Keys for the Hawks
As my boss and friend Jman likes to say “we (the Hawks) weren’t supposed to be here.” Yet, against all odds, the Atlanta Hawks have arrived. The Hawks have a chance to upset the balance in the Eastern Conference with a 2021 East Finals series win. They were “supposed” to lose to a resurgent Knicks in round 1 but they dropped them in 5 games. They were a nice story against Philadelphia but ultimately were “supposed” to be less talented. Yet, they move. Once again, they are being counted out against the Milwaukee Bucks but below are the keys to them shocking the world one more time.
The Atlanta starters each average over 15ppg with an average age of 24. That type of production is insane for a group that young. However, I believe the contributions from their bench could have more of an impact in this series. Their top reserves are Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams. While neither has set the world on fire in their first seasons with Atlanta, their steady presence could be huge in this series. When the Hawks were down 26 in game 5 against Philly, it was Lou Will and Gallinari’s calming and efficient play that sparked the comeback. Williams tallied 15 points and Gallinari had 16 to help bring the game to a point where Trae Young could take over.
As stated above, neither player is going to win you a series but together, they offer the playoff experience that this roster is lacking. The Bucks are a tested, veteran playoff team and as evidenced against Brooklyn; they don’t balk when the going gets tough. Having players like Gallinari and Williams who offer a similar mindset should help the young Hawks if they go down big at any point.
Trae Young, Superstar
Let’s take a look at Trae Young splits from this regular season to the playoffs:
Keep in mind the numbers you are looking at are from a 22 year old 3rd year player in his first ever playoff appearance. This has been a magical run for Ice Trae. From taking a bow on the Madison Square Garden floor to leading the Hawks back from 26 down against the top seeded Sixers; Trae has been phenomenal. He’s scored 30 or more points in 6 of 12 games and thrown 10 or more assists in 7 of 12. That kind of production is unmatched in these playoffs. This feels like a coming out party for Young but for Hawks fans (shoutout to Jman!) this kind of production is par for the course.
Now, his magical run will run straight through All-NBA defender Jrue Holiday. Holiday offers a slightly different matchup issue for Trae than in the Philly series. While Simmons and Thybulle offered length and size, Jrue offers a speed and strength that could potentially give Young problems. However, Young has handled every defender thrown at him in these playoffs and I don’t see any reason for that to stop. He’s becoming the type of player where you almost have to cede his production and try and stop the others. If that’s not a trait of a superstar, I’m not sure what is.
The Nate McMillan Effect
Coaching will play a huge role in this series. When Nate McMillan took over the Hawks, their record was 14-20. McMillan finished the season as the interim Head Coach and brought the Hawks to the 5th seed and a 27-11 record. That kind of impact cannot be overstated. Similar to his counterpart Coach Bud, McMillan has experienced his fair share of criticism concerning playoff performance. His Indiana teams were seen as underachievers but his Hawks have been anything but this postseason. McMillan has shown the ability to make the right adjustments on the fly and his use of the roster has been masterful. In order to beat Milwaukee, he’ll have to push the right buttons yet again.
Series X-Factor: Bogdan Bogdanović
Before the season began, it was reported that Bogdanović was on his way to the Milwaukee Bucks in a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings. For reasons that remain unknown, the trade fell through. The Bucks were charged with tampering by the NBA and Bogdanović himself said he never agreed to the trade. He ended up a Hawk where’s he’s enjoying a career year averaging 16ppg on 47/43/90 shooting splits. He’s the perfect running mate for Trae Young with his ability to work on and off the ball and he offers a versatility on offense that will cause fits for any team.
The question with Bogdanović though is his health. He combined to score 11 total points in the last two games of the Philly series and was obviously hampered by injury. As of today, he is not on Atlanta’s injury report but the concern should be high for Atlanta fans. A healthy Bogi will be necessary for the Hawks to shock the world yet again. As stated above, the Hawks bench has picked up the slack but in order to defeat this Milwaukee team; the Hawks will need a locked and loaded Bogdanović.