The Atlanta Hawks are 12-16 through 28 games and, while that record falls short of disaster territory, it also trails behind preseason expectations for the team. While there are myriad reasons for the team’s struggles, ranging from injuries to shooting variance, the future remains bright for the organization. In fact, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic released his team prospect rankings this week, and the Hawks landed at No. 2 in the NBA.
For the sake of context, this project evaluates “any player on a first-round rookie-scale deal, and any player on his first contract after being selected in the second round,” as well as draft-and-stash players that still qualify as prospects. From there, Vecenie notes that the goal is not to rank “where each player is right now, but rather the value he has to the organization both short and long term.”
With all of that out of the way, Atlanta has more players in the top 50 individually (six) than any team in the league and, of course, it begins with Trae Young.
That starts with Young, one of the most dynamic young offensive players in league history. He’s one of the five best passers in the NBA because of his ability to create off the bounce and then make quick reads. He has a devastating floater as part of his midrange weapon and range from 30 feet. His defense is another story, but he might be so overwhelmingly good on offense that the Hawks can make up for it.
Young is, by any description, one of the best up-and-coming players in the NBA, so it comes as no surprise that his presence buoys the rest of the list. Still, Vecenie seems to be quite high on the rest of Atlanta’s youthful core, including John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu.
This group from No. 2 through 6 is very closely knit. Collins is one of the best offensive bigs in the NBA. He’s an elite-level roll man who doesn’t get appreciated enough for the space he creates for Young both as a pick-and-pop weapon and of course as a diving alley-oop option. Hunter’s leap this season pushes him into second. His combination of defense and offense will allow the Hawks to build around Young. Reddish still isn’t quite there as a shooter, even though his defense has been terrific for a young player. He has got to be more efficient. Huerter’s elite-level shooting is terrific. But his talents overlap with Bogdan Bogdanovic, so Huerter is the best potential trade chip on this roster. Okongwu was my No. 4 overall player in the 2020 NBA Draft, and he’s a terrific center who helps teams win in the playoffs due to his mobility as a defender, rim protection, ability to handle the ball and intelligence as a roller on offense.
For good measure, Vecenie even praises Skylar Mays, who is contributing in important ways while Atlanta deals with injury absences in the backcourt.
I’m also a sneaky fan of Mays too. He’s a good combo guard with great intelligence and maturity and has the ability to run the offense or play off-ball and keep the offense flowing as a secondary creator. He might not be quite athletic enough to make an impact, but I loved this pick from Atlanta.
There are always things to quibble with on a list like this — and Atlanta fans won’t like the team that is No. 1 overall — but the Hawks grading out as a top-tier group in terms of future-facing assets is unquestionably positive. It will be interesting to see how the Hawks proceed in terms of keeping the group together, especially with Collins set to hit the restricted free agent market. Still, Atlanta is set up well for the long term, and that can perhaps soften the blow of early-season struggles during the 2020-21 season.