Opponent: Atlanta Hawks
Starting Lineup: Trae Young – Kevin Huerter – Cam Reddish – De’Andre Hunter – John Collins
Second Unit: Brandon Goodwin – Allen Crabbe – DeAndre’ Bembry – Jabari Parker – Alex Len
Leading Scorer: Young (28.5 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Collins (9.7 RPG)
Leading Assists: Young (8.3 PPG)
Biggest Challenge: Young
The Hawks have underperformed and are arguably the worst team in the NBA, but Young is still a top-tier playmaker in the league. Every team in the NBA views Young as the biggest challenge when facing the Hawks. For the Indiana Pacers, it’s been a tale of two games with Young. In an OT win in November, he was the best player on the court scoring 49 points on high efficiency. In a win in December, he still scored 23 points, but did it on 30% shooting from the field. The difference? In the first game, they tried to stick Malcolm Brogdon on him for the majority of the contest. Brogdon doesn’t play particularly well against small, quick guard. In the second game, they constantly switched who guarded him and it kept him out of rhythm. I’d still like to see them blitz him on pick-and-rolls more, but the Pacers know what it takes to slow him down.
Biggest Advantage: Wings
Young is the Hawks best player and Collins is their second best player. Beyond that? It gets thin. The Pacers are deep at the wing. You can even argue the Pacers bench wings are better than the Hawks starters. Huerter is going to have a career as a 3&D guy, but Hunter and Reddish are major net-negatives as rookies. Parker has slowed down from a hot start, and the rest of their bench wings are borderline NBA players. Pacers like T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb should be able to get easy looks all game against weaker, less experienced competition.
The X-Factor: Collins
This will be just Collins’ sixth game back from a 25-game suspension, and the results have been inconsistent. He’s had games when he’s scored as many as 34 points, and others when he’s failed to reach double-digits. His rebounding helps Atlanta, but it’s his scoring and finishing they need to be more consistent. Myles Turner, who can sometimes get bullied by big centers, should match up well with Collins’ lean frame and proximity to the rim. If the Hawks can’t get production from Collins, they don’t have many options offensively.
Rumors are swirling that the Hawks are interested in a trade for Andre Drummond. Drummond, who is likely to be a free agent this offseason, could be achievable for the Hawks in free agency due to their abundance of cap space. So why would they give up an asset for him now? They’re desperate. This season has not gone as expected. Young has exceeded expectations to an extent, but pretty much everyone else on their roster has underperformed. Huerter and Hunter may carve out successful careers (we’ll see about Reddish) as 3&D wings, but they are too young to be productive right now. Even with Brogdon out and playing on the road, the Pacers have the edge in this one.