From two games away from the finals in 2021 to first round out in five in 2022, the Hawks have have taken a windshield smashing hit. In 2022, John Collins missed 28 games, Bogdan Bogdanovic missed 19, Deandre Hunter missed 29 and Onyeka Okongwu missed 32. Danilo Gallinari missed anything resembling a decent defender, Kevin Huerter wasn't much better than Gallinari, Clint Capela from 2021 showed up for only a small portion of the year and the Hawks defense was 26th in the entire NBA. They got shit on, nearly everything that could go wrong went wrong. With the team being brutally humbled in 2022 along with Huerter and Gallinari being replaced for Dejounte Murray and Justin Holiday, Travis Schlenk's off-season reset the course of the Hawks resoundingly. Despite that, over half of Fanspo users think they're still a play-in team LOL.
How will Dejounte Murray and Justin Holiday change the team?
PoA defense just massively upgraded in quality as both pester smaller jitterbug and can switch onto wings successfully. Last season, the PoA defense was arguably the worst in the entire NBA, now it's a strength of the roster. They'll both set the tone defensively with their intensity and focus, something that will be grealy appreciated. De'Andre Hunter should benefit greatly too as he'll be assinged to more favorable match-ups. No more being forced to guard smalls while coming off injuries because no one else can defend on the roster.
Both players also use their length (6'10 and 7'0 respectively) to get tons of deflections as Dejounte was 2nd and Justin Holiday was 99th in the NBA per game (this includes many players who played just a few games). They also are great on rotations and able to switch onto many different type of players. This will increase the turnovers and botched possessions forced per game. That makes their defense more disruptive and unlocks the transition offense.
Dejounte Murray and Justin Holiday both thrive in transition, although in different ways. Dejounte loves to push the ball with pace and is extremely difficult to slow down. He can advance the ball up the court quickly by pass or dribble to finish with ease. Justin teleports to the rim, he might be the best at leaking out on the break in the entire NBA, he and Dejounte will connect on the break quite often. The transition offense last year was extremely effective as they ranked 5th PPP, but they rarely went on the break. However, with the additions with Dejounte and Justin, their fastbreak will get even more lethal and they'll get on the fastbreak more than last year.
The Hawks offensive rating last year was a mediocre 111.5 without Trae. Dejounte Murray's elite level playmaking in the half-court out of the pick-N-roll will be pivotal in ton-Trae Young minutes. Trae Young himself will also benefit greatly from being with a playmaker at the level of Dejounte will allow him to be off the ball more often and get open jumpers. With his playmaking load decreased and easier shots for himself created, the chances that Trae becomes a passable team defender are far greater than any point in his career. With Clint Capela, John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu, Dejounte will have the best pick-N-roll players he's ever played with in his entire career to make life easy for him and likewise for the bigs too.
Losing Huerter and Gallinari as floor spacers from 3 point range isn't easy to replace. However, Justin shoots ~37% on ~6 threes a game (nearly all catch-and-shoot) and a career ~40% from the corners. Even though he's not the most active off the ball in the half-court, Holiday's consistent jumper will provide positive off-ball value. Dejounte Murray, despite his mediocre ~33% from 3-point range on ~4 attempts last year, did shoot a passable 34.5% on 2.5 attempts per game for catch-and-shoot shots. Not great, but not unviable either. His touch from mid-range also creates room for optimism as he shoots ~46% from 10-16 ft and ~45% from 16-3P since 2019-2020 on high volume. He uses his 6-10 wingspan, tight handle and great elevation to get that shot off with ease, one of the best in the mid-range.
How will the Hawks offense function?
A common misconception with Dejounte is that he's a non-factor off the ball, however, he's a capable cutter off the ball. He runs hard, gets to his spots and knows how to use off-ball screens with his time under Popovich. Dejounte will get more reps in to get the timing correct and devlop much more as a off-ball player. That aspect of his skillset along with a OK catch-and-shoot 3 point jumpshot will allow Dejounte to play without the ball effectively with a playmaking wizard like Trae Young on the floor. Trae Young will be in more off-ball scenarios for catch-and-shoot situations, something he'll thrive at. I don't expect him to unlock his "inner Steph Curry" as some suggest given the lack of evidence that he is that type of player. Still, I can see simple pindowns and basic off-ball movement for Trae to greatly diversify his offensive attack next to Dejounte. Overall, this duo should function both on and off the ball while being arguably the best playmaking duo in the entire NBA.
