I believe that the Atlanta Hawks will make the playoffs this season.
Their record (4-13) is ugly, but it doesn’t tell the true story of who they are. After a solid start to the season, they are currently without John Collins (25 game suspension) and Kevin Huerter to a shoulder injury.
“Any team you take out two of their probably best three players it’s going to be tough to judge that team,” Trae Young told reporters after practice Wednesday.
Through the first five games of the season, Collins averaged 17 points, nearly 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. Huerter, in 10 games, shot over 38% from 3-point range.
“I wish I could have them here tomorrow, I wish they could play tomorrow but they can’t,” Young said. “We gotta find a way to win without them right now. That’s not an excuse for us, but at the same it’s tough without them, but we gotta find a way.”
In addition to the key players that are inactive, their schedule is doing them no favors either.
Since Collins has been suspended, the team has played an 11-game stretch that includes teams such as the Trail Blazers, Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Spurs, Bucks, Raptors and Timberwolves.
Their next three games will be on the road against the Bucks, Pacers and Rockets.
One indication that this team is right on the cusp is that in recent games they have a large lead.
Last game vs. the Timberwolves they had a 12-point-lead at one point. The game before that, the Hawks possessed a 10-point-lead over the defending world champion Raptors.
“If you look at championship teams, they just don’t have close games,” head coach Lloyd Pierce told reporters after the loss to the Timberwolves. “When you have a lead you just separate. You don’t keep it a close game. When we had a lead we don’t know how to separate.”
With Collins out, Jabari Parker continues to step up as their second leading scorer. After playing with the Bulls and Wizards last season, who combined to go 54-110, he is experienced with the ups and downs.
“Try to move forward,” Parker told reporters after practice. “You have mistakes, but there’s always room for improvement. “That’s the kind of outlook I’ve been able to have with most of those teams.”
Huerter and Collins are expected to make another big jump this season. Collins could have been an All-Star.
With them out, the Hawks are relying on rookies De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bruno Fernando. While this is only making them better as players, they were not expected to be such focal points.
The good news is that when Collins and Huerter return, the rookies can be the fourth or fifth offensive options, which shows how deep they can be when fully healthy.
In addition to playing bigger roles, the rookies are experiencing losing for the first time. Reddish played at Duke and Hunter was on the National Champion Virginia Cavaliers.
“I mean yeah it sucks,” Hunter told The Big Lead after the loss against the Timberwolves. “I’m not used to losing, I haven’t lost like this in a while.”
In fact, he’s never lost like this in his basketball career. However, even as a rookie he knows how to look at the big picture and understands it’s an 82-game season.
“We just gotta stay together as a team," Hunter said. "Just keep each other’s spirits up. Losing sucks definitely. There’s so many games in the NBA you can’t just think about that last loss.”
Exactly a year ago at this time, the Hawks ended a season high 10-game losing streak. They went 3-16 up to that point. However, after the All-Star break when they found their groove, Young and Collins both played like All-Stars.
If the Hawks can find a way to stay afloat the remaining 14 games of Collins’ suspension, they will give themselves a legitimate chance to make the playoffs at the back end of a weaker Eastern Conference.
Right now they are only 2.5 games out of the 8th seed. .
“E.T. [Evan Turner] played on a Philly team when he was there and they started out 3-13 ended up making the playoffs. You hear stories from players that have been in the positions that we’re in right now,” Young told reporters.