Welcome to the team season preview series! From today to the start of the season, I’ll be recapping the team’s season, go through their moves in the off-season, and end with a discussion of what’s to come in the upcoming season for them.
Season & Off-Season Recap
After making the conference finals the season before, the Atlanta Hawks had a down year.
They managed to get past the play-in and make the eighth seed only to have a short series against the Miami Heat. And it was a disappointing series.
This was one of the worst series that I’ve seen from an All-NBA calibre guy. The Heat had Trae Young in jail for the entire series.
Did you know Young only scored seven more points than Max Strus?
The Heat’s defense against Young was also one of the best. I can’t remember the last time a star got taken out of a series like this. The Heat held Young to 15.4 points on 46.1% true shooting — that’s insane.
And if you want to see how exactly they did it, here’s a breakdown from game 1.
But it wasn’t just Young that struggled. The Hawks had the second best offense in the regular-season, but in the playoffs, their offense was around eight point worse, per Cleaning the Glass.
There was no one outside of Young that can consistently pressure the rim, collapse the defense, and then create for others — De’Andre Hunter ranked in the 22nd percentile in rim shot creation, Kevin Huerter ranked in the 2nd%ile, and Bogdan Bogdanovic ranked in the 59thile.
Young not having a reliable second star on offense was one of the reasons why they had a low ceiling, and was a big reason for what they did in the off-season.
The Hawks took a risky swing this off-season. I don’t think anyone expected this type of move to have been made, especially for this kind of package. They sent Danilo Gallinari, three first-round picks, and a pick swap to the San Antonio Spurs for Dejounte Murray and Jock Landale.
The initial reaction to this was, woah! That was quite a package for Murray. At first, I thought this was a great trade for the Hawks, but thinking about it more, I’m not sure how to feel about it.
Did the Hawks get better with Murray? 100%.
Do they have a better chance at making a deeper playoff run? Sure!
But is this the type of move they should have made right now? That’s what I’m wondering about.
Take the Cleveland Cavaliers. What they did and gave up for Donovan Mitchell, I think that was 100% worth it because they already had decent core with Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen. Two of those guys have a relatively high ceiling, too. And you add one of the top 25 players in the mix, you’re in a much better position.
I don’t see that with the Hawks, especially for the package they sent.
In addition to that, they made other moves that got them AJ Griffin, Justin Holiday, Aaron Holiday, and Moe Harkless. These aren’t guys that move any needle, but should provide some help on the defensive end.
What’s in Store This Season
The first question for this season is how will the duo of Young and Murray work?
Before answering that, what Will Murray even bring to the table?
If you want a more in-depth piece on Murray’s film breakdown, I’d recommend checking my piece down earlier in the off-season. But, to summarise.
He’s going to help their offense tremendously. He adds the secondary creation for himself and for others that the Hawks had lacked to surround Young with.
As mentioned earlier, the Hawks lacked rim pressure — well, Murray will provide that. Per BBall-Index, this season amongst players with 500 minutes, he ranked fifth overall in drives per 75 possessions, 17th in rim shot creation, and still ranked 21st in rim shot making amongst guards.
He also had one of the deadliest mid-range game:
- 3rd overall in mid pull up talent
- 4th in mid pull up shot making
- 2nd in mid pull up shot creation
- 3rd in middle game talent
He should bring enough on-ball creation that this team severely needed.
That was the easiest question to answer. We know what he’s going to bring with the ball in his hands when Young is on the bench. The more important question is how will those stars play alongside each other.
Murray wasn’t a great catch-and-shoot guy from deep. Only 18.9% of his 2s were assisted and 69.8% of his 3s were assisted. That’s going to have change drastically.
This applies to Young as well. They have both been more ball dominant than not.
Young was just behind Luka Doncic in BBI’s ball dominance percentage with 50.0%! He had the highest total offensive load with 61.7%. And his offensive involvement rate was, again, second only to Doncic with 78.8%.
Murray was not far behind. He was a few spots below Young in all of those metrics — sixth in ball dominance with 43.7%, 11th in total offensive load with 49.9%, and eighth in offensive involvement rate with 59.1%.
It will be interesting how they’ll try to make that work. In Young’s case, he’s a capable guy to play off the ball — he’s elite off the catch, has the gravity as the shooter, but he just has to put in the effort. He can’t be standing still, but maybe that changes with the decrease in his total offensive load.
But this trade was also about improving the team on the defensive end.
Since drafting Young, this were their defensive ranks in the last four years: 26th, 16th, 28th, and 27th.
So, in a four-year stretch, they had a bottom four defense three times and their best was not even average. That must change. They had the second best offense, but were only plus 1.5.
You’re not going to win anything with a defense that bad, even if your offense is elite.
This also becomes a bigger issue when their best player must be hidden on defense pretty much at every possession. With other subpar defenders, some may have at least length, size, or athleticism. But with Young, I don’t see any potential upside on defense to have him at least average.
And that’s where Murray fits perfectly. He was one of the better perimeter defenders.
Per BBI, amongst 249 guards and wings with at least 500 minutes, he ranked in the:
- 80th percentile in on-ball defense
- 89th in ball screen navigation
- 97th in passing lane defense
- 54th in off-ball chaser defense
- 91st in pickpocket rating
But even as great as these two are, it will still depend on players like Hunter and Bogdanovic to not only stay healthy, but to step up their game.
We’ve seen what Hunter is capable. He led the Hawks in scoring in the playoffs — 21.2 points on 67.3% true shooting. And that kind of production is going to be needed.
It will also be interesting to see what happens with John Collins. There have been so many rumours regarding him being traded already, so I’d still have that as a possibility, especially if the Hawks struggle by the deadline.
I don’t see their season being much different compared to what they did this year. I don’t think their defense had improved enough to not be in the bottom 10. And their offense, well, that’s still something that will take time to work out.
But they probably have improved enough to rather be just in contention for the play-in, they will be right there fighting for the sixth seed.