Looking back at the 2021-22 Atlanta Hawks surprising season

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite only winning 41 games, and being the fifth seed in the east, the Atlanta Hawks made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. Let’s take a look back at Trae Young‘s best postseason run so far in his career.

While Trae Young had a very good rookie year, his second year the 2021-22 season was when he really broke out and became a first-time All-Star and elite scorer. Along with his elite playmaking skills, it was clear Young was on his way to becoming an offensive machine and All-NBA type player in his second season.

In the frontcourt, the starters were John Collins and Clint Capela. In terms of strengths, Capela was a great rim and roll threat. He wasn’t the greatest defender in the world but he wasn’t completely horrible. Collins was very similar to Capela but you had to at least respect Collins. While he could make a three if you left him open, the big man wasn’t one to attack opposing teams on the perimeter.

The wing position for the Atlanta Hawks was never set due to the number of injuries.

On the wings, there wasn’t a consistent starter during the regular season. Rather it was a mix of guys. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Heurter, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish were the group that started at the wings position during the season. Tony Snell even filled in at one point of the season.

Bogdanovic was signed to a four-year, $72 million contract the prior offseason.  While he was a great addition as a shooter and secondary creator, he struggled on defense. Huerter was also a great three-pointer shooter but he couldn’t really create on his own well enough.

Hunter was a solid shooter and defender but suffered an injury in February that kept him out till the playoffs.  Reddish was a good shooter who did have his struggles at the start of the season and a much better defensive option than anyone listed besides Snell.

However, he got injured in mid-February and was out till Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Snell wasn’t really much of an offensive threat despite his high percentages, but he was very solid defensively.

Rounding out the bench were Danilo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu, and Solomon Hill. Gallinari signed a $60 million contract over 3 years. While the contract was an overpay, Gallinari was a nice backup big for the Hawks that season. Onyeka was the Hawks’ first-round draft pick that year.

With an already crowded frontcourt, Onyeka did not have a lot of chances to contribute. For the minimum salary that it cost to sign Hill, it was certainly very good to have a defensive wing like him on the team.

How did the Atlanta Hawks go in the postseason?

The team struggled to start the season. After a 14-20 start, Lloyd Pierce was fired. Nate McMillian was named Interim head coach. The coaching change would help as they went 27-11 the rest of the way. Halfway through the season, the Hawks traded Rajon Rondo to the LA Clippers for Lou Williams. He would provide key off-bench scoring for the rest of the season.

The Hawks went 41-31 and were the fifth seed in the Eastern conference. They faced the Knicks in the first round and beat them in five games, as the Knicks struggled to score beyond consistent buckets from Derrick Rose. The Hawks contained the Knicks’ all-NBA player, Julius Randle to a mediocre series where he struggled to shoot the ball. Randle never shot better than 38 percent from the field.

The Hawks faced off against the Philadelphia 76ersin the second round. After splitting the first four games, the Hawks won Game 5 behind a 39-point Trae Young performance. After losing Game 6, the Hawks were set to face off against the Sixers in a win-or-go-home Game 7. While Young struggled until the last period, it was Huerter that stepped up.

Huerter had 27 points on 55 percent shooting in the win. The Hawks would move on to face the Bucks. The Hawks beat the Bucks in Game 1 behind an epic 48-point game performance from Young. Additionally, Capela had 19 rebounds in the victory. The Bucks would win the next two games. In Game 3, Young got injured and would not play in the next two games.

Despite Young not playing in the game, the Bucks shot terribly, and the Hawks won. It seemed like this was the Hawks series to lose as Giannis Antetokoumpo would go down with an injury that would sideline him for the rest of the series. Despite this, the Bucks would still win the series.

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The Bucks would win Game 5 behind a 30+ point performance from Brook Lopez. This game was never really a close affair. The next game was a lot closer but the Bucks still won behind a Khris Middleton 30+ point performance. Despite the disappointment, Atlanta Hawks fans had about not reaching the Finals after Antetokoumpo’s injury, they were still happy about the Hawks’ playoff run.

The 2020-21 season was the best season of Young’s career so far. That season, and especially Young’s performance in the playoffs, proved that he could be the number 1 option on a championship contender.