We have officially made it to the start of the NBA regular season. More than excitement, I feel a sense of relief - like what Kevin Durant felt after the dagger against the Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Finals. The world has been turned upside down for 19 months, but I know the NBA is there to soothe my anxiety at the end of each day.
One thing I am excited about is the Atlanta Hawks. To use a musical analogy - if last season was 'Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik', this season will be 'ATLiens'. In the mid-90s, Outkast released a surprise classic followed by a critically acclaimed masterpiece.
Yesterday I gave my predictions for every player on the roster. The good thing about this team is the sum is somehow greater than the individual pieces. So here are my predictions for the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021-22 season.
Everyone knows the Hawks will not have the luxury of flying under the radar this season. Trae Young has a target on his back larger than the Eastern Seaboard. Not to mention a big part of his game just got nerfed by the NBA. But as long as he can count on his teammates being in the lineup each night then his game will further evolve.
Yes, the Hawks have the deepest roster in the league. That depth provides a firewall against injuries that will inevitably pop up through the regular season. In addition to the bench strength, is the fit between the individual players. The playstyle of each player complements the rest of the rotation. Simply put, they know the assignment.
This team is devoid of ego, thanks to the roster buying into Coach McMillan's system, and their family-like unity. Given their selflessness, any player can go off on any night. That is why multiple players are going to enjoy league accolades this season.
Currently, SI Sportsbook has the Hawks win total at 46.5 games. That seems shockingly low to me. My belief is the Hawks will finish the regular season with a record of 52-30. That will earn them the 2-seed behind only the Milwaukee Bucks. It's been some time since the Eastern Conference was this competitive. That's why the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat will be breathing down the Hawks necks throughout the entire regular season.
Home-court advantage is important in the playoffs, but a healthy roster is a prerequisite to overall success. Will the Hawks have all or most of their roster suiting up each night in the playoffs? That's the million-dollar question.
It goes without saying the team's four best players (Young, Clint Capela, John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic) need to be in the lineup. But last spring, the Hawks didn't get to fully utilize integral pieces of their rotation like De'Andre Hunter and to a lesser extent, Cam Reddish. The two wings are matchup nightmares that can throw opponents out of rhythm and alter the landscape of a playoff series.
Assuming the Hawks have the 2-seed and are healthy, they will get their revenge from the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks took the Bucks to six games last season and were one referee's foot away from doing more damage. This youthful team has proven they are immune to pressure and are still in the age range where they make great progression each season.
The Hawks will advance to the NBA Finals for the time since 1961 - back when they were located in St. Louis and played in the Western Division. As for the NBA Finals, I would still consider them to be underdogs against the Western Conference Champions. Whether it be the veteran-led Phoenix Suns or mercenary-filled Los Angeles Lakers. I liken this Hawks team to the 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder. Luckily, this organization wasted no time locking up its young core.
The 82-game season is somewhere between a marathon and maelstrom. There will be plenty of peaks and valleys. For every baptism, shimmy, and winning streak there will be injuries, flat performances, and annoying trade rumors. The Hawks fanbase is prepared for this, and the organization is built for it.