The Hawks have been the worst team in the NBA of late, and they're wasting Trae Young's historic breakout season because of it.
Trae Young is making history.
The Atlanta Hawks point guard averages 28.4 points, 8.5 assists, and 3.4 made threes per game this season, numbers that hadn’t ever been reached in concert until James Harden did it back-to-back beginning in 2016-17.
Now, Luka Doncic is the only other player in basketball meeting those statistical thresholds, and he’s a top-line MVP candidate.
Young, though, is anything but, his historic breakout season wasted by the Hawks’ widespread ineptitude. Most damning? Atlanta should have seen its layered issues coming well before 2019-20 tipped off.
No team in the league relies more on rookies than the Hawks.
De’Andre Hunter, the No. 4 overall pick in June’s draft, has started all but one game for Atlanta. Fellow lottery pick Cam Reddish has opened 16 times and is getting more than 25 minutes per game, while second-round choice Bruno Fernando has been a constant of the Hawks’ revolving door at center.
Lloyd Pierce’s decision to allot so much playing time to Hunter, Reddish, and Fernando wouldn’t be a negative if the Hawks believed they were still in the earliest stages of rebuilding. But they talked publicly about a possible playoff berth throughout the summer, prompting the assumption that Atlanta would prioritize winning at least as much as player development.
That just hasn’t been the case over the first two months of the regular season. Hunter is the only member of the Hawks’ rookie class who’s playing anywhere near replacement-level. Reddish is arguably the worst rotation player in the NBA, and Fernando isn’t ready for a consistent role, either.
In Pierce’s defense, it’s not like he has many more options on the roster, let alone better ones. Atlanta entered this season with a gaping hole at backup point guard, no viable defender of superstar wings, and devoid of any defensive talent on the interior aside from journeyman center Alex Len.
Its hideous 91.6 offensive rating with Young off the floor, nearly 17 points worse with him in the game, should come as no surprise given the Hawks’ dearth of reliable playmaking options behind him. The same goes for their 114.0 defensive rating, which some ranks 28th in the NBA instead of last despite Atlanta surrendering at least 120 points in just less than half of their games so far.
It’s one thing for the Hawks to fail to live up to internal expectations of competing for the postseason. Frankly, that was always wishful thinking for a team whose best players are still in their early 20s. What’s another thing entirely is the prospect of Atlanta embarrassing itself on a game-by-game basis, a possibility that should have been obvious to anyone paying attention to its sweeping personnel deficiencies – in terms of positions, experience, and overall talent.
The Hawks should be celebrating Young’s evolution into one of the best offensive players in the world. He’s a nightly highlight reel of shooting, passing, and ball handling, imminently capable of playmaking ingenuity reserved for the game’s true elite.
Instead, in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, Atlanta finds itself at a crossroads in a rebuilding process it just began a year ago. Pierce’s job is reportedly safe for now, but intel from Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reveals the Hawks’ comprehensive issues extend from the court to the locker room.
Will all this matter in the long run? Maybe not to the extent it seems. Young is already that good, and it bears mentioning the Hawks will get a major boost when standout third-year big John Collins returns from a 25-game suspension next week.
But Atlanta has clearly taken a step back after a strong finish to last season, and Trae Young is missing the opportunity to cement himself as a national star because of it.
This article was edited by Josiah Wilmoth.
Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:40 PM UTC