New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks: X-factors, key matchups, and a prediction

NBA New York Knicks Julius Randle (Jason DeCrow/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports)
NBA New York Knicks Julius Randle (Jason DeCrow/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports) /
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New York Knicks
NBA New York Knicks defend Trae Young (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports) /

New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks: Key matchups

RJ Barrett (or whoever the Knicks throw at him) vs. Trae Young (?)

One of the biggest goals for the Knicks heading into this series will be stopping Trae Young. He’s easily the best and most dynamic offensive player in this series and the one player that makes the Hawks a true threat to win this series. However, how will the Knicks decide to guard him?

Will Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau assign an entire defensive philosophy to stop him? Will he throw Elfrid Payton or Reggie Bullock on him? The one matchup that I hope we see is RJ Barrett on Young. Two budding stars going against each other on one end of the floor would be extremely spicey.

It could also be the avenue that Barrett needs to his coming-out party in the NBA. If Barrett (of whoever the Knicks throw at Young) could even slow down Young, it would absolutely help tip the scales in New York’s direction.

John Collins and Clint Capela vs. Julius Randle 

The Knicks have been arguably the biggest surprise of the season and one of the biggest reasons why is the play of Julius Randle. He’s played at an NBA MVP level this season and has the Knicks rejuvenated and playing with a confidence that they may not have had in decades.

If the Hawks are going to beat the Knicks, they’re going to need to slow down the straw that stirs their offensive drink. That’s Randle. During his breakout season with the Knicks, Randle is averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists per game on 46 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent shooting from the 3-point line.

If the combination of Collins and Clint Capela can outplay Randle, the Hawks will have a strong opportunity to advance to the second round. If Randle has his way, which he often during in their three regular-season matchups (he averaged 37 points per game against the Hawks this season), it could be a short series for Atlanta.