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Perhaps the Hawks have found the right balance

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If Nate McMillan commissioned the basketball gods to hand-craft a test for the Atlanta Hawks, it would probably look like the Toronto Raptors, Who had long limbs to cut Trae Young and pluck to attack their opponent in waves. The Falcons, who were happy to surrender their first sign of resistance last season, held their ground through multiple runs in Saturday’s game against the Raptors, setting the table for the most amazing game of their junior season.

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Tied in extra time, Dijonte Murray caught an inside pass and found a sprinting Young, who threw a 45-foot rainbow ball to rookie AJ ​​Griffin for The winner of the game is at the buzzer. In 3.8 seconds, the Falcons drew all 94 feet of the field.

“We kept playing, we kept fighting, we just didn’t stop playing,” Young said after the win. “It’s a long game. Teams will go run. They go run, and we go run. You can’t stop at any time.”

It turns out that failure is a better teacher than success. The gritty comeback fueled the Hawks to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, but gave them the false impression that talent alone would carry them back. The next season, the courses were slow. Discipline disappeared. Atlanta’s defensive rating dropped to #26. The Hawks started the season 4-9 and eventually lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

But now the Hawks are 10-7 in 2022-23, in their best start in the junior era. Their offense broke early, but they also played tough competition, losing to the hot Celtics and winning two of three against Milwaukee. The Hawks have also played the Pelicans and the Jazz, and the Sixers twice. according to TankathonThey now have the second easiest remaining schedule in the league.

This season was a complete reversal of the last season, starting with an off-season that rebalanced a roster slanted toward offense. Around this time last year, Hawks president Travis Schlink called Cam Reddish, a no-no. 10 pick in 2019, as a perfect basketball player. If I were asked, “What would you like an NBA player to look like?” It’s Cam Reddish. “Six-foot-nine, tall, athletic, and he’s got a lot of skill,” Lee said in an interview last year. Schlenk, who was hired by the Atlanta Warriors front office, with designs to replicate the scheme that rode a small ball to multiple leagues, spent most The Hawks capitalized on exactly this kind of player, but that formula needed fixing.

Sure, the Hawks had an interchangeable group of forwards with diverse skill sets: Kevin Huerter and Bogdan Bogdanovic, a 3-point scorer who can run the ball across the field like a flying bird. Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, huge wingers drafted in the 2019 lottery, with varying grounding ability and two-way potential. They could all shoot, handle the ball, make plays, and move laterally on defense to varying degrees, but all together they were redundant, wanting the same shots in the same places, while lacking in the rebounding and defense departments. Not only did the Warriors build the NBA’s most successful small-ball rig by penchanting shooting and shooting at the expense of defense. The key was Draymond Green, a 6-foot-6 forward who could bounce like a 7-footer and push the ball forward like a guard.

The Falcons traded Reddish and Huerter, and used the salary of Danilo Gallinari, a first-age tackle, along with a controversial boatload of picks, to trade for Murray. Like the Transformers federation of Optimus Prime, this Wings predicament has been made into a multivariate playcraft package. Like Huerter and Bogdanovic (currently sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury), Murray can help. He loves middle class as much as he loves Reddish, but he shoots a burn Clip 44 percent from there. He can post like Hunter, but with a combination of fakes and drives that make him one of the most slippery paint covers and catch-and-roll practitioners in the NBA.

Murray is a star who also does the roleplaying stuff, classification In the 100th percentile of combo guards in rebounding opponent tackles. His 6-foot-10 wingspan helps put his steal rate in the 92nd percentile for combo guards, while making up for Young’s lack of size. In fairness to Young, he’s put on 10 pounds this summer and now displays a fight and connection hitherto unseen in Atlanta’s switch-heavy charts. With John Collins and Clint Capela healthy, the Hawks’ starting lineup now has four more fullbacks around Young.

Murray also helped organize the Atlanta Diet. Last season, seven Hawks players had utilization rates between 16.9 and 22. Murray’s arrival created a clearer hierarchy. Everything flows from Young and Murray, two stellar pivots on guard, like an exotic Eastern version of Booker-Paul Suns. Like Mikal Bridges, Hunter has been the beneficiary of the Hawks’ perimeter-oriented system, leading the NBA in spotting attempts and the occasional pick-and-roll run.

There were trade-offs: While Murray and Young have an easy symbiosis on defense, they look like an Orange County wife “married” to her aging oil baron husband, and play “together” because they’re in the same place — which is even more stressful given the roster adjustment also means Three of Atlanta’s best shooters are out. Young’s shooting clip under 40 percent could be an early-season snapshot, or it could herald season-long spacing problems. Murray, a career-high 32.7 percent shooter from 3, racks up a career-high 5.5 tries from 3. The continued development of Griffin, an outstanding rookie, will help them distance themselves. The same goes for the return of Bogdanovic.

Then there’s the even more curious case of Collins, as he scored 13 points a game, his lowest since his rookie season. To go back to the Suns metaphor, if Hunter is like Bridges, Collins is like Deandre Ayton, the Swiss Army knife whose skill set is being checked because of the system.

Hypothetically, Collins’ athleticism and touch should fit neatly into Murray and Young’s. But the continued development of Kabila and Onyeka Okonjo pushed Collins away from the paint. Collins averages 2.6 touchdowns per game, which is a career low by far. This is the worst possible time for him to shoot 27 percent from 3, due to a broken finger that still bulges after a workout, according to a doctor. an interview With Jeff Schultz the athlete.

In time-honored tradition, Collins remains the subject of trade gossip. hawk depending To Shams Charania, they opened preliminary discussions about Collins. Jazz and the Suns have been reported as engaged.

The argument for both sides to break up is as follows: Collins can reap more of his potential if he’s on a team that ticks him off and, conversely, he drops touches Without playing the role the Hawks asked him to play. But these wrinkles, along with the problems with Atlanta’s offense, appear solvable. Collins found his group in a loss to the Cavs on Monday, playing some of the best defense of his career by running two perimeter players and putting up the most effective screeners on the roster, depending to me NBA University.

The partnership between Atlanta and Collins remains symbiotic, with enough signs of potential improvement that you have to wonder why His eventual departure from Atlanta seems imminent, as Mark Stein I reported on his Substack on Sunday. Stein also noted that the Falcons nearly dealt him to Sacramento in June, in a package centered on 3D winger and former veteran Harrison Barnes. Now, Collins is being linked with rumored deals for Cam Johnson, another multi-faceted winger who would fit in perfectly with Atlanta’s offense.

But the Suns, unlike the Warriors, may be a more advantageous blueprint for Atlanta. Skill continuity is useful, allowing role players to seamlessly integrate themselves into actions designed for the stars, but Milwaukee punished Phoenix’s similarity on offense in the 2021 Finals, allowing them to perform the same perimeter-directed catches and damage and take the same ineffective actions. Mid-range jumpers all series. The Bucks’ strategy was similar against the Hawks in that playoffs, but Young was simply more effective, and Collins’ presence as Giannis forward and defender was a factor. In fact, Phoenix solidified his depth at the big man position that summer, as the pressure of being the primary linebacker on Giannis and Brook Lopez put Ayton in constant foul trouble. In an increasingly physical Eastern Conference, it might make sense to keep Collins and look for creative ways to maximize him. Isn’t the point of being versatile, after all, to be flexible?

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