The Atlanta Hawks had a disappointing season in 2019-20. Despite a superstar offensive campaign from sophomore point guard Trae Young (29.6 points and 9.3 assists per game), the young roster struggled to support him on offense and couldn’t do enough to cover up his defensive weaknesses.
John Collins, the team’s No. 2 option, missed 25 games early in the season due to a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance. Unfortunately, no one stepped up to fill the offensive void.
Ultimately, Atlanta ended with a 20-47 record, which was actually a worse winning percentage (29.9 percent) than the previous season (35.4 percent).
It’s not all bad for the Hawks, who traded for injured center Clint Capela at the February deadline and still have a cupboard full of young assets. USAbetting asks four important questions that will prove to be key in determining how the Hawks fare in 2020-21 and beyond.
Is it Possible to Build a Respectable Defense Around Trae Young & John Collins?
It is not surprising the Hawks were third-worst in the NBA in defensive rating this season. They have Trae Young playing huge minutes at point guard and John Collins patrolling the paint as a combo big man.
Young is arguably the worst defensive player in the NBA. His lack of size and strength at 6’1” and 180 pounds is unfortunate, but it’s his lackluster effort and poor instincts that are really killer. Collins is not nearly as bad on defense as Young is, but he is a bit undersized as a big man and still learning his positioning. Plus, defense is more important for big men like Collins since they form the back line of the defense.
Both guys are offensive experts and deserve to play big minutes because of their prowess on that end. Atlanta needs to construct its roster and rotations in a way that covers for the weaknesses that Young and Collins bring on defense.
What Will Atlanta Do With Its Cap Space?
The Hawks will have some of the most cap space in the NBA in the 2020 offseason because so much of their roster is on rookie contracts. While the exact salary cap figure is not decided yet, Atlanta should have somewhere around $40 to $45 million to work with.
Teams are not required to use the entire salary cap. However, Atlanta’s trade for 26-year-old veteran center Clint Capela at the trade deadline tells me that the Hawks are serious about building a formidable roster sooner rather than later. I would say it’s likely that Atlanta makes some major moves this season to add some more experienced talent to its roster.
The free agency class this year is not very strong, but there are still some solid starter-level players who could provide shooting, like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Davis Bertans or Joe Harris. Atlanta could also make a bigger splash in the form of a trade where it flips multiple assets to absorb a star player’s salary into its cap room.
Is John Collins & Clint Capela Going to Work Offensively?
Collins and Capela are both fringe All-Star big men who deserve at least 30 minutes per game. Unfortunately, Capela’s heel injury has kept him out since late January, which means the two teammates have yet to play a contest together.
I’m curious to see how the fit will work with these two big men on offense. Both guys are great finishers around the rim who excel as screeners and rollers in the pick-and-roll.
Undoubtedly, they will have a heyday playing with point guard Trae Young, who is a masterful pick-and-roll ball-handler and passer.
However, for spacing reasons, teams almost never play two rolling big men together in the NBA nowadays. If two bigger players are on the floor simultaneously, one of them is usually more of a catch-and-shoot player or passing threat.
Capela is pretty one-dimensional on offense, but Collins has a three-point shot that is developing nicely. It would be ideal for the Hawks if Collins hones that shot to become more of a catch-and-shoot threat. Additionally, if Collins can improve some of his offensive instincts as a passer and cutter, that would help Atlanta make the fit work with him and Capela.
Does Atlanta Need to Consolidate its Assets?
The Hawks are going to have lots of players vying for significant minutes on their roster next season. Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela are the key building blocks. Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Bruno Fernando and Damian Jones are young prospects with potential. Veterans Jeff Teague, DeAndre’ Bembry and Dewayne Dedmon were all rotation players for the team in 2019-20.
The crazy thing is that the players just listed don’t even include Atlanta’s high lottery pick it will select in the 2020 draft or any free agents it brings in with its gobs of cap space. Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce could have a terrible time deciding how to construct his rotations.
Major positional logjams are going to be a big storyline for the Hawks in 2020-21 if they don’t consolidate their assets. Atlanta has talent on its roster, but it doesn’t have enough elite talent to make a huge jump toward the top of the Eastern Conference. The franchise would be wise to look into some trades that turn multiple decent players into one better player, setting the team up for less frustration over Pierce’s minutes distribution next season.