Bente Uno

Hawks still need to learn how to fly

Published April 30, 2022, 11:00 AMPolo Bustamante

The Hawks go back to the drawing board after taking a step back this season.

After missing the postseason for three years, the Atlanta Hawks finally broke through last season. Not only did they make the playoffs, but they also made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. They took two games from the eventual champions and looked like a rising threat to the rest of the league.

It was easy to see why. They’re a League Pass favorite with an offense built on lobs and logo 3s. They have a solid core of John Collins, Clint Capela, Kevin Huerter, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. On paper, they’re all skilled players, each with their own specialty. Huerter and Bogdanovic can pass and hit outside shots. Collins and Capela are both rim-rolling lob threats.

Tying it all together is the motor of the team, Trae Young. He’s a superstar who caters to the new NBA. Built like a Steph Curry clone, Young has range all the way to the city limits and an unshakeable belief in his abilities. He scurries around the court constantly looking for his shot or a teammate to set up.

In the playoffs last year, Young enjoyed being in the spotlight. He averaged 28.8 points and 9.5 assists to lead Atlanta’s run. He also embraced being the villain, taking bows and snarling at fans every time he hit a big shot. 

The Hawks were feeling themselves in the playoffs and no one could blame them. They had all the momentum coming into this season. Which they ended up wasting away.

They played inconsistently all season long, starting the season 17-23. They spent most of their remaining games trying to crawl out of a hole, finally salvaging a spot in the Play-In Tournament. The playoff run of this year’s Hawks didn’t last that long after the Miami Heat booted them out in five games.

If there’s one play to describe Atlanta’s woes this season, it’s the final play of their series against the Heat.


Young was stifled by the Heat all series long. He averaged only 15.4 points per game on 29 percent shooting. As awful as he was, everyone in the arena knew that the ball was going to him for the final shot to tie the game. Miami played denial defense on Young, forcing the rest of the Hawks to win the game. That responsibility fell on Danilo Gallinari. Twice.

The first opportunity he had, he fired up a shot over two defenders and predictably missed. Gallinari was doubled in the corner on the next play. He ended up throwing the ball away as he was falling out of bounds. Buzzer. Season over.

Credit had to be given to the Miami defense for their united effort to shut down Young. Their game plan in the series exposed the biggest problem of Atlanta. When push comes to shove, what are they beyond Trae Young?

When Young was shut down by the Heat, the entire team didn’t know what to do. Their team full of talented shooters and lob-catchers was rendered useless because Young couldn’t create for them. It’s like having the world’s most modern sports car, but an engine that wouldn’t start. What’s the use of having such a talented core when it’s all reliant on one person to make it work?

Last season, the Hawks took the league by surprise. This season, everyone saw them coming and built an intricate game plan to stop them. Miami showed the rest of the league the blueprint to suppress the Atlanta offense.

The onus now falls on the Hawks to find an identity beyond Trae Young. If they hope to stay a playoff team in the East, Young will need to learn how to fly higher to stay above the defensive schemes teams will throw his way. The rest of the Hawks will also need to learn how to fly when Young’s wings are clipped.