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2021-22 Atlanta Hawks Player Preview: Trae Young

Like him or not, he’s always the center of attention.

NBA: Playoffs-New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Trae Young is always the master of ceremonies when the Hawks step on the big stage. And in the biggest moments of the last postseason, he put on virtuoso performances. Young orchestrated the upstart Hawks to not one, but two playoff series upsets, as well as to within two games of the NBA Finals

What could Young possibly have in store for an encore performance this season?

For one, an offseason stop by the WWE circuit in a familiar arena was in the cards.

I mean just look at this Oscar-level acting from the newly anointed heel.

Back on the hardwood court, it seemed as though Trae Young took a step back from Year 2 to Year 3, at least statistically speaking. His points per game and assists per game both declined without a corresponding uptick in shooting efficiency. This contributing in the guard failing to make the All-Star roster despites doing so as a sophomore. Similarly, he wasn’t able to crack any of the three All-NBA teams at the end of the season despite averaging over 25 points and 9 assists for the second year in a row.

But with a stronger supporting cast than years past, the showman knew he had to take a small step backwards and let others shine. The team’s success in reaching the playoffs for the first time in four years was proof of adaptation to changing circumstances.

The real story of Trae Young’s 2020-21, however, was as the talisman of a remarkable midseason turnaround. With a coaching change, a healthier squad, and an easier schedule in the back half of the regular season, the Hawks stormed to the third best record in the NBA after the All-Star Break after a disappointing 16-20 first half to the season.

Still, under the national limelight is when Young’s star shined brightest.

Who can forget — in his career playoff debut mind you — Trae silencing a hostile Madison Square Garden with a floater and a shushing finger to the mouth?

Young finishing Game 5 with a bow to a silenced ovation will be yet another iconic image in Hawks lore for years to come.

And of course a masterful 48 point performance on 17-of-34 shooting with 11 assists to boot in Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals was arguably the pièce de résistance.

The entire complexion of the series would change on just one turned ankle for Trae, however, and the Hawks just could not recover, even with Trae toughing it out for a personally dismal Game 6 performance.

But after all this, what could Trae possibly have in store for the 2021-22 nightcap to his 2020-21 matinee performance?

For one, the complexion of the team has changed. With the addition of Delon Wright, a steady combo guard who defends his position well, the return of Gwinnett native Lou Williams, and even young draft pick Sharife Cooper, the point guard position is one of considerable depth for the first time in the Young era.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, expectations have been raised. The Hawks are no longer audience to the national stage, and teams will look to target Trae with different defensive looks to throw his direction. This means even more trapping near half court and more physical play by opponents looking to toss him off his game.

Additionally, with a rule change intended to cut down on “non-basketball motions” as in shooters “launching or leaning into defenders at an abnormal angle” or “veering off his path (sideways or backwards),” Trae may have to take some time to adjust to the new officiating. It may be difficult to repeat his .491 free throw rate that placed him in the top 10 of the NBA among players with 800 minutes in 2020-21.

Still, there’s no need to overthink how to project his impact going forward, despite minor concerns. With three seasons under his belt, we all recognize Trae’s role on the team: to lead the offense with his theater parking lot range, deft floaters and dazzling dishes to teammates. You can practically pen in another 25 point and 9 assist per game average, and the national accolades should favor Young should he lead the Hawks to another strong record in the Eastern Conference.

Certainly, there’s more to this team than the flashy headliner. But as the team moved from Off-Broadway to Broadway in the past 12 months and looks to go on an award tour, you can always depend on Trae Young to make sure the show goes on.