The new-look Atlanta Hawks kicked off the 2020-21 season by starting 3-0 with wins over the Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies and Detroit Pistons. As of early Wednesday, they are one of only two undefeated teams in the NBA. To even more surprise, that other team is the Orlando Magic.
Atlanta added several new faces to the roster through free agency and trades over the last few months, and all of those players have yet to step on the court together. Despite an unusual and short offseason, the Hawks seem to be one of the better offensive teams in the East and one of the best offensive squads in the league through three games.
How have the Hawks reached this point on the offensive end? That answer to that question begins with Trae Young, Atlanta’s star point guard.
Before we get into a deep dive of Young’s performance thus far, something that must be reiterated is that the Hawks have only played three games — against a schedule that hasn’t been difficult — and no other team has competed in more than four contests. So, Young has been impressive, but expecting him to play at this rate throughout the entirety of a 72-game season and potential playoff run may be a little unreasonable.
Regardless of the small sample size, Young has played out of his mind to start off the new campaign. To start with, he is currently second in the league behind only James Harden in scoring. Right now, Young is averaging 34.0 points per game.
That number in itself is already impressive, but it is the surrounding statistics that truly display how efficient he has played.
Young has scored a total of 102 points so far, he has done so by taking just 49 field goal attempts. in comparison, Harden has taken 38 shots to score 78 points, and Bradley Beal has taken 95 shots to score 128 points. Beal and Harden round out the top-three scorers and they are scoring at a lower point-per shot rate.
The next reasonable statistic to examine in order to get to the bottom of that is field goal percentage (FG%). While Young is shooting 53.1% from the field right now, that does not match Harden’s rate of 59.5%. So what is the difference maker?
Young is getting to the free-throw line at will. He is currently 42-for-46 from the charity stripe. Not only is that an insane number of free throws to have taken in three contests, but that puts Young at 91.3% at the line — an elite clip.
Absolutely nothing you can do about this. pic.twitter.com/i7avv5ORjc— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) December 29, 2020
Young has used his sensational body control and small frame to draw contact and make his way to the free-throw line more than anybody else this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Beal trail Young with 41 and 39 free throw attempts, respectively. The kicker: they have each played four games compared to Young’s three.
Not only is he drawing contact while attacking the basket, but he is positioning himself to get fouled on jump shots.
Don't do 'em like that Trae! pic.twitter.com/Nlk5n08fUk— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) December 27, 2020
Making free throws add up at the end of games, and Young is doing that better than anybody right now. During Monday’s game against the Pistons, Young was a perfect 15-of-15 from the free-throw line. To be able to get to the line so much and hit those shots is something Young has seemingly improved on.
In addition to shooting free throws at an unbelievable clip, Young’s other percentages are also great. He is shooting 53.1% from the field and 42.1% from three-point range. Overall, he is just scoring extremely efficiently to start the year.
The Hawks have not played super tough competition. In fact, their opponents have a combined record of 2-9, but the Hawks’ offense is putting up points.
Young’s play has notably been benefitted by having several other competent players around him. That is not something that can be said about the last two seasons. The additions of Danilo Gallinari, Clint Capela, Rajon Rondo and Bogdan Bogdanovic have already elevated Young’s performance.
Travis Schlenk did an excellent job of putting better pieces around Young this season. This has made it much easier for him to get other players involved. Having better players around his also takes some of the pressure off of his shoulders, which has improved his offensive efficiency thus far.
Atlanta will face better teams, including the Brooklyn Nets twice over the coming days, so there is more to be seen out of the Hawks. However, if Young can keep this play up, or even close to it, the Hawks are going to win a lot of games this year.