How dangerous will the Atlanta Hawks be in the playoffs?
Through roughly the first half of the 2020-21 NBA season, especially after the offseason in which they spent fast and furiously, not many expected the Atlanta Hawks to be 14-20 and sitting in the 11th spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
After essentially adding Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Danilo Gallinari during the offseason, the team wasn’t showing any signs of taking a dramatic step forward through the first 34 games of the season.
However, all of that began to shift starting in March. Coincidentally, that was also when the Hawks elected to part ways with head coach Lloyd Pierce and hand the keys to the team to Nate McMillan.
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Whether that is the reason for Atlanta’s turnaround this season remains to be seen – it’s difficult to pinpoint to simply just that. Nevertheless, something did click around that time for the team. And they’ve looked like a completely different club over the last six weeks.
Since that moment, the Hawks are 16-5 and have made a big move up the East standings. The Hawks are now sitting in the fourth spot of the East and are just four games back of the Milwaukee Bucks for the third seed.
With less than 20 games remaining in the regular season, I don’t think anyone expects the Hawks to overtake the Bucks for the third seed in the conference, but many are interesting in seeing whether this team has truly turned the corner or if this is simply a hot streak.
Atlanta’s talent isn’t something that can be questioned and it was predictably going to take time for this team to click and gain some chemistry after adding three rotation players during the offseason.
What’s been most impressive for the Hawks is that over the last couple of weeks, this team has continued to play at a high level even with John Collins (the team’s second-best player) injured and out of the lineup.
In the absence of Collins, the Hawks are 7-1. The hope is that Collins will return sooner rather than later, but with the way the team has played with him out of the lineup, they can be cautious and patient with his injury in an attempt to ensure that he’s healthy heading into the postseason.
If the Atlanta Hawks are healthy, should they be considered a dark horse contender?
Assuming that the Hawks head into the playoffs healthy, how much of a threat should we view them as? On paper, they’d certainly be a handful for any team – including the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, or Milwaukee Bucks.
The Hawks have everything you need to be successful in the playoffs.
Atlanta has a strong lead star in Trae Young, a great supporting star in John Collins, and enough depth where they could give teams problems on both ends of the floor. The Hawks, now, also have an experienced coach that is familiar with playoff basketball.
For a team that has a top 10 offense but a bottom 10 defense, you wouldn’t think that the playoffs are the best format for success. Especially in a more slow-downed environment, which the NBA playoffs often are.
However, since McMillan has taken over as head coach the Hawks have improved on the defensive end. In the 21 games that he’s been in charge, Atlanta has gone from having the 20th best defense to the 13th best. Their offense has also improved from 9th best to sixth-best.
It could ultimately depend on matchups and there’s a good chance that this team will have to face the Miami Heat or Boston Celtics in a first-round series. That said, I’m not sure I’d count out this new version of the Hawks against anyone.
The Atlanta Hawks are hot and gaining momentum at the right time. By the time the playoffs come around, they could emerge as the biggest dark horse threat (apart from the big three) in the Eastern Conference.