NBA 2022 Offseason Guide: Atlanta Hawks
This was a season of serious regression for the Atlanta Hawks, who went from a competitive conference finalist to a team that entered the playoffs through back door, qualifying through the play-in tournament, before being contemptuously brushed aside by Miami in the opening round.
It’s possible that the Hawks bought into their own hype, extending the contracts of a slew of their home grown youngsters, only to see them stagnate in 2022.
That makes this offseason a fascinating one in Atlanta. Does the front office stick fat with the present core or look to shake things up?
Let’s examine where they stand.
The Hawks are the personification of taking on the personality of their leader. In this case, the all offense/no defense game of Trae Young. Behind the 4th year guard (28.4 points, on 46/38/90 splits, 9.7 assists, 16.3 blown defensive assignments per game) the Hawks ranked 2nd in the NBA in offensive rating, balanced by a 26th position in defensive rating, placing them a bang average 14th in overall net rating.
Young, with the right team around him, could well be the centrepiece of a genuine contender, such is his ability to both hit baskets and create for others. Young’s shooting, with merit, garners much of the attention, yet that detracts from his crafty handles and passing ability that is amongst the very best in the world.
Offensively, Young is more than ably supported by an array of capable scorers in John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter, with the occasional cameo from veteran Danilo Gallinari thrown in for good measure. Even Lou Williams, now aged 35, is still capable of the odd offensive flourish.
Each and all are capable of going for 25 on a given night in support of Young. The issue comes at the other end of the floor where, Hunter aside, they’re all defensive sieves.
That’s not to say that the team don’t have defensively capable players. Hunter is developing into a solid wing defender. Clint Capela is perhaps past his athletic prime, despite being only 28 years old, but remains a good rebounder and rim protector with the ability to survive when switched onto the perimeter. His backup, Onyeka Okongwu, is turning into a fantastic defender both on and off ball.
The issue for the Hawks is that Hunter aside – and he’s still very much a work in progress – each and every person mentioned in this section is primarily a one-way player. It’s not even like they’re shading to one way, either. They’re all excellent on one side of the ball, awful on the other.
Balance. In case the section above didn’t give it away, Atlanta need to find balance in their roster.
No team has ever won big in the NBA by playing purely offensive basketball and the days of competing for a chip by being 100% dour and defensive died in the 1990’s (with a hat tip to the 2004 Detroit Pistons).
With their core effectively set and the team salary into the luxury tax, the only way to establish that balance is through the trade market.
They traded away Cam Reddish for pennies on the dollar last season, in effect betting on Hunter to be their long term small forward. He’s extension eligible, so if the Hawks decide to renege on that commitment, expect him to be a major trade chip.
Likewise, look for the team to move on from Capela. The Swiss is extremely reliant on his athleticism, which is slowly but surely on the wane. The 21 year old Okongwu is ready to step into a bigger role. If a trade isn’t made in the offseason, expect Capela to be moved before the trade deadline.
Danilo Gallinari is on an expiring deal and may be of interest to a contender as an all offense stretch big. He’ll likely be moved before the deadline, as well.
Look for the Hawks to try to grab young two-way players who haven’t quite impressed in their first NBA homes, though still have untapped potential. Think names like Mo Bamba, Jaxson Hayes, Rui Hachimura or Talen Horton-Tucker. They’ll also surely look for draft picks, as well.
There is a chance the Hawks could go star hunting, too. Would they make a push for Rudy Gobert to anchor their defense? Will they offer the max to Deandre Ayton?
The Cap Sheet
Thanks to last off seasons spending spree, the Hawks cap situation isn’t looking too healthy considering the production it’s funding. With nine players under contract – assuming team options are picked up – the Hawks salary commitment is currently a hair under $145 million.
There are a number of free agents that the Hawks could look to bring back, though none set pulses racing. Williams is a shadow of his former self and couldn’t/didn’t play defense in his prime. He’s unlikely to be retained. Fellow veteran Gorgui Dieng could be re-signed if the plan is to move on from Capela and let Okongwu start. If they plan two keep their two current centres, or bring in a new one, Dieng is surely gone.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is a cheap, reliable depth option on the wing. He’s worth retaining on the right deal. Kevin Knox, on the other hand, may be on his way out of the league. The 9th overall pick in the 2018 draft has been an all caps BUST. A star turn on the Shanghai Sharks awaits.
Delon Wright is an interesting case. He’s 30 now, and perhaps not worth the $8.5 million that his current contract pays him. But he’s huge for a guard and a more than capable defender. He’s a solid playmaker and just good enough as a shooter to survive off ball. He’s worth reinvesting in as a situational backcourt partner to Young.
Hunter is extension eligible and as mentioned above, the team have backed themselves into a corner by trading away Cam Reddish.
Hunter is undoubtedly talented, though he’s more theoretical at this point. He’s a decent shooter with a reasonable off-the-bouce game. He’s a good, though not great defender. He has growth left in him, but is already 24 years old (he was an older rookie) and is rather injury prone, missing 107 of a possible 246 regular season games through his first three seasons. He’s a lock to get paid more than he’s worth if extended this season. Perhaps the Hawks will let him play out his contract knowing that he’ll only be a restricted free agent, asking him to demonstrate some growth and some health.
The Hawks hold their own 1st round pick in this years draft: pick 16.
With Young’s status as the centre of the Hawks universe set in stone, look for the team to try to find a solid defensive player with enough shooting and/or playmaking chops to be able to support Young, Collins and Huerter. With so much young talent up and down the roster, the Hawks don’t have to be positionally picky at pick 16. Instead they can focus on skill set.
Jalen Williams could be an option, though is perhaps not defensively competent enough. Nikola Jovic presents a similar dilemma. Ochai Agbaji or Tari Eason might be the best bets, here. Eason, though, would feel aggrieved if he was still on the board at pick 16.
Both Eason and Agbaji project as excellent NBA defenders who’s shooting may or may not translate at NBA level. If they can turn themselves into good catch-and-shoot players, then long and prosperous NBA careers await the both of them.