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Offseason Review: Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks made a splash this summer by trading for Dejounte Murray. How far can he help them go in the Eastern Conference?

San Antonio Spurs v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Casey Sykes/Getty Images

Amid the most dormant part of an NBA cycle, we at Liberty Ballers will be sizing up the Philadelphia 76ers’ 14 Eastern Conference foes. Next up are the Atlanta Hawks.

Previously on our offseason review series: Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s been an eventful offseason for the Atlanta Hawks this year. After falling back to the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference last season and being swiftly eliminated in five games in the first round of the playoffs by Miami, they’ve made a push to develop with a bunch of roster moves this summer.

Their notable departures include Danilo Gallinari, Delon Wright and Kevin Huerter — the latter being their biggest loss after he was dealt to the Kings for Maurice Harkless, Justin Holiday and a 2024 first-round pick. Huerter was one of the Hawks’ top shooters and an underrated secondary ball-handler and passer.

The Hawks have added some solid pieces to their bench with additions like Justin Holiday and Aaron Holiday, but by far the highlight of their offseason, of course, was trading for Dejounte Murray. They sent Gallinari along with three first-round picks and a 2026 first-round pick swap to San Antonio to complete their new star-studded backcourt.

Murray is obviously going to make quite an impact in Atlanta. He’s coming off what was by far the best year of his career, averaging 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.2 assists and a league-high two steals per game on his way to his first All-Star appearance.

For one, Murray has continually improved his playmaking and honed his ability to attack off the dribble. His adept passing chops as a driver and pick-and-roll player will take some weight off Trae Young’s shoulders to lead quite as much of the offense. Murray can obviously share some initiation duties when they’re on the floor together, and staggering the two guards will help sustain some structure for the offense. Defensively, Murray will give the backcourt a major boost. He has good size at 6-foot-4 with a near 6-foot-10 wingspan, which helps him be a serious pest in passing lanes, contest shots, and switch up against some bigger opponents, too. Along with his elite rebounding and general quickness shifting around the perimeter, there’s plenty the 2017-18 All-Defensive Team member has to offer.

The main question mark for the Murray-Young fit is exactly how they’ll adapt offensively when they share the court. Both players aren’t used to working off the ball much now. Murray still isn’t a threatening shooter at 32.7 percent from behind the arc, despite his increased three-point volume (a career-high 4.3 attempts per game last season) and improved touch off the bounce. Young hasn’t been used much as an off-ball mover shooting off screens yet either. The skill is there for Trae, but how he and Murray operate when they’re off the ball next to each other will be interesting to monitor.

It helps that the Hawks’ offensive rating was already elite last year, finishing the regular season ranked second. Surround Young’s shot creation and top-tier passing with John Collins, Clint Capela rolling at the 5, and quality shooters and complementary ball-handlers like Bogdan Bogdanovic, and it’s going to be effective. It was their 26th-ranked defense that held them back. As good as Capela’s rebounding and rim protection has been for the Hawks (albeit somewhat less so last season compared to his particularly stellar defense in 2020-21), there’s only so much he can do.

While Murray certainly can’t save Atlanta’s defense by himself, his ability to hound top opposing guards and give Young help in the backcourt should still make a notable difference. And even if smoothing out the team’s new offensive chemistry takes some time, their offense should still be potent with their talent level, shooters, and pick-and-roll bigs. After all, Trae Young, fresh off averaging 28.4 points and 9.7 assists per game, creates such a strong foundation by himself.

Another important factor that could help the Hawks reach their potential is better health from two of their top perimeter players. Both De’Andre Hunter (who only 53 games played last regular season) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (who dealt with knee inflammation before being ruled out at the end of the first round and underwent knee surgery in June) had injuries and missed time in 2021-22. If they can be their best, healthy selves, that will give the Hawks’ wing rotation a boost.

As for their big men, the main question is what lies ahead for John Collins. He’s been featured in many trade talks, most recently being included in the Hawks’ laughably weak offer for Kevin Durant. Will Collins remain in Atlanta next season and continue his pick-and-roll/pop success, or be moved at some point in the near future? Meanwhile, Onyeka Okongwu took on a much larger role in 2021-22 with 20.7 minutes per game and showed a ton of promise with his sharp defensive instincts, impressive mobility, shot-blocking talent, and improved touch and polish on offense. Okongwu could be an interesting X-factor for the Hawks (especially their defense) if he takes another step forward next season. Judging by his growth so far, that seems pretty likely.

With other teams in the top half of the East growing stronger this offseason — from the Celtics landing Malcolm Brogdon, to the Bucks/Khris Middleton ideally being healthy again for next year’s postseason, to the Sixers’ valuable additions of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr. and De’Anthony Melton — it’s hard to see the Hawks contending among them next season. Atlanta competing more around the six-seed range of the Eastern Conference feels reasonable.

The painful playoff memory of Atlanta defeating Philly in 2021 still feels quite fresh. But at this point, the Sixers look like a comfortably better team with their bolstered depth, improved defensive personnel and versatility, and the emergence of Tyrese Maxey into a young star. If James Harden can have a better year with potentially improved hamstring health and burst attacking off the dribble, then the Sixers can really be a clear-cut top three contender in the East. That’s at least one tier ahead of where the Hawks seem to be right now.