As the Hawks prepare to face the Grizzlies in preseason action, I reached out to Graham Chapple of SBNation and asked him 5 questions about the excitement surrounding this season for Atlanta.
1. Following an ECF appearance would anything less than at the least 2nd round be a disappointment?
Absolutely. A first round exit following a trip the Eastern Conference Finals would be a pretty disastrous follow-up, especially given how basically the entire team from last season is returning and arguably should be even better with the addition of Delon Wright and the continued development of the young core — the likes of De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Onyeka Okongwu (when he returns from injury in December), Kevin Huerter and, heck, Young and Collins themselves. I think the Hawks need to make the second round at minimum in an improved Eastern Conference, though they themselves would be disappointed with even that.
2. Is Trae Young primed to take the next step to be in the MVP discussion?
Trae Young already has everything he needs to be an MVP candidate in terms of his game and production. I think his case for MVP will be in the form of what he can already average but with regular season team success. If the Atlanta Hawks found themselves in a situation where they’re the 1-seed in the East and he’s leading the way, he can definitely get himself in contention for MVP discussion.
3. What offseason move/addition will have the biggest impact?
The Hawks have enjoyed a lot of continuity this summer. Basically everyone who was a positive for them who hit free agency returned, the likes of John Collins and Lou Williams. They did add Delon Wright to their ranks and I think he will prove to be best summer addition (of the few that took place) onto what is essentially last season’s squad and fill the role I’m sure they were originally expecting of Rajon Rondo last year (who was horrid on the court for the most part). Wright will provide some much needed stability when Young is off of the floor - the non-Trae Young minutes were a big problem last season.
4. Besides an injury to Trae Young, what could cause a step back for Atlanta.
Obviously a long term injury to Trae Young (touch wood) would be disastrous but if it was a situation like last season where he suffered an ankle injury and was out for a few weeks, the Hawks have enough offensive firepower to survive without him. I’d be far more concerned if an injury to Clint Capela took place. Backup big Onyeka Okongwu is out until perhaps Christmas and Capela is the backbone of that defense. John Collins could of course step in and play center if needed but Capela is vital to this team’s ceiling and if he’s forced to miss an extended period of time, I would worry for the Hawks’ defense.
5. Down South Rivalry: if you could choose, would you prefer the Hawks have a rivalry with the Grizz or Pelicans?
I love this question. I’m sure many would choose the Pelicans, which makes sense given I think their already urgent need to fill talent around Zion in the same way thee Hawks burst the bank in 2020 to surround Young with more talent. Even still, I would choose the Grizzlies just because I find their timelines so similar and interesting in many ways. In 2016 the Grizzlies chose to sign their marquee free agent Mike Conley to that massive deal while the Hawks allowed theirs, Al Horford to go. After one season of his replacement in Dwight Howard, that original decision (among others in 2016) led to the Hawks to begin their rebuild in the summer of 2017. The Grizzlies held on for a little longer and when they pressed the reset button they, like the Hawks, ended up with a dynamic guard (Young vs. Morant) and an intriguing forward (John Collins vs. Jaren Jackson Jr.).
The Grizzlies did an initially better job surrounding Ja Morant with veteran talent and made the playoffs, something the Hawks lacked for Young’s first two seasons. Now, you’d have to say the Hawks have taken the next step forward to surround Young with the talent he deserves and, as a Grizzlies fan myself originally, I’d be worried that Memphis has fallen behind in this regard to help Morant in the same way. I see a lot of similarities between Atlanta’s and Memphis’s respective rebuilds that originates in their 2016 decisions. It’s really fun to think about and if I had to choose rivalry between either of those two teams, I’d choose the Grizzlies because I see many shared dynamics in terms of star personnel.