Hawks training-camp preview: a look ahead at the forwards

Hawks forward Saddiq Bey (41) celebrates after scoring during the first half in Game 6 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs at State Farm Arena, Thursday, April 27, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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Hawks forward Saddiq Bey (41) celebrates after scoring during the first half in Game 6 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs at State Farm Arena, Thursday, April 27, 2023, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



The number of days until the Hawks open training camp continues to dwindle. So, when they gather to get ready for the season ahead, they’ll want to make sure that their frontcourt is set to go.

Here’s a look at the Hawks forwards heading into training camp:

De’Andre Hunter (15.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, 46.1 FG%, 35.0 3FG%)

Hunter enters the first year of the four-year, $90 million deal that he signed last offseason. The Hawks reportedly included him in an offer that they hoped would net them Raptors big-man Pascal Siakam.

Now, though, Hunter enters his fifth season with the Hawks and looks to take advantage of the new system that coach Quin Snyder will implement. He also will look to build on one of his healthier seasons, when he missed only 15 games.

Hunter, 25, took a step forward in his production last season. He knocked down his overall shots from the floor a little more efficiently, making 46.1% of his shots, as opposed to 44.2% during the 2021-22 season. But Hunter’s efficiency from long range took a dip as he tried to create more of his own opportunities inside.

On defense, the Hawks often matched Hunter against the opposing team’s best player. He’ll have some help from guard Dejounte Murray to try to seal things off on the perimeter, but typically he is the team’s best point-of-attack defender.

Jalen Johnson (5.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 49.1 FG%, 28.8 3FG%)

As he was last year, the third-year forward is poised to have a breakout season. The 21-year-old long has been the presumptive heir to the starting position at power forward when it opened.

With the Hawks dealing John Collins to the Jazz in July, the move opened some flexibility for the team financially. It also opened the possibility for the Hawks to elevate Johnson into the starting lineup. Johnson made six starts last season when the Hawks dealt with multiple ankle injuries in their frontcourt.

In those six starts, along with the rest of the season, Johnson showed flashes of athletic ability, as well as a burgeoning connection with guard Dejounte Murray. Johnson has begun to lean into his ability to create for others, and the Hawks will benefit from having another option to take the ball up the court and potentially set up looks for others.

He also doesn’t shy away from contact and hasn’t been timid when it comes to competing for rebounds, and he’ll pair well with veteran center Clint Capela.

Where the Hawks will need more from Johnson is his ability to knock down shots from long range. In the starting five, the Hawks, have only Murray, Hunter and Trae Young, who can space the floor consistently. Johnson made under 30% of his 3-point attempts.

Saddiq Bey (13.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 apg, 42.2 FG%, 36.1 3FG%)

The Hawks dramatically acquired Bey at the trade deadline last season as part of a four-team trade. The team had to wait four days before he could step on the court after the Warriors raised concerns about the health of Gary Payton II, who they acquired using second-round picks they received from the Hawks.

Once Bey could fully participate, he immediately gave the Hawks another effective shooter, with him making 45.6% of his 3-point shots in his first 15 games. In that span, the team shot 37.1% from long range, up from 34.8% before Bey made his debut.

Part of that comes down to Snyder encouraging the team to take more 3-point attempts, as well as improved spacing habits. But it also helped to have a shooter like Bey, who has a quick release and the ability to create space for himself when defenders close out.

Bey, like Johnson, could be elevated to the starting lineup when the season begins next month. But it all could come down to how things shake out in training camp and what the Hawks see in exhibition games.

AJ Griffin (8.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.0 apg, 46.5 FG%, 39.0 3FG%)

Now heading into his second season, the wing will look to build off of a memorable rookie season that included two buzzer-beater wins and a trip to All-Star Weekend in the Rising Stars game.

Though, Griffin got plenty of playing time early in the season, that started to wind down a little as he tried to work through a shooting slump. Griffin made 39.4% of his 3.8 attempts per game before the All-Star break, but the grind of the season seemed to get to him, and he recorded four consecutive games in which he struggled to make shots.

As the Hawks rested him a little more, he started to find his groove again.

Now, Griffin will look to compete for a spot in an already competitive rotation. He’ll get to make his case when the team opens training camp next week.

Mouhamed Gueye (rookie)

The Hawks traded up for the rookie in this year’s NBA draft, giving up a 2027 second-round pick to make it happen.

The team has plenty of players who can log minutes on the wing and in the frontcourt, which makes it unlikely for the rookie to carve out a spot in the rotation. So, the Hawks will spend much of this season developing Gueye, and the 20-year-old likely will log plenty of minutes with the College Park Skyhawks, the team’s G League affiliate.

Seth Lundy (rookie)

Like Gueye, the Hawks selected Lundy in this year’s draft. The team signed him to a two-way contract this offseason. Though Lundy showed plenty of flashes at Summer League in July, the depth that the Hawks have at small forward with both Hunter and Bey, as well as guards Bogdan Bogdanovic and Wesley Matthews, makes it more likely that Lundy will play more minutes in College Park.

Miles Norris (rookie)

The Hawks signed Norris as an undrafted free agent to their third two-way opening. Like Lundy, Norris also had a solid outing at Summer League, but the 23-year-old likely will get most of his playing time with the Skyhawks.

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