The time you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived...well sort of.
The New Orleans Pelicans kick off their 2019 preseason Monday with a 6:30 p.m. evening matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. Both teams come into the preseason with similar wait and see approaches next to talented and deep rosters. While the Pelicans were discussed often for most of the entire off-season, the Hawks deserve their share of attention.
Already loaded with young ascending talent, Atlanta added two highly ranked rookies to their young core. In addition, the Hawks acquires several respected veterans that could make the Hawks a sleeper playoff team in an Eastern Conference that looks to be top-heavy again.
For more on Atlanta before tonight’s preseason opener we sat down with Peachtree hoops editor and the creator of earlybirdrights.com: Jeff Siegel. Be sure to follow Jeff on Twitter @jgsiegel and enjoy our first installment of Outsider’s Perspective for the year.
- Looking at the Atlanta Hawks from afar, they seem to have so many exciting facets coming into the 2019-20 season. What should fans look forward to the most this season?
Trae Young and John Collins have to be one of the most exciting duos in the league right now. Young’s passing ability and Collins’ relentless energy and unreal athleticism create highlights on a nightly basis. The Hawks are going to be very fun to watch offensively, as they were last year. And the defense is likely going to be downright awful again, which means their games are going to be very high-scoring on both sides.
2. One of the things that makes the Pelicans so interesting is the mixture of age groups they’ve built. They have a rare combination of rookies, young veterans, and “OG’s” which should pay huge dividends on and off the floor. The Hawks have a similar structure as they drafted top prospects Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. Trae Young and Kevin Huerter enter their second season, and skywalker John Collins enters his third. Their list of established veterans include Jabari Parker, Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner, and future hall of famer Vince Carter. What type of impact do you think having a roster full of experienced and various age groups (Carter in specific) can have for Atlanta?
Carter is your favorite OG’s OG. He’s been around the league so long and has played so many different roles that he can impart advice on all the young guys, regardless of what problems they’re facing. If Young is having issues dealing with the pressures of being the team’s best player? Carter’s been there. If Huerter is worried about how he fits next to Young and Collins as a tertiary option in the offense? Carter’s done that too. Even the other veterans might have some trouble adapting to new roles and new expectations in Atlanta, but Carter’s been through everything there is to go through in the NBA and he can help anyone through anything.
3. Everybody loves Trae Young, but what’s the next step for John Collins? Can he become a superstar?
The next step for Collins is to hold up his end of the bargain on the defensive end of the floor. I’ve been preaching about this for more than a year, but he really has to be at least an average defender for this team to reach the heights they’d like to. In the modern NBA, teams can handle having one bad defender on the floor in crunch time, but having two of them, particularly if they’re the two best players in Young and Collins, is going to be untenable long-term. It’s certainly early in the process to start thinking about what this Hawks team is going to look like in the later rounds of the playoffs, but the entire point of a multi-year rebuild is to compete at the highest levels in the wake of the pain of losing a whole bunch of games.
As quick as we in the media are to move a power forward to center, the Hawks aren’t doing that with Collins. He’ll likely play some center this year, but they’re developing him to be an all-around power forward rather than a center. Blake Griffin and Aaron Gordon are names that have been floated as long-term comparisons for Collins; they want him to be able to handle the ball on the perimeter and score for himself all over the floor.
4. What’s the biggest misconception about the Atlanta Hawks?
That they upgraded their roster over last season. Particularly among the fans of the team, people are expecting a sort of linear growth from last season’s 29-win campaign, but if they’re going to be significantly better than they were a year ago, it’s going to have to come from massive internal growth from Young, Collins, and Huerter, because the rest of the team around them has taken a step backwards.
The center rotation has been downgraded from Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len to Alex Len and some combination of Damian Jones and rookie Bruno Fernando. The team is going to rely on De’Andre Hunter quite a bit in his rookie year, rather than having multiple veteran wings to move in and out of the starting lineup in Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince. Hunter has the long-term upside to be better than either of those guys were for the Hawks last season, but to expect it in Year 1 is a stretch. The bench is a bit of a mess right now, as Evan Turner has been named the backup point guard, but lineups with Turner, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Jabari Parker are going to have a lot of trouble spacing the floor and playing modern NBA offense in general.
The club’s core pieces are still in place and they can still take a step forward even if the team wins the same number of games, but the Hawks’ supporting cast isn’t nearly as strong as it was a year ago.
5. What’s your outside perspective on the Pelicans?
I can’t wait to watch this Pelicans team. Beyond the obvious in Zion Williamson, how Alvin Gentry puts together his lineups and how all the new pieces look together will be immensely interesting to watch. In particular, the team’s defense when they decide to turn up the heat on their opponents should be stifling – lineups with Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Williamson, and Derrick Favors, for example, are going to be among the best defensive units in the league. Plus, those groups should have enough offensive firepower to win, particularly if Williamson’s offensive skills translate immediately to the NBA.
And that was it for our time with Jeff, thanks again to him and peachtree hoops. Hope you all appreciated our first installment, enjoy the game tonight.
It's finally #PelicansGameday!— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 7, 2019
The Pelicans are in action tonight at Atlanta
⌚️: 6:30 pm CT
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