The Atlanta Hawks’ 2019-20 season is officially here. The organization hosted media day on Monday morning, which allowed members of the press to talk with all 20 players on the roster ahead of training camp. While much attention was paid to Trae Young and John Collins, there were interesting tidbits all around.
In listening to the players, a few common themes arose. Youth was a central talking point, whether it be the team’s rookies or the 42-year-old Vince Carter. A large number of the Hawks’ players are in their formative stages, something the team doesn’t shy away from.
Evan Turner said he’s prone to jokes and movie references his younger teammates don’t understand. Jabari Parker and Allen Crabbe — 24 and 27, respectively — were asked about leadership styles and imparting knowledge on their younger teammates. Parker is 24 years old.
The Hawks are still in a rebuild, even as playoff aspirations and heightened expectations creep into the picture. Trae Young made sure to point out a ‘rebuild’ doesn’t equate to losing games. The goal is still to win as much as possible within the confines of a development-oriented season.
At this moment, the projected starting lineup is Trae Young (21), Kevin Huerter (21), De’Andre Hunter (21), John Collins (22), and Alex Len (26). There are pitfalls and struggles on the horizon, no matter how promising the future looks.
The Hawks start training camp tomorrow, Oct. 1, but that won’t be the first day of practice. Len noted that the team has been playing scrimmages since mid-August, well before the required date to report. “We started early. In August, everybody was here … We’ve already got two months in, being around each other.”
Ray Spalding, who signed an Exhibit 10 contract over the summer, has enjoyed the vibe in the gym. “It’s really good energy. Everyone’s really young, everyone really communicates well with each other.”
There are also a lot of prior connections on the roster. De’Andre Hunter and Charlie Brown are Philadelphia natives. They played together in 7th grade and were on the same AAU team. “It literally never crossed my mind [as a possibility],” Hunter said of playing with his middle school teammate in the NBA.
Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando were teammates at Maryland, and Len preceded them. Fernando recalled a text from Huerter on draft night — one of several hints leading up to his arrival in Atlanta via trade. He wanted his destination to be a surprise, but “connected the dots” as the night progressed.
Beyond the usual, expected praise for Trae Young and his offense, one player garnered a few unsolicited compliments: De’Andre Hunter. Turner called him a “future All-Star.” When asked if the top-5 pick’s defense is as good as advertised, Fernando had a short, sweet answer: yes.
Hunter was lauded as a multi-positional defender in college and, evidently, has surprised a few folks in August and September pick-up games. “At Virginia, I didn’t really get to handle the ball that much,” Hunter said, when asked what might have triggered such praise. “I guess when [teammates] see me handling the ball and doing things like that, it’s like ‘oh, I didn’t know he could do that.'”
As the starting small forward, Hunter will have the chance to defend high-level NBA players as a rookie. His versatility, I.Q., and effort stood out at Virginia. He’s the kind of 3-and-D prospect Atlanta covets, and one the franchise clearly values after an expensive trade up to the #4 spot in June.
The Hawks want to take advantage of their youth. “We’re young, so we can get up and down, fast-paced,” said Allen Crabbe. Expect Atlanta to sprint the floor and shoot a lot of 3s, not dissimilar to the philosophy Crabbe operated under in Brooklyn. Len, who introduced a 3-pointer to his arsenal last season, said his personal goal is to shoot 40% from behind the arc. Fernando, who attempted 13 triples in two seasons at Maryland, said the coaching staff wants him to take open 3s.
The Hawks, for all the talk about defense, are a team skewed toward offense. Atlanta’s clearest path to winning basketball is through speed, finesse, and hustle — outworking, outrunning, and outscoring older, more rigid teams. Unless Hunter reaches his defensive climax as a rookie, there’s not much hope for the Hawks’ defense. Not this season. Their potential success rests on bucket-getting, not bucket-stopping.