One of the biggest surprises of the 2021 NBA playoffs was how deep the Atlanta Hawks went into the postseason, making it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals against the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. The Hawks upset the higher-seeded New York Knicks, followed by the East's top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, who couldn't stop Trae Young from breaking free from averaging 29 points through the first two rounds of the postseason.
Atlanta pushed the Bucks to six games with Young not playing in two of them due to an unfortunate ankle injury, but if he were healthy there's an interesting "what if" to think about in regards to that series. At the end of the day, though, the Hawks showed everyone in the league that they've arrived and they're here to compete in the playoffs right now.
Even more, Young showed all those who doubted him entering the league that he absolutely can be the focal point of a franchise and lead a team to success in the postseason. Former Hawks legend and Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins even went so far as to say that Young hasn't come close to reaching his full potential.
"He hasn't even reached his ceiling yet," Wilkins said on the "All Things Covered" podcast. "This kid is remarkable. I see him everyday, so I see a lot of things people don't see so it just amazes me how hard this guy has played. What he's done -- first of all he got overlooked on the All-Star team, and I know about getting snubbed. He's been snubbed a couple times but you know what I love about him, he doesn't let that slow him down or affect him. He keeps proving them wrong and that's all you can do when people don't give you your due."
Given that Young is only in Year 3 of his career, of course he hasn't touched the ceiling of what he can become in the NBA. You can even argue that this year was the first real year of Young's true potential since the Hawks added so many beneficial pieces to surround him with. In the first two years with the Hawks, he was tasked with being the lone source of offense on a team that won 29 games his rookie season and 20 games last season. Young did what he could do with the talent around him, but once Atlanta added players like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari along with the natural progression of Kevin Huerter and De'Andre Hunter, it allowed Young to show a more complete side of his game.
Young's field goal attempts dropped this season from 20 to 17, and his scoring dipped from nearly 30 points a game to 25, but he averaged a career-high nine assists a night. He was able to rely on his teammates to shoulder the offensive load and it led to Atlanta winning 41 games and the No. 5 seed in the East. Wilkins is right -- not only has Young not reached his ceiling, but now that the Hawks have tasted success it'll only motivate him and the franchise even more to get better right now.