It's beginning to look a lot like the NBA regular season is effectively over. Rather than sit around and wait for basketball to come back into our lives, let's reflect on what the season has dished up to this point.
We'll take a look at each and every NBA team over the coming weeks, assessing what went right, what didn't go to plan, and where their journey took them as well as where the team hoped it would take them.
Today, we'll examine three teams that had expectations that far outweighed their eventual production: the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks.
Record: 20-47 (14th in the Eastern Conference)
82 game pace: 25-57
The Hawks felt like they had a legitimate chance of pushing for the 8th seed at the start of the season. The talent was there in the transcendent young star Trae Young, supported by John Collins and Kevin Huerter; a pair of solid rookies in Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter; veteran talent in Jabari Parker, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner. In a shallow conference, why couldn’t they at least be in the race?
What went right
Trae Young most certainly went right. The 2nd year dynamo finished in the NBA’s top ten with 29.6 points (4th in the league), 9.3 assists (2nd), 3.4 made threes (8th) and…ummm…turnovers (1st). Offensively, he was the lone bright spot for large swathes of the season, leading to his first All Star selection and the legitimisation of the Trae/Luka trade debate.
When John Collins played, he was a wonderful, versatile, 2nd banana. He put up 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 three pointers at over 40%.
Once GM Travis Schlenk addressed the teams depth issues (that were in fairness created by Schlenk himself), the team started to gel, with a 5-6 record from the All Star Break to the shutdown.
The returning Jeff Teague gave the team solid play at the point guard spot for all 48 minutes. Dewayne Dedmon didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but his gravity opened up the floor for Young and Collins, whilst his defense remained robust.
What went wrong
The first half of the season was a serious Young injury away from being the absolute worst case scenario.
They lost Collins to a PED suspension early in the season. Parker filled in well at one end of the court but predictably hurt the team at the other. Huerter missed 11 straight games in November, with the team losing the first 10 of those.
Turner was completely at sea as the backup point guard and as a result Atlanta cratered in minutes without Young on the court. Alex Len reverted to the mean; well, his mean at least. The NBA mean is a lot better than the best version of Len. The less said about Crabbe’s minutes the better.
The rookies both struggles out of the gate. Hunter was one of the least efficient players in the league through January, although he did pick it up post All Star break. Reddish looked utterly over matched until a sharp spike in form from mid February.
Sure, the record is not what the franchise had hoped for coming into the season, but if you break the season into two parts, the pre All Star section was Murphy’s Law where practically nothing went right; the post All Star section was the plan coming to fruition.
Atlanta have young pieces and reasonable depth across the roster, all of a sudden. The core of Young, Collins, Huerter, Hunter, Reddish and Clint Capela is probably, health permitting, a playoff team in next season’s Eastern conference.