2021-22 record: 43-39
Key additions: Maurice Harkless, Justin Holiday & Dejounte Murray (trade), Aaron Holiday & Frank Kaminsky (free agency), A.J. Griffin (2022 draft)
Key subtractions: Kevin Huerter & Danilo Gallinari (trade), Delon Wright, Kevin Knox & Gorgui Dieng (free agency)
Last season: The growth chart hit a snag as the young Hawks, one year removed from an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals, suffered from far too many defensive lapses and underperforming rotational players. Only Trae Young, who led the league in total points and assists, kept moving in the right direction and was an All-NBA third team member. John Collins, De’Andre Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanovic dealt with injuries. Ultimately, the Hawks emerged victorious in the Play-In Tournament, but were first-round fodder and lost in five to the Miami Heat.
Summer summary: The search for the ideal co-star for Young led to a logical candidate when Atlanta pulled off perhaps the most convenient transaction of the NBA offseason by getting Murray from the San Antonio Spurs. Essentially, he checks all the boxes: A defensive demon who can handle the ball and who is just touching his prime.
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Pairing Young with Murray just seems like peanut butter and jelly and you couldn’t sketch a more perfectly balanced backcourt on paper. They cover each other’s weaknesses. They bring shareable skills. They can play off the ball when necessary. And they seem to like each other personally.
Almost instantly, Young-Murray becomes one of the league’s most watchable backcourts — if not one of the better ones. Travis Schlenk, the Hawks’ VP, couldn’t have targeted a more convenient (and surprisingly available) player to get Atlanta back on track.
Murray just turned 26 and is coming off a season where he became a balanced guard. An ace defender by trade, Murray’s shot selection and court vision sharpened all while averaging 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game. He’s a career 33% shooter on 3-pointers, but that’s OK because of what Young can do from deep. Just the same, Young is a weak on-ball defender, so Murray will get all the tough assignments.
It just seems so right, these two. Of course, that needs to be demonstrated on the court and throughout a season to justify all the rosy projections of chemistry, ball-sharing and putting egos aside.
The Spurs traded Murray because he dropped hints that he didn’t want an extension, but the Hawks don’t need to worry about that yet (although he will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2024). The Hawks had to send future Draft picks to the Spurs, a reasonable demand for a young star. Besides, the Hawks’ player-development program is already filled and the team doesn’t need to get younger, just better.
To lessen the impact of trading those picks for Murray, the Hawks sent Huerter, a solid shooter, to the Kings for a future first-round pick. Huerter was popular with fans and teammates, and the Hawks thought enough of him to extend his deal the previous summer. He was a good fit as a starter or a reserve but was also expendable because of Bogdanovic.
Speaking of trades, the Hawks didn’t pull the trigger on any deals involving Collins, a minor surprise. His name has been in the trade pipeline since last spring, mainly because he’s on a long-term deal (always valued in trades) and didn’t show much growth when he was healthy last season.
The Hawks had the No. 16 Draft selection and took Griffin, a 6-foot-6 swingman from Duke. He’s the son of Adrian Griffin, a former NBA journeyman and current Toronto Raptors assistant coach. A.J. Griffin was a 44.7% 3-point shooter in college and, in a best-case scenario, he can get some of Huerter’s minutes. He was projected as a possible lottery pick and some draftniks believe the Hawks landed a steal. Or he could spend much of his rookie season in the NBA G League, much like Atlanta’s 2021 first-round pick, Jalen Johnson (also a former Duke standout) did last season.
The Hawks grabbed a pair of rotational veterans in the Huerter deal with Harkless and Holiday. Harkless is a solid swingman who could fill the void of Wright (though he’s not as good a ball-handler). Holiday, if nothing else, gives the Hawks a bit of brotherly love, as he joins Aaron Holiday. Justin is a dependable player who had some good seasons with the Indiana Pacers before his time in Sacramento. However, this is his ninth team and second tour of duty with the Hawks.
In all, this was the summer of Dejounte. The Hawks were bothered by their sudden decline last season and alarmed by the lack of defensive stops. Team ownership, along with Schlenk, vowed to make the necessary changes to reverse the direction. A healthier team will no doubt help, but the biggest plus is Murray, who brings much of what the Hawks want and need.
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