Don’t look now, but the Atlanta Hawks are poised to make a playoff that leverages the strength of their current five-game winning streak and the superb performance of point guard Trae Young.
The Hawks overcame a slow start to see off the Sacramento Kings 121-104, and have now moved in in the two-game round of eighth-seeded Boston Celtics. In this winning streak, they beat the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, and the Miami Heat, currently the top team in the East.
Just a few weeks ago, the Hawks season was wiped out, but led by their All-Star point guard Young, who was named the NBA Eastern Conference Payer for the second time of the season. At this point, Atlanta already looks like a viable threat heading into the second half of the season.
Young won Player of the Week for helping lead the Hawks to a 4-0 record in that span while averaging 31.3 points, nine assists and four rebounds on shot. 46.4% away from the floor and 47.6% from outside the arc. He started his winning streak with two doubles, giving him 21 for the season, fourth among all bodyguards and second in the East behind James Harden.
In the game against the kings, he finished with 17 points, 10 assists and 3 rebounds.
However, the success of The Hawks is not due to Young. The substitutes played a huge part, especially Onyeka Okongwu (18 points from the bench against Sacramento). Okongwu filled up nicely when Clint Capela arrived in Atlanta. He doubled his season-average to 9.8 points per game from 4.6 last season.
The Hawks have, at least in recent seasons, had an offense at the top. Last season, they ranked 9th in the rankings in terms of attack stats. This season, second last name. In defense is where they have struggled in 2021-22.
During the season they finished 27th in the league in defensive ratings, however, throughout this winning streak, they ranked eighth equally with the Chicago Bulls.
“I feel like the only thing keeping us where we want is really to finish defensively,” Capela said. “We can score 130, 140, but other teams against us are doing the same thing, which doesn’t always give us a big chance to win.”
“I feel as though we’re just throwing the dice or the coin and doing this right now, by improving our defense, we’re giving ourselves a better chance to win. When you hold a team under 100 points, especially for a team like us attacking well, it’s huge. That’s what it’s going to go down.”
According to head coach Nate McMillan, the Hawks are on the rise and it’s not too soon.
“We’re still injured and trying to get the boys back, but we’re playing basketball so we have a chance to win games now.”