After one step back, can the Hawks take two steps forward?


After unexpectedly reaching the conference finals in 2021, the team entered the 2021-22 season with high expectations that quickly dissipated after a sluggish and uninspired start. Although they rebounded to make the playoffs, their flaws were quickly exposed by the Heat. Can upgrades be made quickly by either flipping assets or making the right draft pick?


If the Atlanta Hawks choose to keep the 16th overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, they should be targeting shooting wings such as Ochai Agbaji or Malaki Branham to relieve Trae Young on offense and give him a passing target. These are both athletic shooting guards who are 6’5” and shot north of 40% in college from 3 point range. Agbaji shot 40.7% from 3 on almost 7 attempts per game on Kansas last season while Branham shot 41.6% from 3 on under 3 attempts, but his 83.3% from the free throw line indicates that the accuracy could certainly be scalable. He’s also a willing midrange shooter who has an array of abilities to get open for a shot. Agbaji is a stronger defender which would also help the Hawks insulate Trae’s defensive woes. The more guys the Hawks can surround him with that can defend & shoot, the better. Agbaji is older and can proven he can play well in big games, which may serve a more immediate need, but Branham is a gym rat who has been improving exponentially and may have the higher ceiling.

Another option with a lot to love is 6’6” Jalen Williams and his 7’2” wingspan, but it’s not certain if his age (21+) and his having played in the WCC is enough to scare teams like the Hawks off from drafting him before #20. Typically, however, players like Williams that can dribble, pass, and shoot (while also having eye-opening measurables) tend to not last too long in the green room. 

The Hawks could pull a surprise and pull the trigger on TyTy Washington, a playmaker who has experience at both guard spots; he could play alongside Trae, provide more size at 6’3”, still be a willing shooter, but where he would be insanely valuable to the Hawks would be in running the offense in the non-Trae minutes . The team has been desperately searching for answers in that role and TyTy could present a long-term solution. Many draft experts have a lottery grade on Washington, but because of the abundance of quality wings and the needs of the teams drafting, he could slide to the Hawks. In a league where positions mean less & less, playmaking is one of the most valuable traits a player can have. The NBA playoffs continue to show how important it is to have multiple players who can run the offense and create shots for teammates.

All of the analysis above assumes that the Hawks don’t trade their pick. The latest speculation has the Hawks and star forward John Collins have a mutual desire to part ways. The latest rumor ties him to the San Antonio Spurs for Dejounte Murray. This move that would align with the front office’s goal to improve this upcoming season and put themselves in play for a top 4 seed. Murray would give the team a strong perimeter defender, a playmaker to pair with Trae, and a solution for running the second unit in Trae’s absence. He is also one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA. It would check all of the boxes on the team’s wish list, except that Murray is extension eligible, and the Hawks have never paid the luxury tax under this ownership group. Perhaps they be willing to, though, if it would return the team to the contender status that it seemed to be at the end of last season. But the more obvious concern is that to trade Murray the San Antonio Spurs would be looking for a package resembling what the Pelicans were able to get from the Bucks in exchange for Jrue Holiday, who is a similar, more experienced player. It should be noted that Murray does seem amenable to being dealt to the Hawks; he retweeted a report by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer’s with the following caption- “Uh ohhhhhhhhh 🍿”. Would he push for such a deal? And would the Spurs previous experience in regressing after dealing a young star (Kawhi Leonard) and give them pause? The Hawks have control of all of their first round draft picks going forward, so there are assets in the treasure chest to play with. They also have an additional pick coming from their trade to unload failed prospect Cam Reddish. 

Another option for the Hawks is to package Collins with the number 16 pick to move up in the draft for a superior perimeter player such as Jaden Ivey or Bennedict Mathurin. That seems unlikely, however, since the team’s top executives, team president Travis Schlenk & recently promoted General Manager Landry Fields, have both publicly indicated a desire to improve in the short term. Such a move is unlikely to accomplish that goal no matter how good the prospect is coming out of the box. Collins is talented, so the only way to improve the team by moving him is if flipping him fills a bigger need and then if most of what he does can be replaced either through free agency or internal improvement.