Identifying the Atlanta Hawks’ ceiling as currently constructed

Jan 21, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) reacts after a foul against the Charlotte Hornets in the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 21, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) reacts after a foul against the Charlotte Hornets in the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

While there has been no shortage of whispers surrounding the Atlanta Hawks and what the rest of this offseason might hold in store for the franchise, so far, Landy Fields and company have yet to take any big swings other than trading away John Collins in a salary dumping move.

The most prevalent rumor so far has tied Atlanta to Toronto Raptors power forward Pascal Siakam that would fill the gap left in Collins’ wake; however, reports indicate that Siakam is telling teams that his intention is still to sign with Toronto long-term, which would make everyone else hesitant to trade for what would essentially be a one-year rental.

So if Atlanta doesn’t make any more big-time decisions before the 2023-24 season kicks off in October, just how far can the current iteration of this roster go?

The Atlanta Hawks’ roster still heavily-flawed

There is no ideal solution to the Collins void currently on this roster.

Saddiq Bey, acquired from the Detroit Pistons at last year’s trade deadline, would certainly add shooting, and, by extension, spacing, to a starting lineup that needs to give Trae Young and Dejounte Murray maximum room to operate; however, this would come at the expense of perimeter defense, a problem that is already Atlanta’s biggest Achilles heel. The argument could be made that if Atlanta was already atrocious on defense anyway (which they were), then they might as well pour all of their chips into the offensive side of the ball; however, this strategy will not get you very far in the NBA postseason where often times one or two stops are the difference between wins and losses.

Another option Atlanta has is inserting backup forward Jaylen Johnson into the lineup. Johnson has shown flashes of lofty potential in his two years thus far; however, in the present moment, he would likely present the same spacing roadblocks as Collins due to his lack of perimeter shooting ability.

Or maybe Johnson has locked himself into the gym for the last two months and turned himself into a marksman.

Stranger things have happened.

Elsewhere, the tandem of Young and Murray can stack up with most every NBA backcourt in terms of sheer talent, but the fit still isn’t great, and two former All-Stars showed little ability this past season to play off of one another. How much of that was due to Nate McMillan’s prehistoric offensive schematics is certainly a fair question, and it’s worth giving the two guards a full offseason with Quin Snyder to see just how much synergy they can establish.

De’Andre Hunter is capable of looking like an All-Star at times, but he’s also capable of playing 40-plus minutes without making the slightest of imprints on the game. All of the measurables are there, but so much of his issue seems to be about his motor and consistency rather than his theoretical talent.

So, if the Hawks stand pat with this roster and everything goes perfectly this season, how far could the franchise advance in the playoffs?

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This viewer would say they could probably make it to Game 6 of the second round. They are not better than the Boston Celtics or Milwaukee Bucks, and the Philadelphia 76ers are also sure to improve their postseason chances after getting rid of the two biggest playoff chokers in NBA history, Doc Rivers and (presumably) James Harden.

Of course, there’s also the Miami Heat, who just concluded one of the most shocking playoff runs of all time and look poised to add Damian Lillard sometime before next season begins, and no one in their right mind would pick Atlanta over them.

That’s already four teams right there, and only four teams make the second round, so this theoretical ceiling for Atlanta is actually quite generous.

Yes, I’m aware that the Hawks made the conference finals two years ago. But at some point, context must be applied. The New York Knicks squad that Atlanta faced that year was arguably the least-talented team in modern NBA history to gain home-court advantage for a playoff series, and Atlanta’s second-round opponent in Philadelphia had one of their best players literally forget how to play basketball.

It’s time for the Hawks to stop living off of the rosy feelings of two years ago and acknowledge just how extraordinarily lucky the team got that year.

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If Atlanta’s front office idles for the rest of this offseason, they can no longer be taken seriously when they say that their goal is to bring a championship to Atlanta.