The Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks begin a seven-game series this weekend at Madison Square Garden. Before tip-off, the Peachtree Hoops crew weighs in by answering five roundtable questions. In the second edition, the focus is on potential pitfalls for Atlanta in this matchup.
Brad Rowland: This is a tough one because, as much as things didn’t go Atlanta’s way in the regular season series, the matchup is relatively friendly. One area to keep an eye on will be shooting inside the arc, with the Knicks in the top five in limiting two-point shooting and the Hawks falling below the league-average in converting two-point attempts. Beyond that, simply defending Julius Randle is a question mark. Atlanta had all kinds of trouble with Randle in the regular season, and they don’t have a perfect defender against him. John Collins will almost certainly have the assignment at times, but could they try Clint Capela on him? Could Solomon Hill see time explicitly to shadow Randle? Is De’Andre Hunter ready for that matchup after an extended absence? We’ll see.
Wes Morton: I worry about the Hawks’ reliance on mid-range shots near the free throw line against a team that loves to clog up the paint. Huerter, Bogdanovic and Hunter have enjoyed pulling up at the nail, but the length of Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel stepping away fron the rim may deter them from doing so with any regularity.
Glen Willis: The Hawks second unit defense, depending upon how the rotation shapes up, could be the biggest issue for them. If they are going to play Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams together the Knicks are going to seek out opportunities to put them into play with some consistency. The Knicks were 29th in AST% in the regular season and are comfortable generating shots off of the dribble as to attack the opposing team’s defensive vulnerabilities. McMillan could opt to deploy a zone-based scheme for some of those minutes but New York has enough perimeter shooters to counter it with threats from the three-point line.
Rashad Milligan: I’m going to roll with Josh here and say a three-point shooting slump. There have been more than a handful of games in the McMillan stint where Atlanta pulled out a victory late after catching fire from three after struggling to knock down the long ball the previous three quarters. Tony Snell is the first NBA player to ever have a 50-50-100 season. Bogdan Bogdanović has shot 51.4% from three on 204 attempts since April. With the game slowing against an already physical Knicks team, if those two robots or any other Hawks stop making three pointers, how quickly will Atlanta make the adjustments?
Graham Chapple: The Hawks had a lot of trouble defending Julius Randle this season, which will be very concerning heading in but what would concern me more is the play of the bench, the second unit for the Hawks. They’ll obviously play a little less in the playoffs but they still have to play. If Danilo Gallinari doesn’t have it going off of the bench...where is the offense going to come from? If Kevin Huerter is coming off of the bench too, then perhaps that’s alleviated somewhat but it’s still a concern. Lou Williams has struggled and proved inconsistent, is he finally going to turn a corner with the Hawks this season? Can he break out of his slump in the playoffs? For now, De’Andre Hunter is coming off of the bench but still working off some of that offensive rust. Onyeka Okongwu is a rookie big and while he is improving, this is the kind of series where he could get eaten alive by the depth of bigs in New York. Defensively, there are large concerns, again, featuring Williams, Okongwu and Gallinari too. We (collectively) saw a number of occasions in the last few months where the Hawks would lose momentum and their lead when the second unit came in — such a spell could end up deciding the course of a game. With each game obviously being vital, it could be a big swinging factor in this series. The Hawks need better bench-play in the playoffs than they’ve seen of late.
Ryan Kerley: Defending Julius Randle will be Atlanta’s biggest challenge. Randle scored 40 or more points twice this season. Both of those games were against Atlanta. The Hawks just don’t have a player that matches up with him very well on that side of the ball. De’Andre Hunter’s return will be helpful, and Solomon Hill will likely get minutes against Randle, but neither of them are likely to shut him down. There are other issues the Hawks may face, such as their second unit being unreliable, yet Randle will probably be the biggest challenge.
Malik Brown: The Hawks had a problem defending Julius Randle in the three games they faced each other this season. Randle is just a big, physical guy that will either back you down in the post, or hurt you with his jumpshot. He took advantage of Collins in the post this season, and you don’t want Capela out on the perimeter trying to defend him. De’Andre Hunter and Solomon Hill might be the best options, but they may be some of the few options the Hawks have of trying to contain him.
Andrew Kelly: I think how Atlanta performs defensively in non-Capela minutes is critical. Their defense has tended to collapse with him off the floor this season, and that becomes more significant in the playoffs. Although they can form formidable offensive units with a Collins and Gallinari pairing, getting stops consistently is more challenging. Surviving the minutes with Capela on the bench is paramount.
Josh Lane: One of the biggest weaknesses that the Hawks will have is if they suffer a cold shooting stretch in particular the second unit. The Hawks second unit is made up of jump shooters, so if the shots go in things will be good. If they are missing, well we might see some more of those 4 minute scoreless stretches.
Zach Hood: I agree with Andrew here. The biggest weakness of the Hawks this season was their defense when Capela was off the floor. Overall, they ranked 18th in defensive rating. Without Capela, they would have likely been bottom-five in that area again this season. Any foul trouble for Capela could spell doom for Atlanta in a given game. If Capela can avoid foul trouble, maybe Nate McMillan will be able to match his minutes with Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett’s, but that still leaves Derrick Rose to come in and attack the basket on the second unit for New York.