The Atlanta Hawks Are Top Four In The Eastern Conference; Are They A Legitimate Title Contender?

(Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Two seasons ago the Atlanta Hawks made a run to the Eastern Conference finals where they lost to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. The future seemed bright. But after a disappointing season last year where they beaten by the Miami Heat in the first round, the team made some changes and looked to recapture that magic from two seasons ago. It’s early but the Hawks are top four in the conference and they’re the only team to beat the Milwaukee Bucks this season.

Are the Hawks for real?

It depends.

As of Friday morning the Hawks have played 12 games and are 8-4. Through those 12 games they have the 20th toughest schedule, not exactly a murderers row. They’re 14th in aNET rating, 15th in aORTG, and 14th in aDRTG. By the numbers they are firmly in the middle. But there are things to like.

The arrival of Dejounte Murray has helped the offense move into something a bit more egalitarian and less heliocentric, with Trae Young as the sun. The addition of Murray also moves Young off ball and helps them in transition.

So far this season, nobody is better than the Hawks in making you pay for mistakes in transition. They score an absurd 131.1 points per 100 transition possessions. Their true shooting percentage is 69.4 and their 9.9 percent turnover rate is top 10 in the NBA.

Through the early part of the season, the Hawks have outscored their opponents with both guards on the floor and still with Murray on the floor without Young. But they’ve been outscored with Young on the floor without Murray.

Onyeka Okongwu is Atlanta’s future at center and he will continue to get minutes this season. But Clint Capela is still here and very good and has great pick and roll chemistry with Young.

That’s the good.

For the Hawks to truly move to the next level, they need De’Andre Hunter to be everything they envision him to be. The team moved Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter because of the upside they believe Hunter has.

The Hawks project the 6-foot-8 Hunter to be that dynamic two-way apex predator wing you need to win big in today’s NBA. Defensively he’s been fine this season, but he can be better. On the offensive side of the ball, there are only so many shots to go around on a team with Young and Murray.

Then there is power forward John Collins, who received his contract extension. But had issues in the past with Young and the style of play.

To be fair, the Hawks are missing Bogdan Bogdanovich, a proven big shot maker. Though he does nothing to help them defensively.

Head coach Nate McMillan has a lot of pieces, and as dynamic an offensive talent as Young is, it might benefit the entire team if they ran more of a heavy motion-based offense. Of course, Young is deadly in the pick and roll, but as they hope to advance in the postseason that becomes easier to defend.

The Hawks are good. A solid playoff team that should finish in the top six and avoid the play-in tournament. They’re not quite championship or perennial conference finals contenders yet.