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NBA Daily: Paying Attention To The Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are rebuilding but have the young talent and veteran players to make serious strides this season, writes David Yapkowitz.

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With the start of the 2018-19 NBA season just about a week away, most of the major storylines are set, the Jimmy Butler saga notwithstanding. There is one potential storyline, however, that is flying under the radar a bit. That is the growth and development of the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks finished last season with a 24-58 record, the worst in the Eastern Conference. When the team and former coach Mike Budenholzer agreed to part ways, and he was replaced with a first-year head coach in Lloyd Pierce, it was clear which direction the Hawks were heading.

They had already begun to travel down the rebuilding path, with pieces such as Taurean Prince and John Collins already in place. They added to that group during the draft with Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman.

It’s clear that this is going to be another long and trying season for the Hawks. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth paying attention to and that they won’t be playing a must-see, exciting brand of basketball.

One of the main reasons the Hawks season is worth following is the arrival of Young. Young was an explosive player in his lone season of college basketball at Oklahoma. He struggled to translate his offense to the NBA a bit during summer league, but the one thing he made crystal clear was his status as an elite playmaker.

Now that preseason has rolled around, Young is still struggling a bit with his shot, but that is something that can be improved on. His playmaking ability is not something that is learned. It’s either there or it isn’t, and in Young’s case, he definitely has it.

The Hawks have no shortage of athletic guys looking to get up and down the court. They’ll likely be on the receiving end of Young’s highlight passes multiple times throughout the season. Once he’s able to settle in with his offense and adjust to the NBA game, he’s going to be very exciting to watch.

Young isn’t the only rookie on the Hawks roster worth paying attention to, however. Both Spellman and Huerter are talented guys in their own right, and both look like they could be integral parts to the Hawks rebuild. In the annual survey of NBA general managers, both Huerter and Spellman received votes for potential steal of the draft.

Huerter recently made a quiet NBA debut after sitting out summer league with an injury. With a player of Young’s caliber in the passing department, shooters are also a premium. That’s exactly what Huerter can bring to this team. He should get an opportunity to play right away, and get some highlight plays himself with his long-range prowess.

Spellman is a player who raised his draft stock tremendously after a solid NCAA tournament run that ended in a championship. He’s another athletic guy who can run the floor and finish around the rim, but he can shoot the basketball as well. He started the other night against the Oklahoma City Thunder and finished with ten points, seven rebounds and three steals.

Aside from the rookies, there’s the pair of Prince and Collins who will also make the Hawks worth tuning in for. Although it’s still too early to garner the label of potential All-Star, it also wouldn’t be surprising if one, or both of them reach that ceiling.

Prince had a breakout second-year that only got better in the second half of the season. He’s shown flashes of becoming a potential offensive focal point. When he was initially drafted, he fit the mold of a typical 3&D player. Since then, he’s shown he’s capable of more than that. He had several offensive explosions near the end of last season including scoring 38 points twice.

Collins was one of the 2017 draft steals. Not much was expected from him during his rookie season, but he ended up being named to the All-Rookie Second Team. He was so dominant in summer league that the Hawks ended up shutting him down. His ceiling looked to be an athletic big man who can block shots and finish around the rim. But he’s also shown he can become more than that. He can score in a variety of ways and he’s got the potential to be a defensive focal point.

The Hawks are almost assuredly not going to win very many games this season. But they’ve got an exciting young nucleus in place. With capable veterans such as Vince Carter, Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin helping to guide the way, the Hawks rebuilding project is definitely one storyline worth paying attention to.

David Yapkowitz has been a staff writer for Basketball Insiders since 2017. Based in Los Angeles, he focuses on the Pacific Division as well as the NBA at large.

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