The Atlanta Hawks could have trouble finding mismatches vs Raptors

Feb 6, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young (11) dribbles the ball against Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (L) in the first quarter at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young (11) dribbles the ball against Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (L) in the first quarter at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

After seven straight wins, the Atlanta Hawks (24-25) have tied their longest winning streak of the season. They’ve also finally started to gain some ground back in the Eastern Conference standings after digging themselves into such a deep hole. Their turnaround has largely been attributed to improved focus and effort on the defensive end.

It was the offense, namely that of Trae Young and Onyeka Okongwu, that stepped up in the fourth quarter to take advantage of another late defensive surge and seal the huge 129-121 victory.

With the Toronto Raptors in town, the Hawks offense is once again the focus as they face another unique challenge.

The Atlanta Hawks face a Raptors team that matches up well against them on paper

Atlanta has done well to find a balance in their first and second units. The Hawks are the third highest-scoring team in the NBA during this run. They lead the league in field goal percentage, are fourth in three-point efficiency, are fifth in assists over the last seven games. They also boast the fifth-best defensive rating.

That last part is most notable because they were the 28th ranked defense by the same metric before their streak.

Even though the Raptors come in having lost six of their last 10, they are coming off of a triple-overtime win over the Miami Heat. That could mean tired legs, sure. But it could also mean that a team that had been on a six-game winning streak before that is back.

Their personnel is what is most concerning as far as the Hawks are concerned.

Toronto boasts solid defenders at all five positions and just got Fred VanVleet back for the win over Miami. He had 19 points and eight assists while shooting 35.7 percent from downtown. But it’s his defense that makes him of particular interest to the Hawks as he is one of the best point-of-attack defenders in the NBA.

Next to him, Toronto has Gary Trent Jr. who went off for 33 points and is having a career year in his second season with the Raptors. He too is a solid defender when he locks in, ranking third among Raptors starters in defensive box plus-minus.

Either Trent or VanVleet is capable of defending either guard spot.

That switchability isn’t unique to Toronto’s backcourt either with rookie Scottie Barnes joining O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam to form a frontcourt trio that can guard any position.

For a Hawks team that is so heavily reliant on the pick-and-roll – they are tied for first in frequency – the Raptors are a tough matchup to find an advantage against. They don’t have a weakness in their starting five beyond their size which they overcome with Siakam playing center.

Teams like to put bigger athletes on Young in crunch time, a tried and true method on dynamic but smallish players in the game of basketball, and the Raptors are better equipped than most.

They can trot out a seemingly endless supply of lengthy and athletic defenders that have the range to make Atlanta work extremely hard on both ends.

However, they are not endless as they used just eight players in that triple OT game, lending some credence to the thought they could have tired legs in this game. But the Hawks have had one of the best benches during their run, ranking sixth in points.

If the Hawks can get into the Raptors bench that ranks 30th in scoring in the last seven games, their job gets a lot easier. But it’s getting the starting lineup full of two-way players of Toronto off of the floor that is the most important aspect. They lead the NBA in scoring during this same seven-game span.

This wasn’t to say they should be worried.

Atlanta swept the Raptors last season, winning by an average of 120-114 with Young averaging 32.5 points and 9.5 assists in the two games he played.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, John Collins, Danilo Gallinari, and Kevin Huerter all averaged double-digits with four of the five going for at least 16.0 points per game versus Toronto last season.

They simply cannot overlook the eighth-ranked Raptors with a game against the Phoenix Suns coming up on Thursday.

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The Hawks could try to pound the paint with the Raptors. They outscored the Los Angeles Lakers 62-50 and have a size advantage over Toronto. That could help get those starters into foul trouble and help the Hawks extend their streak.