Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks’ breakout player will be…

Atlanta’s breakout player will be Kevin Huerter. To be clear, Huerter will only be the third-best player on the team this season but, with John Collins and Trae Young effectively breaking out last season, it is Huerter’s time. He is already a dynamic three-point shooter but, in his second NBA campaign, he’ll combine that with steady defense and intriguing play-making to become a fully entrenched, high-level starter. There isn’t All-Star upside for Huerter this season (while there is for Collins and Young) but he projects for the biggest leap among the Hawks’ core pieces.

It all goes wrong if…

It all goes wrong if there’s an injury to Trae Young. In some ways, that goes without saying but, even if Young misses a relatively short chunk of time (10 or 15 games), the Hawks will be in significant trouble. On the bright side, Young was very durable during his rookie season, appearing in 81 games, but the Hawks just don’t have the roster to score consistently with the dynamic point guard on the bench. He’s the sun, moon and stars for Atlanta’s offense.

What we’ll be saying about the Hawks at the end of the season…

What we’ll be saying about the Hawks at the end of the season is that Atlanta is fun, competitive and ready to take the next step. There was already some of that buzz after the 2018-19 campaign but the decision-makers were clear that the franchise wouldn’t “skip steps” along the way. That meant that the Hawks decided to run back a (very) young roster with some holes in it for this season. With the nucleus of Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, there will be signs of playoff-level competitiveness by March and April, all leading toward a pivotal summer.

Final prediction

Expectations are all over the place for this Hawks team, with optimists seeing the potential for playoff contention and skeptics wondering if the squad will improve at all from last year’s 29-win benchmark. It is probably safest to split the difference, with the widespread belief that Young, Collins and Huerter will make real strides to off-set the potential downgrades in the supporting cast after the loss of Dewayne Dedmon and others. Ultimately, let’s go with a slight lean to the “over” on the Vegas win total of 33.5, knowing full well that there is more upside if things come together.

Final prediction: 34-48

Brad Rowland (@BTRowland)