Opponent: Atlanta Hawks
Starting Lineup: Trae Young – Cam Reddish – DeAndre Hunter – Jabari Parker – Damian Jones
Second Unit: Evan Turner – DeAndre’ Bembry – Vince Carter – Bruno Fernando – Alex Len
Leading Scorer: Young (26.7 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Parker (6.6 RPG)
Leading Assists: Young (8.6 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Young
Young is always going to be compared to Steph Curry because of his size and similar highlight real plays, but that’s not a totally accurate comparison for the second-year point guard. His 36% from three-point range is a major improvement from last year (and very efficient when you look at his volume), but it still isn’t anywhere close to even Curry’s worst season. What separates Young is his passing. He can make every pass in the book at an elite level: cross-court, lob, bounce to the post, skip, etc. He’s already established himself as one of the best passers in the league in his second year. Young’s passing is going to be the biggest challenge for any team facing the Hawks as long as they have a weak supporting cast.
Biggest Advantage: The rest of the Hawks
Now, about that supporting cast. The Hawks are rolling without their next two best players after Young, John Collins and Kevin Huerter, who are out with a suspension and injury, respectively. Rookies Reddish and Hunter have had to fill much of that void, and despite showing flashes here and there that they will be productive NBA players at some point in their careers, they are still rookies and still net negatives. Their center rotation is atrocious with fringe NBA players. The only sign of life from their supporting cast has been a resurgence from Parker, who is looking more like a potential high-volume sixth man scorer. All in all, the Indiana Pacers’ depth is going to play a huge factor in this one.
The X-Factor: Domantas Sabonis/Myles Turner
As mentioned before, the Hawks’ center rotation is one of the worst in the NBA. Jones, who is on the last year of his rookie contract, will likely be playing overseas next year. Fernando is strong and may find a niche in the league, but he still makes rookie mistakes and doesn’t have a ton of offensive tools. Len, who entered the season with the most NBA experience and success out of all the Hawks centers, has been getting DNPs the past few contests. Turner should be able to dominate the paint defensively, as none of these centers will extend him away from the rim, and Sabonis will have no problem getting buckets on offense. Him and Malcolm Brogdon will be able to tear apart Young/[insert Hawks center] in the pick-and-roll all day.
The Hawks entered the season as a trendy pick to sneak into the playoffs in the East. After eight losses in a row and 11 out of the last 12, that is quickly getting out of reach. That can largely be attributed to the absence of Huerter and especially Collins, but this is a poorly constructed roster to begin with. They rely heavily on young guys who haven’t proven themselves, and many of their veterans are either past their primes or are simply not good. Their only hope is for Young and Parker to get hot, but I still don’t believe that’s enough fire power to get them over the top against this hot Pacers team.