Heavy dose of pick-N-rolls will happen as both Trae (1st) and Dejounte (6th) rank highly in possessions per game out of pick-N-roll action. Bogdan Bogdanovic is also a efficient option in limited touches. With John Collins, Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu as rollers to the rim, Trae+Dejounte+Bogi will have fantastic bigman targets throughout the game. All three players rank in the 85th precentile or higher as rollman on notable volume. All three bigs are also consistent screen setters, know how to slip a screen and make ghost screens. All three bigs are also capable short roll passers.
Consistent shootere from 3-point range in Justin Holiday, John Collins, Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic will be able to space the floor. Dejounte Murray and Deandre Hunter also have the ability to hit the open 3-point jumper. John Collins has proven in the past to be a capable post scorer. With the three bigs all being capable lob targets, the rim will unlikely be packed with defenders without the possibility of being easily punished.
Bogdan Bogdanovic and De'Andre Hunter are both perimeter players who are effective complementary scoring options. Bogdan has the ability to be a secondary playmaker who can hit off the dribble jumpers effectively. He can also play without the basketball in his hands effectively, finding open space and able to hit jumpers on the move. Hunter can hit the one dribble pull up and get to the rim. He can do this attacking closeouts or staight up in isolation.
A team that's already extremely effective on limited chances on the break will get more opportunity this season. The one man fastbreak Dejounte Murray and leak out master Justin Holiday will be pivotal towards that likely outcome.
How will the defense look next season?
Deflections, expect this to drastically increase with the additions of Murray and Holiday. This will also get the Hawks in transition more.
Rim protection is capble of being elite. The Clint Capela late in the season pre-injury was the Clint Capela that the Hawks need, that elite rim protector. Onyeka Okongwu is also a impressive rim protector. John Collins, while not great at defending the rim as a lone bigman, is a luxury to have next to another big at protecting the paint with his length.
With possibly the best rebounding small in the NBA in Dejounte, the Hawks will end defensive possessions more often with a rebound. This will turn into an area of strength compared to the average 16th ranked DRB% last year.
John Collins does a great job as a defensive communicator, but the additions of Dejounte and Holiday will be a much needed boost to the defensive communication of the Hawks. Those improvements combined with the improved speed will help the transition defense go from laughable to passable. This will also make the rotations much better than last year and exerted effort will be much more present this season. The gaps will be digged into with the length of Holiday and Dejounte, making it more annoying to get to the rim. The help defense of Holiday, Dejounte, Collins, Capela and Okongwu will allow the Hawks to shore up potential mismatches and defensive break downs.
Bogdan and Hunter will see more favorable match-ups defensively as they won't be tasked with handling the smaller and quicker players anymore. Instead, they can use their strength to handle bigger and slower footed players. The on-ball defense will improve greatly.
Other veteran rotation players on the roster
Aaron Holiday: Capable faciliator with the basketball, a floor spacer from 3 point range, can hit the in rhythm pull up 3 with space, can play without the ball, gritty on-ball defender. Has been coached by McMillan before in Indy and has a useful skillset for he Hawks. Aaron played notable minutes in the 2020 playoffs under McMillan, he is a potential candidate to get minutes in the playoffs.
Frank Kaminsky: A bigman who can shoot the 3, rebound, pass and provide some resistance at the rim defensively. Limited role player with clear strengths and weaknesses. Likely not a player the Hawks will put out there every game in the playoffs, but has proven to be capable with the Suns in 2021.
Overall, the Hawks should see significant improvement over last year with more favorable health and burning motivation from being eliminated. With the projected massive improvements on defense and offensive diversity added with Dejounte Murray and Justin Holiday, the Hawks have a realistic shot of making the NBA finals. However, the following must occur in order for that to happen:
Clint Capela must regain his 2021 form, the player we saw late in the 2022 season before his injury.
De'Andre Hunter must have a bounceback season defensively, being healthy will be a key factor.
Nate McMillan must embrace the Dejounte Murray and Justin Holiday additions on offense. How? Up the pace a bit, allow them to play freely in the open court.
The defense must be able to become respectable. How? Activity off-ball, constant communication, more deflections and crisper rotations. All four aspects should improve greatly next season as the team gets healthy, patches up their weaknesses and add new strengths. I also think Dejounte Murray will have the respect in the lockeroom as a leader on the defensive end for everyone else to follow, what a fantastic addition to the Hawks.
I think all scenarios will happen favorably next season. Because of that, I project the Atlanta Hawks to soar above expectations and be legit title contenders this upcoming season. I'll reflect this change in my title winning odds post.
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