Undoubtedly, there are plenty of people in Johns Creek who consider themselves Atlanta Hawks fans already. At the same time, however, this is a franchise that’s struggled fairly extensively with local fan outreach. Earlier this decade, when the franchise was quite competitive atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference, attendance was still mired in the lower third among NBA teams. In fact, this whole decade the highest the team has ranked in attendance is 17th (in 2015); last season, articles were written trying to decipher why attendance was so poor.
More such articles could be written without fully getting to the bottom of what this all means for the community. But one thing that’s fair to say is that at least part of the problem is rooted in the team’s failure to establish much reach beyond the boundaries of Atlanta proper. Following an interesting rebuilding effort though, and a very successful 2019 NBA draft for the Hawks, the team may just be getting interesting enough to attract some attention from Johns Creek, other Atlanta suburbs, and Georgia more broadly.
The beginning of this process toward the Hawks becoming more interesting was really the 2018 NBA Draft. The team actually made a trade that was infamous seconds after it went through – sending away the rights to vaunted international prospect Luka Doncic in exchange for a later lottery pick from the Dallas Mavericks, as well as an additional pick for 2019 (as in this month’s draft). The thinking at the time was that Doncic was head-and-shoulders above any combination of players the Hawks could get for their return, and thus the organization was panned for making the move. A year later, however, some are saying that both teams won the trade. While Doncic was the Rookie of the Year, the Hawks’ 2018 lottery selection, Trae Young, had a very strong finish to his own rookie season and is poised to run an exciting offense for years to come. Additionally, we now know that the Hawks also got a shooting guard named Cam Reddish out of Duke with the 10th pick this year (the additional pick the team traded for in the Doncic deal). These two, plus Kevin Huerter out of Maryland (the 19th pick in 2018) are the foundation of a team that could be a great deal of fun.
There’s also the style of play to consider. Plenty of teams draft players who look to be exciting coming out of college, but such players won’t start winning (and filling seats and generating TV viewership) unless they’re part of an attractive and effective system. In Atlanta, such a system is already in place, and the team has been fairly open about wanting to emulate the Golden State Warriors – not just the best team in the league the last five years, but one that pioneered a thrilling new style of offense. Now, the Hawks’ personnel isn’t close to what the Warriors have and won’t be even if the aforementioned young players all hit their absolute peaks. But stylistically the imitation is starting to take shape. Young is a clever playmaker and long-distance shooter vaguely in the mold of Golden State’s Stephen Curry, and the likes of Huerter and Reddish should be able to space the floor in a free-flowing, volume-shooting offense (like what the Warriors have with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant).
Taking the Warriors comparison a step further, the Hawks also made an intriguing 2019 draft selection before using the acquired Mavericks pick on Reddish. The Hawks actually traded up (sacrificing multiple picks later in the draft) to select Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter with the fourth overall pick. Hunter is not the standard, production-oriented star teams look for that high in the draft, and some thought the pick was a bit of a reach. Indeed, American sportsbook projections are already looking at the new rookie class in the aftermath of the draft, and Hunter is not being included among the Rookie of the Year favorites. The top odds for this award tend to go to players who are going to put up big numbers (and mostly just score a lot). Hunter, however, while not projected to be a great scorer, may just fit the Hawks’ needs, and slot right into the Warriors model. As a do-it-all two-way player with fearsome defensive capabilities and good enough offense, he’s the cog that was missing. If Young, Huerter, and Reddish represent Curry, Thompson, and Durant, then De’Andre Hunter is the Draymond Green of the group.
Even describing things that way sounds awfully optimistic, and it should be mentioned again that the Hawks’ talent is not on the same level as the Warriors’. However, the types of players the team has selected are capable of playing somewhat like the Warriors – which is to say they can showcase the most enjoyable style of basketball we see in the U.S. these days. Whether or not this will fill seats, and when it will happen, remains to be seen. But if anything is going to get people in the suburbs to buy into the Hawks, it might just be the kind of on-court product the organization has put together over the last few seasons.