Hawks decide time is now to take off with Trae Young

Hawks guard Trae Young and Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hawks went 20-47 last season with a 21-year-old All-Star.

How should they build around Trae Young?

The question is incredibly difficult, and there’s no real blueprint to follow. Yes, having a young star is a nice start. But the situation is ripe with peril.

Only one other team in NBA history – 2012-13 Cavaliers (24-58 with a 20-year-old Kyrie Irving) – has been so bad with an All-Star so young.

Irving seemed unhappy in Cleveland amid losing. The Cavs added LeBron James and won a championship. Irving was still unhappy in Cleveland, this time for taking a backseat to LeBron.

But that’s not a good comparison. Young isn’t Irving, who has his own personality and ambitions. Atlanta has no LeBron who’d sign with a bad team just because he was born nearby.

The Hawks face unique complications.

Young has already shown frustration with his weak supporting cast. That can lead to a toxic team culture. Losing is miserable, especially to a competitor like Young.

But realistically, Young – unless he breaks from precedent – will sign a max contract extension next summer that grants Atlanta control through age 26 or 27. It is far more important he’s satisfied with the organization then than now. If the Hawks commit too many resources to winning now, they could be depleted/trending in the wrong direction as Young approaches unrestricted free agency in five or six years.

Atlanta’s best method of getting players who’ll be helpful then is securing high draft picks. The Hawks already have a deep group of B(-ish)-level prospects: John Collins, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu (No. 6 pick in this year’s draft). But what’s the confidence level that collection of players produces a sufficient supporting cast in five or six years? The Hawks could use more time in the lottery, and this team wasn’t yet necessarily bound to surge ahead. Even Young has deficiencies – defense, ball security – that inhibit winning.

But, again, another losing season would have been miserable. The star player didn’t want that. Ownership didn’t want that.

So, Atlanta used its massive cap space to build around the 22-year-old Young with veterans:

Some of these signings look better than others.

A shooting guard, Bogdanovic brings a quality all-around skill set. He should start, take advantage of the attention Young receives and unlock Young’s off-ball ability. Bogdanovic could still be a good player in several years. Though it’s often concerning when an incumbent team – which presumably knows a player best – declines to match an offer sheet, the usual warning doesn’t apply here. The Kings have a new front office and more latitude to rebuild. Though the Hawks had to make a large offer to pry Bogdanovic in restricted free agency, it wasn’t wildly high.

Gallinari is not only older, he carries major injury history. But getting his third season only partially guaranteed helps. If he’s truly willing to come off the bench behind Collins at power forward, that’d ease another concern. Gallinari is a superb scorer and shooter.

Atlanta was especially atrocious when Young sat last season. Rondo should shore up those backup-point guard minutes. But the Hawks probably could have gotten more bang for their buck. Though Rondo is coming off a nice playoff run with the Lakers, his recent regular-season performances have generously been uneven.

Dunn is an elite perimeter defender. His offense lags. On one hand, he’s the youngest of these signings and has the most room for improvement over the next few years. But he’s also signed for just two seasons.

Atlanta’s smaller moves – trading Dewayne Dedmon to the Pistons for Tony Snell and signing Solomon Hill to a minimum salary – were perfectly fine. Snell is cheaper and more helpful than Dedmon. The Hawks could use Snell’s wing shooting far more than another center in Dedmon. Atlanta has a new starting center in Clint Capela, who was acquired last season but has yet to play for his new team.

Which gets to yet another potential pitfall: The Hawks might suddenly be too deep.

They have about 12 rotation-worthy players when everyone is healthy. The logjam is particularly tight with bigs Capela, Collins, Gallinari and Okongwu. There ought to be more temptation to play small lineups with Hunter at power forward than big lineups with Gallinari at small forward, where he’d be an absolute defensive liability.

Maybe that depth will be an advantage amid the coronavirus pandemic and related training issues. Or perhaps it’ll create tension as players want more minutes. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce could have a tough job, especially with former Pacers coach Nate McMillan looming down the bench. McMillan knows plenty about helping a team be good but not great.

The Hawks are chasing the No. 8 seed just as the NBA revamps its playoff format with a play-in tournament for the seventh-, eighth-, ninth- and tenth-place teams in each conference. Though it seems counterintuitive, the play-in actually makes the regular season more meaningful. Now, only the top six teams are assured of reaching the playoffs, and Atlanta faces a steep climb into the top six.

Want to put the Hawks ahead of the perennially overlooked Pacers? Fine. But the Bucks, Celtics, Nets, Heat, 76ers and Raptors all look significantly better than Atlanta.

Still, it’s better to finish seventh than eighth than ninth than tenth. The Hawks appear to have gained significant ground in the East’s middle class.

Competing is rewarding. Winning is satisfying. One more time: Losing is miserable.

Yet, these moderate short-term gains carry long-term risk. And for what? Better matchups in a high-variance play-in tournament and no assurance of making the playoffs?

I’m concerned about the Hawks’ vision. But they didn’t go overboard by trading their first-round pick. In free agency, Atlanta did well enough to get some benefit of the doubt.

The Hawks are better. They can figure out the rest later.

Offseason grade: B-

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

0 Comments

Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
0 Comments

It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
0 Comments

Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.