After a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021, the Atlanta Hawks have needed to scrap through the Play-In the last two seasons just to make the playoffs and have been bounced in the first round in back-to-back years.
Coming into the 2023-24 season, the Hawks look fairly similar to last year’s squad, with the biggest difference being Quin Snyder getting a full offseason as head coach after taking over midseason last year for Nate McMillan. From a roster perspective, the most notable change is the departure of John Collins, who was traded to the Jazz in a salary dump as the Hawks wanted to move off the last three years of his deal. With Collins gone, Snyder will have to play around with the roster to fill those minutes at power forward, with the likelihood of more minutes for De’Andre Hunter at the four and smaller lineups to try and space the floor for Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. Snyder will want the Hawks to be much more of a three-point threat than a year ago when they were 28th in three-point attempts and 21st in three-point percentage in the NBA.
The expectation with their star backcourt is to be a playoff team. To get there and avoid the Play-In, there is one major question and one X-Factor on the roster that figure to play key roles in if they can take a leap back into the top-6 in the East.
Biggest Question: Will The Young Players Take A Step Forward?
With Collins gone, the Hawks will lean more on their youngsters, with much of their roster being 25 years old or younger. Hunter spent the summer in trade rumors but nothing ever materialized and how he responds to that will be fascinating. Hunter impressed as a rookie, but has somewhat stagnated in terms of development, mostly looking like the same player he was when he entered the league. Part of Snyder’s task is to see if he can coax something more out of Hunter in his fifth year, particularly in the absence of Collins. However, Hunter isn’t alone when it comes to young Hawks who will be relied on heavily.
Onyeka Okongwu could get more run this year both as Clint Capela’s backup (and the expected starting center in waiting whenever Capela is no longer in Atlanta), with the chance to run some big lineups with he and Capela sharing the floor now that Collins is gone. Saddiq Bey was lights out from three in his 25 regular season games in Atlanta, and AJ Griffin, likewise, is among the Hawks best three-point threats. Both of them being positive contributors on the wing is going to be important given Snyder will be asking for Atlanta to get up more threes, but to stay in larger roles they’ll have to provide something on the defensive end as well. Hawks fans are also high on Jalen Johnson, and he figures to get some burn with Collins gone as some power forward depth who can bring some bounce to the frontcourt.
If this team is to take a step forward it figures to be on the backs of internal improvement from their youngsters. Snyder’s task is figuring out which roles and lineup combinations they’re most comfortable in to get the most out of them and provide their stars with the right amount of support
X-Factor: Bogdan Bogdanovic
While Hunter is important, I think getting a fully healthy Bogdan Bogdanovic would be the thing that really allows the Hawks to be a factor in the East playoff picture. He has played in 44, 63, and 54 games in his three seasons in Atlanta, struggling to stay healthy and on the floor consistently. That’s been a big loss for a Hawks team that has a big need for a player of his skillset, who can be a shot creator and initiator with the second unit and a spot-up threat and off-ball worker with the first unit. Hunter isn’t at the level of Bogdanovic with either of those skills (but is a superior defender), and when Bogdanovic isn’t in the lineup or is banged up and playing at less than 100 percent, the Hawks just lack some juice offensively.
He’s coming off of a tremendous summer showing in the FIBA World Cup for Serbia and should be in great condition to start the season. The concern is whether he can maintain that conditioning throughout the 82-game season and into the playoffs, especially after taking on a big workload in the World Cup. If he can carry over that level of play, the Hawks should look much more dangerous offensively this season as he figures to bring a lot of qualities Snyder will want from Atlanta on that end of the floor this year.