Fans of the Atlanta Hawks will quickly tell you that the idea of a consolidation trade isn’t new. In fact, it’s been a frequent topic given just how deep their roster is.
Nevertheless, the current 10-9 Hawks are on the clock, and the longer they wait in determining their next step, the harder it can become to take a significant leap into what they aspire to: Championship contention.
Therefore, let’s take a look at their situation.
The John Collins conundrum
Everything is, not surprisingly, dictated by the play of Trae Young, who is about as untouchable as any player in the league can be. The 23-year-old point guard is the main piece on this Hawks team, and the player everything else is built around.
One player who fits alongside Young is forward John Collins now in his fifth season, after re-signing with the Hawks over the summer for $125 million over five years. That type of monetary value indicates a significant commitment from the side of the Hawks, which is why it’s fair to wonder why he isn’t being used more than he is.
Collins is a supremely athletic and fairly advanced offensive player who over the past two years has seen his offensive role diminish, despite improvements in other areas of his game. In the 2019-2020 season, Collins averaged 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, shot 58.3% from the field, including 40.1% from the three-point line, and looked every bit like a future offensive powerhouse of a player, who could play inside and out.
In the two seasons since, Collins is the owner of a far more modest line of 17.4 points and 7.5 rebounds. His shot attempts has decreased from 14.8 per night in 19/20 to a frankly appalling 11.5 this year, which for his offensive gifts seems like a wasted opportunity on behalf of Atlanta.
It’s a puzzling reward system for Collins, who has refined parts of his game, such as his defense and ball-security in recent years. The 6’9 forward is hardly ever tasked with creating his own offense, getting assisted on 79% of his made shots, further suggesting he should have enough stamina to handle a larger role offensively.
Should the Hawks eventually begin to sniff around available stars in order to consolidate assets, it’s fair to wonder if Collins could be a sacrificial lamb due to how little they rely on him to use his primary skill of scoring the basketball.
Alternatively, the Hawks could try to hang onto him with the hope of providing him with a larger role post-trade, should they instead give up several members of their shot-hungry role players.
Determining the keepers
The Hawks have, as mentioned at the top, a lot of depth, and large aspirations after last year’s Eastern Conference Finals appearance. One can easily make the argument that they currently have 11 players worthy of 20+ minutes, with several of them probably more so deserving of closer to 30 minutes than 20.
(For full transparency, those players are Young, Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Andre Hunter, Clint Capela, Cam Reddish, Danilo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu, Kevin Huerter and Lou Williams.)
Then, in a year or two, Sharife Cooper and Jalen Johnson, Atlanta’s two 2021 draft selections, could join in on that demand.
Okongwu, who has yet to play this season due to shoulder surgery, showed great promise last season and has a high enough draft status (sixth overall selection in 2020) to suggest his return will only complicate matters further. For a team currently projected to finish 2nd in the Southeast Division, per FanDuel Sportsbook, you’d want as few complications as possible.
So, the question becomes: How to determine the keepers?
Given that a trade for a star would catapult the Hawks into a higher tier – or at least, that’s the point – current production and expected production rule the day. High-upside players can be immensely intriguing, yet the Hawks need to prioritize production that aligns with Young and any new arrival.
That said, positions matter as well. Should Minnesota make star center Karl-Anthony Towns available, it would behoove the Hawks to include Capela and Okongwu, both centers, in any deal, as to help preserve talent needed elsewhere on the floor. If instead Boston wing Jaylen Brown is on the market, however unlikely, including Reddish and Huerter would be more beneficial. You get the idea.
Of course, it needs to be said that in every trade that includes a star, the receiving team will always have to give up assets that they don’t want to give up. But that’s the price of business, and the Hawks may not be able to keep exactly the right group of players they envision hanging onto.
However, just having a plan handy and knowing who the prioritized players are, is an important step in the overall process.
Coming to terms with reality
While the Hawks may prefer to play with depth and hang onto as much talent as humanly possible, several components suggest that simply won’t work out.
First thing’s first. Players, especially younger and more untested ones, are keen on receiving minutes in order to prove themselves. While most will amend their game in stretches to optimize team success, players are still keenly aware that minutes and numbers help a great deal in providing them with a contract extension.
With as much competition on the Hawks right now, it should come as no surprise if Reddish, Huerter, Hunter or Okongwu eventually starts to question their role, if not given enough court time.
Furthermore, depth isn’t necessarily as crucial a component deep in the playoffs. Depth will help teams win in the regular season, and can assist in the early stages of the postseason, but most teams that make the Finals run rotations of about 6-7 players.
In the 2021 NBA Finals, only 12 total players (six from both sides) logged over 20 minutes per game. When push comes to shove, coaches want their very best players out there for the vast majority of the game.
For Atlanta, one play could be to use the 2022 summer to consolidate assets when teams have more roster spots open, then consolidate further at the 2023 trade deadline, providing them with a tightened rotation heading into the playoffs in April.
Or, they can try to make room for everyone and see how it goes long-term. But that would be a challenge of immense proportions.