defenders on his back and dictating offense once he's into the lane. Rondo, if he can be as good as he was in the bubble for the Lakers, can keep the second unit afloat and allow Young to play more off the ball with the first unit, which is something Young really needs to add to his game.
Cam Reddish made big strides toward the end of last year, and while he' still a little shaky with the ball, when he looks good, he looks really good. Kevin Huerter is a much better off-the-bounce creator than most people realize. The Hawks have all the pieces to have a top-five offense.
Hawks skeptic: You mention Atlanta's offensive rating with Young on the floor while conveniently leaving out their absolutely tragic 116.1 defensive rating, which made Young a minus-4.9 player overall and Atlanta the third-worst defensive team in the league. Young has piled up numbers in an offense that is built entirely for his entertainment, but we have no idea whether a team can actually win at a meaningful level while having to compensate for Young's massive defensive deficiencies.
And if you look around the roster, there aren't a lot of elite defenders who can make up for Young. Capela is a liability when he gets switched onto the perimeter. John Collins is about as offensive-minded as Young. Gallinari is an average defender at best. Same for Bogdanovic. Kris Dunn is a great defender at the point, but he'll likely only play when Young is on the bench, so that negates that potential Young cover-up.
The Hawks are going to score a ton of points. But they're going to give up a ton, too. This team has the feel of the Don Nelson Warriors, which was a lot of fun but very rarely a team to be taken seriously.
Hawks believer: I don't believe the Hawks' defense has to be terrible. Young is an obstacle, but there are plenty of lineups the Hawks can throw out that feature three to four long, athletic switchers, and Onyeka Okongwu can be a big-time contributor in the middle right away. I love DeAndre Hunter defending on the wing, and his corner 3-point shooting is going to be a big factor all season with Young getting into the paint.
Plus, we're not looking to be a top-four seed here. Look at the bottom of the East. Atlanta is going to be battling with the likes of Charlotte, Orlando and Chicago for one of those final spots. If you can score at anything close to a top-five rate, which the Hawks can, a top 20-ish defense can get you in the playoffs in the East. That's doable.
Hawks skeptic: I agree, it's doable. It heavily depends on the development of Hunter and Reddish, both of whom on paper look like two-way blueprints for the modern-day wing. Both those guys have to defend at a high level, and Reddish needs to makes plays as a creator. They can both shoot, and they both need to shoot well. To me, we know what we're getting from Young, Gallinari, Capela, for the most part Bogdanovic, Collins can make a small leap if he backs up his improved 3-point shooting, but it's Reddish, Hunter, the rookie Okongwu and to some extent Huerter who represent the most room for hope -- or disappointment.
Eye on: Cam Reddish
A lot of people like to talk about Trae Young as the guy the Hawks traded Luka Doncic for, but that's not true. They traded the right to Doncic for Young AND Cam Reddish, who represents the additional lottery pick Dallas put in the deal. It's a tough sell, in hindsight, to justify trading Luka for any kind of package, but if Reddish doesn't turn out to be something really good, this is going to go down as a pretty disastrous trade for the Hawks. That's not a knock on Young. Luka is just otherworldly.
As stated above, Reddish made a lot of strides over the course of his rookie season, which began as a mess. So far in the preseason, Reddish has shown a lot of really good flashes, looking natural pulling up for his jumper, even from two or three feet beyond the arc, and he's been OK initiating offense. He needs to get better there. Sometimes he looks like he doesn't want any part of the ball, slow to react, unsure of himself, and his handle in traffic can be pretty iffy.
To me, this is all confidence. Comfort. Success breeds that. Reddish needs to feel good about himself on the court more than anything. If he can get off to a good start and roll that momentum into a major role for what could be a playoff team in just his second season, that Luka trade won't look so bad.