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 third installment, we unveil bold predictions for the series.
Brad Rowland: The Hawks play at least one game without a backup point guard. This is called a “bold prediction” for a reason in that we’re trying to unload some spice here, but I can see a scenario in which McMillan trims the rotation and removes Lou Williams. Of course, Williams could render this useless if he has a big game (or two) in the early part of the series. But, if he struggles and the Hawks are leaking oil when Trae Young leaves the floor, a solution could be to shift the rotation, allow Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter and De’Andre Hunter to initiate the offense, and try to win those minutes with better defense on the floor.
Wes Morton: I think Trae Young struggles with shooting efficiency in his first career postseason series for a number of reasons. First, the Hawks are facing off against a top-3 defense in terms of defensive rating, and Thibodeau defenses love to push ball handlers away from the center of the floor, so it will be hard for Young to get into the lane for easy floaters. Second, the Knicks can throw a number of long-armed guards his way defensively to frustrate him. And third, it seems every new scenario in Young’s professional career, he has stumbled a bit before finding his rhythm, whether it be in Summer League for the first time or in regular NBA play. It’ll be up to his backcourt mates and the forward duo of Collins and Gallinari to pick up the offensive slack.
Glen Willis: Solomon Hill closes games with some consistency in this series. He is likely their best option to defend Julius Randle on critical possessions. The deployment of Hill at the power forward position creates issues in the rebounding department. But the return of De’Andre Hunter from injury could help offset issues on the boards.
Rashad Milligan: Kris Dunn enters the rotation at some point of the series. Oh, and Solomon Hill gets into a fight, which brings me back to Dunn. Once he enters the rotation, he will also get into an on-court scuffle.
Graham Chapple: Thankful to lean on the word ‘bold’ because this is bold and I know it probably won’t happen but I’m going to say it anyways. The Hawks will end up removing Lou Williams from the playoff rotation if he continues to struggle and call upon Brandon Goodwin as an in-series adjustment. The Knicks’ guard play has hurt the Hawks and hurt their second unit too, both Derrick Rose (14 points per game against the Hawks on 52% shooting) and Immanuel Quickley (17 points per game on 51% shooting) have really damaged the Hawks this season, and if Lou is struggling offensively, the Hawks can’t afford those struggles as well as what Lou gives up defensively too. The Hawks have a great option in Goodwin, a player who can not only defend but can score on occasion too. It’s cliche, but defense matters in the playoffs and if Lou can’t get going offensively, it’s going to be tough to justify him staying on the floor. Goodwin has been buried at times this season because longer tenured players of higher reputation, like Ronod and Lou, have been present. My bold prediction is that the playoffs should change that. It likely won’t, but alas...
*Written before Goodwin was ruled out for season
Ryan Kerley: There will be multiple games decided in overtime. I’m keeping this prediction on the lighter side. The gap is very slim between these two teams. I think Atlanta is slightly better for reasons that I listed in some of the other answers to this round table. They already played one overtime game this season, and the other two games weren’t blowouts. I’m calling for drama in a series between two teams with little playoff experience. Wouldn’t that be entertaining?
Malik Brown: I’m going to say that this is the series where Lou Williams finds his groove. In my opinion, Williams hasn’t been that effective since the fourth quarter scoring barrage against the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s been getting to his spots, but the shot just hasn’t been falling for him. I believe Williams knows the assignment, and he has the ability to get it going at any moment.
Andrew Kelly: Gallinari plays a pivotal role. After a slow start to his Hawks career, he found his groove after the All Star break, and he gives Atlanta a starter-caliber player off the bench. His ability to provide an efficient 15 points outside of the starting lineup is the sort of production that can put a team over the top in tight games. Moreover, his capability to punish mismatches in the post and salvage late shot clock possessions is invaluable. I think he could be a feature in Atlanta’s closing lineups, particularly in games where they need points.
Josh Lane: Trae will have a tough opening playoff series and struggle due to the defense of the Knicks. The Knicks might not have the best individual defenders in the league but Thibodeau has the team playing with 110% effort. The Knicks will make this a rock fight for the Hawks and number one priority will be to limit the Hawks best offensive threat.
Zach Hood: Trae Young has at least one 40-point game in the series. At some point, the Hawks may just need Young to be the best player on the floor to win a game. He has the ability to rise to the challenge when his three-pointers are falling, and could use the New York’s physicality to their disadvantage by getting to the free throw line.