Atlanta | Too Fast Too Soon?

Updated: March 10, 2022
collins trae

An Eastern Conference rematch held in Milwaukee was something that every NBA fanatic had circled on their calendars back in the offseason after the pyrotechnics we had seen in the playoffs. For those who pretend to follow the depths of this league and the grind that is known as the regular season via the highlight reel and the box scores, this matchup may appear to have delivered. Unfortunately, for those who log real minutes in the dog days of March and watch weekday games from start to finish, this was nothing more than an East Coast lullaby. 

Due to a sluggish 3rd quarter, where Milwaukee fell asleep at the wheel and took their foot off the gas, a once 19-point lead evaporated into single digits. However, it was purely cosmetic, and the game never felt in jeopardy for the Bucks to lose. The reason for this being can be summed up into a single fact…Atlanta simply has no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo. With 43 points, going 15 for 22, the only thing that slowed down the Freak was his dedication to taking perimeter jumpers. Despite Jrue Holiday playing loose and frantic with the rock and the Bucks going catatonic in the 3rd, Milwaukee dominated the paint with 62 points racked up at the rim. 

Atlanta’s players, their bench, along with home telecast, felt like they perpetually got the short end of the stick against the Milwaukee home-whistle. In the 1st and 3rd quarter, the Bucks spent more than half the periods in the Bonus as Giannis appeared to get to the line or score every single trip to the basket. Things finally boiled over down 10 in the 4th, when head coach Nate McMillan got ejected with the double-Tech with 90 seconds left in regulation. The truth of the matter though is not a single defender on Atlanta attempted to guard Antetokounmpo straight up. Instead, they continuously planted half-heart charges in a desperate effort to draw the offensive. 

It’s true, Giannis repeatedly lowered the shoulder and ran through the Hawks’ lack of rim-protection like an oversized full-back piledriving through the JV squad in a summer scrimmage. Yet, as the smoke clears, and the coaching staff reviews the tapes, what they’ll find as they regain a sense of objectivity, is none of their boys were willing to take the charge square in the chest. A half-hearted, late-second shuffle to the side, hoping to get the charity charge call by taking only a portion of the blow on the shoulder, Giannis exploited the Hawks Bigs’ lack of athleticism and poise. 

Especially with Capela in deep foul trouble early, the only time the Hawks appeared to be on the same tier as the Bucks was when Antetokounmpo was sitting on the bench. A good lesson for anyone following the league is not to be hypnotized by a single game, as the moment has a tendency to obscure objectivity. This is a league that breads absolutes and infests the mind with half-baked takes that appear to be facts cemented in concrete, only to melt away weeks later as misunderstood assessments of reality. 

But the Hawks are a sub-500 team for a reason. Drowning down at the bottom of the 10th seed and fighting just to stay in the play-in, the Cinderella story of the playoffs last year was just that—a fairytale. And that romantic fable has now begun to transform itself into a cautionary tale of what may happen to a franchise when it blossoms too early. A roster riddled with talent and depth and yet, even when they made their push in the 2nd half, the camera flashed to a bench that looked as if they were still down 20. 

Big Wos on The Ringer, a notorious Atlanta guy, reported earlier in the week, that unlike what’s manifesting in Memphis, and the comradery around Ja’s emergence to stardom, there is no such brotherhood in the Hawks’ locker-room. For all the love Trae Young collected as he vanquished New York in the Garden, as a leader, and as a team, they have not developed and instead have regressed. A part of it appears to be personnel, specifically the recently near max-extend big, John Collins. Without a bucket in the first half and an inability to be anything more than a traffic cone to be avoided or destroyed by Antetokounmpo, he tends to function more in their offense as a Porzingis archetype—as an extremely tall perimeter jump shooter who only once in a blue-moon utilizes his god-given size at the basket.

Some of this may have fermented at the deadline when his name was floated in countless rumors of being on the trade block. Regardless, this offseason for Atlanta is filled with question marks. There are those who still believe in the myth of last year’s mirage and that they are 1-piece-away from being a true contender. The sober staff in the front office though, they are preaching the gospel of less is more. Their core of Trae, Huerter, Hunter, and Okongwu is one of the most elite young cores in all of basketball. If not for their unforeseen success last postseason, there would be little to no pressure on this still-developing squad. 

Instead of shoving their draft capital into the center of the poker table gambling on the chance of hitting an inside straight on the river, they should be looking to slowly bring this team along. Because although this was just one game, what it proved, was last year was a fluke, and this roster, as currently constructed, is a first-round knockout waiting to happen.

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