The Atlanta Hawks made their first major move of the offseason on Wednesday afternoon when they sent three first round picks (2023 CHA, 2025 ATL, 2027 ATL), a pick swap (2026 ATL), and Danilo Gallinari to San Antonio for All-Star guard Dejounte Murray.
The Hawks had made clear that they wanted to shake things up this offseason, but after weeks of rumblings that John Collins was going to be on his way out, the Hawks made the first big move with draft capital, not players. Atlanta is almost assuredly not done making moves, as Collins remains on the block and one would expect players like Bogdan Bogdanovic or Kevin Huerter could also be expendable now that Murray is locked in as the starting guard. While the moves they make from here are important, the man who still holds the keys for just how good the Hawks can be is Trae Young.
Adding Murray was an effort to give Young the complementary backcourt mate he’s lacked in his four years in Atlanta, an elite point of attack defender who takes pressure off of Young’s greatest weakness and a secondary playmaker to alleviate the stress placed on Young to create so much for the Hawks on offense. On defense, there’s little doubt how this works in Atlanta’s favor, as Murray, along with De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela, give the Hawks three defenders with excellent tools in all three phases: point of attack, wing, and rim protection.
On offense, it remains to be seen what Murray’s impact will be, and the deciding factor there will be Young’s willingness to cede some of the reins to Murray and be an engaged off-ball player. Young has always carried an outrageous offensive burden in Atlanta, posting a usage rate of 33-35 percent in each of the last three seasons, and an assist percentage of 45-47 percent, meaning he’s responsible for creating nearly half of his teammates shots when he’s on the floor. That’s an incredible burden to bear, but we are soon going to learn exactly how much of that is by necessity because of roster limitations and how much of it is by design from Young himself.
Both Lloyd Pierce when he was the team’s coach and Nate McMillan have spoken about wanting Young to be better off the ball, and now, there’s no longer the excuse of not having another creator on the floor. Murray, like Young, is most comfortable operating as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, as nearly half of his usage last year in San Antonio (46.7 percent, per NBA.com) was in pick-and-roll, seventh among players to appear in more than 40 games. Young was second in that category, only behind Chris Paul at 51.3 percent, which means when the two share the floor, there’s going to need to be some give and take on display to keep them both comfortable.
Adding Murray, a career 33 percent shooter from three, and forcing him to mostly operate as a spot-up shooter would not a recipe for success for the Hawks, as teams would happily sag off of Murray at the three-point line to help on Young. That means it’s incumbent on McMillan to devise an offense that allows both to share ball-handling responsibilities to maximize their talents, with Young undoubtedly remaining the Hawks’ offensive engine. The question isn’t whether Young can succeed off the ball, but how willing he is to be an engaged threat off the ball when Murray is running things.
Last season, Young was assisted on just 14.2 percent of his two-point attempts and 22.3 percent of his threes, which are outrageously low figures, particularly given how efficient he was. Young’s greatest strength also may be the biggest weakness of his pairing with Murray. For all the comparisons Young has garnered to Stephen Curry, he tends to operate more like James Harden when he’s not on the ball, remaining far too stagnant and staying way away from the basket, where he’s less of a threat as a spot-up man despite his ability to shoot from long range. If Murray is going to succeed as a secondary ball-handler next to Young, he’s going to need Young to be the elite scoring threat he could be, drawing attention and, when defenses fall asleep, being ready to make them pay in spot-up opportunities.
That will mean more off-ball movement and engagement from Young, and the only person who can assure that happens is him. The good news for the Hawks is Young has incentive to make those changes to his game after getting thoroughly shut down by the Miami Heat in the postseason. That series showed the need to get someone like Murray, and Young has not been shy about his excitement to share the floor with someone he clearly likes and has at least some prior relationship with after All-Star this year. As a bonus, the two are Klutch clients.
Being excited about the possibilities in the summer is different from making actionable changes to how you play on the court. Young has the ability to expand his game beyond the ball-dominance he’s showed he can excel at in the past, and if the Hawks are going to get the most out of this new guard pairing, it’s on Trae to buy-in to that new role at times.