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 fourth edition, we dive into potential X-factors for the matchup.
Brad Rowland: The three-point line and, specifically, New York’s three-point shooting. The Hawks and Knicks both enjoyed success in slowing the opposition from long distance over the course of the season and, while there is a debate about how sustainable three-point defense is, everything is out the window in a small sample. In particular, it is hard to see the Knicks scoring consistently without red-hot shooting from the perimeter. If the Hawks can avoid disaster there, Atlanta’s overall depth and talent advantage (at least in my view) should shine through.
Wes Morton: Containing Julius Randle is the X-factor that will decide the series in my mind. Randle has torched the Hawks to the tune of 37 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists in three games against Atlanta on 58/50/81 shooting splits. Nate McMillan’s coaching staff has been slowly ramping De’Andre Hunter up to speed, but putting him at the point of attack against Randle for big minutes would be a major test to how healthy he truly is. The alternative is a collective approach, using spot minutes for Solomon Hill and Tony Snell, sending doubles his way, and even possibly using Collins and Capela to switch out on him if New York goes small. Randle is having a breakout season, but the Hawks need to focus on holding him at his season average and not at his MVP-like averages during the regular season matchups.
Glen Willis: The Hawks ability to deal with the physicality of the Knicks will have a tremendous impact on the outcome of this series, just as it did with several match ups in the regular season. There is likely to be a series of frustrating moments Atlanta will encounter as games get increasingly physical as the series progresses. Will they be able to maintain their focus and composure? Will they be able to stay on plan? Will they trust one another to consistently work through the moments of adversity? That’s what I have my eye on.
Rashad Milligan: As seen on April 21, as Trae Young goes, the Hawks follow. Especially against the Knicks.
Graham Chapple: De’Andre Hunter. Everyone saw the form Hunter was in before he went down. He was the most reliable and consistent player for the Hawks when he went down. He’s just returned to the fray and has obviously looked rusty in his limited time back. The Hawks are going to be able to rest for much of this week to get ready for Game 1 as well as practice time and scrimmages...what De’Andre Hunter will we (collectively) see when the playoffs begin. If he can get close to what he was doing before his injury issues, it could be a swinging factor in this series because that wouldn’t be the production and another option offensively that you may have been expecting prior to the series.
Ryan Kerley: Bogdan Bogdanovic. He caught fire in the last 30 games of the season. He is the type of player that can have one or two really great scoring games in this series when Trae Young is struggling. He has a quick trigger and he’s efficient. That three-point line will be important.
Malik Brown: Keeping Julius Randle in check will decide how this series goes for the Hawks. If you haven’t realized by now, this team operates all on how Randle performs. If the Hawks can find a way to limit his effectiveness, it will be hard for their supporting cast to get it going as well. I do expect Randle to have one or two games where he’s just hard to handle, but if you can keep the supporting cast in check during those times, it could pay dividends for the Hawks.
Andrew Kelly: If you look at Atlanta’s lineup stats on the season, it’s clear that Trae and Capela are the two most important pieces in successful units. When Trae is off the floor, the offense falters; with Capela off, the defense struggles. I think whether they can manage to be productive in minutes without one or both of those two is decisive.
Josh Lane: De’Andre Hunter was a serious threat before the injury and was in possible All-Star game conversations. In addition the Knicks have not played the Hawks with De’Andre in the past 2 matchups. If Atlanta gets De’Andre before the injury playing in this series, they will be getting one of the better players in the series back in their lineup.
Zach Hood: The level of success from each second-unit, particularly from three. These teams are pretty even. If one of these second units is able to shoot the ball pretty well, that may be the type of thing that could decide a series. Additionally, to what extent De’Andre Hunter is able to impact games will be a huge factor.