Hawks theme for 2021: Trae Young gets a little more help

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce confers with Trae Young during a 123-110 victory over the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce confers with Trae Young during a 123-110 victory over the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Christmas comes Wednesday for Trae Young — and by extension the Hawks in general — when he gets his first real play day with all the new toys management has provided.

He has, with apologies to Dr. Seuss and all the Whos in Whoville, his dishers and swishers and hoopers. Along with his stoppers and poppers and alley-oopers.

After a hurried preseason at the start of another coronavirus-tinged campaign, the Hawks roll out their most interesting assemblage in years. Nine new bodies — not all of them fit for duty yet against Chicago on this opening night — fill in around the young core that has taken its lumps these past couple of years (100 of them, to be exact, as in a 49-100 record).

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So many introductions to make. Mr. Bogdanovic meet Mr. Hill. Danilo say hello to Rajon. And everyone, this is Kris-with-a-K Dunn, we think you’ll like his style once that knee stops squawking.

Ready or not, the Hawks have to fold all these ingredients into the batter in a hurry. “Same as any other team in the league,” coach Lloyd Pierce said, eschewing excuses. “We’re all pressed for time and trying to figure out how to maximize every day and get ready.”

The effect of a busy free-agent period was to spread the floor and give Young a little help with the duties of scoring — Bogdan Bogdanovic (15.1 points per game last year) and Danilo Gallinari (18.7 ppg) are long in body and range. Rajon Rondo brings 7,215 career assists to the gym, so, yeah, give him some of the ballhandling chores. Dunn, second in steals per game last season, puts a little more guard in the guard position. And should things break down, there’s always Clint Capela, a last-season acquisition only now seeing the court for the Hawks, who twice has been top 10 in the NBA in rebounding, and once in blocks. With such support, perhaps its possible that the Hawks’ slight leader won’t be worn down to his cuticles by the 60th game.

Taking the load off Young is, Gallinari said, “the reason we are here.”

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“The fact that he’s going to have less load is going to make his game easier,” he added. “A lot of situations we’ve seen already, the defense has to play all the weapons we have on the floor, especially all the shooters that we’ve got. I think that is going to open up a lot of space for him.”

And, of course, such aid is meant to be reciprocal.

“I know that the past two years everybody was trying to blitz him and get the ball out of his hands,” Gallinari said. “But he does a great job of finding everybody. He facilitates a lot, not just for me but for everybody.”

“A guy like Trae can pass whenever I’m running. A guy like Trae can throw a lob pass whenever I’m rolling to the rim,” Capela said.

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Atlanta Hawks huddle during the first half against the Orlando Magic Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: AP

Atlanta Hawks huddle during the first half against the Orlando Magic Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Hawks huddle during the first half against the Orlando Magic Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

As the conductor of this orchestra, Young is the one who must most make this new collection work in unison. He is a key to unlocking its potential.

How long before he’s able to bring all these new parts to bear will determine whether the Hawks really are in position to compete for their first playoff spot since 2017.

So, how long? “I don’t think it’s going to take too long,” Young said.

“Obviously we’re still trying to get into a flow with each other. It’s going to continue to take time. We’re going to continue to get better each and every day,” he said. “You see spurts when guys get into rhythm and you see what we’re capable of, now it’s just trying to figure out how to string these runs together.

“We’ve got a lot of smart guys on this team. I see a lot of guys catching on, picking up the speed pretty fast.”

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Consider that because of the pandemic and the fact that the Hawks weren’t brought into the bubble at last season’s restart, they haven’t played a legit game since March 11. That only heightens the anticipation for their return Wednesday. Throw in a new look, and the curiosity about this team is spiking.

In his shortened 2019-20, Young averaged 29.6 points and 9.3 assists per game. So, now, one wonders, is it possible that in the Hawks’ new configuration that first number might tick down while the second trends upward? How will Young’s stat line adjust to its new environment?

“I’ll take all of it. I’ll take him averaging 30. I ‘ll take all our other guys (scoring),” Pierce said. The most important thing is efficiency.

“I don’t know what the sacrifice in terms of minutes or numbers will look like, but I think we have an opportunity to create high efficiency shots for all of our guys.

“Trae has taken some tough shots and some of it is by default. He’s had a lot of pressure. He’s a very talented player, you feel like he can make plays. Sometimes (now) he’s going to make a lot of easy kick-outs to guys and in return some of those swing-swing passes are going to come to him. I think he was No. 1 in catch-and-shoot 3′s last year, he just didn’t shoot them a lot. If he can be No. 1 in catch-and-shoot 3′s and someone else is able to create for him, he’ll still be effective and still be able to produce at a high rate like he did last year.”

Young knows he’ll still get his shots. And he seems to like all the other options new to him. Yes, like a kid at Christmas.

“I know I need to score and I need to get others involved for us to win,” he said. “I’ll just try to do my best to put everybody in the best position. I’m still learning these guys. It will all click. I’m excited for when it does.”