Coming out of the RazzJam I was heavily leveraged with Hawks. It wasn’t exactly intentional–how far can one deviate from an idea that never was?–but it wasn’t a mistake either. The headline in Atlanta coming into 2020-21 read: We want to score so much that it’s crowded now! And after six games, yes, the buckets are indeed plentiful. Atlanta is currently home to the second-most efficient offense in basketball, scoring 114.9 points per 100 possessions. For reference, 113.7 was last year’s league-leading mark set by the Mavs. This year’s Bucks, Madone, are scoring 117.9 per 100 possessions!

So the Hawks score and I drafted a lot of them. Picking up Trae Young and John Collins in the first three rounds set off the trap of me having to watch a ton of Hawks games this season. Committing to the bit, I also added shares of Danilo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu, and Kris Dunn over the course of the 25-round marathon. I had been eying box scores over the first three games of the season before lowering myself into a vat of Hawks games this last week, consuming every second of the double-dip with the Nets and single shot of the Cavaliers. I woke up on Sunday with lightly ruffled feathers.

A Different Mix for Ice Trae

It’s been a bit of a peculiar start for Trae Young thus far. Trae’s stat line as the engine of a fantastically potent offense is good enough for Y!’s 35th-best 9-cat player as of writing, which is a disappointment. Turnovers aren’t doing him in–they aren’t great, of course, but he’s actually cut down on them from last year–but rather the zeros in the defensive cats. In six games he’s tallied 1 block and 2 steals. Total, not per game. I see more snowmen looking at his game log than I do in my neighborhood and it’s January in Wisconsin. Of course, the anemic defense is offset by 28 points per, more than 8 dimes, and 4.5 boards on 45/36/88 shooting, which seems extremely possible to maintain considering the aforementioned 114.9 and all.

But check out where his shots are coming from and his percentages on them:

2020: 20.8 FGA (43%), 9.5 3PA (36%), 9.3 FTA (86%)
2021: 17.3 FGA (45%), 6 3PA (36%), 11.3 FTA (88%)

Watching him operate gives an even clearer impression of how aggressively he’s seeking out fouls. There’s a lot of Chris Paul chicanery going on. The move du jour is bending around a screen, feeling a defender on his hip, and then stopping short. When the trailing defensive player clears the pick, Young pauses, finds contact behind him, and flings the ball at the rim. In the first four games of the season, Trae shot 14, 17, 16, and 15 free throws and, evidently, pissed off Brooklyn coach Steve Nash.

“That’s not basketball,” Nash pleaded. I certainly can see his point.

The spike in Young’s FTA becomes more pronounced with additional context: Young attempted 14+ FT in only eleven games all of last season. The quest for freebies has come at the expense of the deep ball. Eight 3PA has been the high water mark for Ice Trae thus far. Last year, he shot 9+ triples in 60% of his games played. The early-season scoring diet looks to be changing, though to what degree is still unclear.

After Nash barked about it, Young’s FTA took a nosedive. He’s taken eight total in the last two games. The swollen number of attempts this year (11.7) has begun to trickle back in line with last year’s (9.3) now that the whistles have dried up, but there’s still reason to be encouraged about even more scoring potential here. All the extra mouths in Atlanta have only dinged his usage percentage (34.9 to 33.8, which is 4th highest in the NBA) and he’s still scoring 28 PPG while shooting a third fewer threes.

Young will adjust his tactics, one would figure, to the ways he’s being officiated. The stop-short move might never be as effective as it was in those first four games, but the fact that he’s coming out of the gate hunting ways to get to the line is a good thing. He’s a career 84.9% shooter from there.

How about a happy medium? If he split the difference between this year’s and last year’s FTA and attempted 15% fewer triples than last year instead of 33+% fewer, you’d be looking at something like 10+ free throws and 2.5+ made threes per game. Lately, he (and the rest of his teammates) have forced more turnovers, so improving on the extremely modest 0.3 steals thus far shouldn’t be unfathomable for a career 0.9 steal guy. Put it together and you can see Trae Young the first-rounder. He’s the Hawk of least concern.

Can JC Save You?

John Collins, on the other hand, is one I’ll fret over for the time being. Collins was the obvious loser when Atlanta brought in Clint Capela prior to the shut down last season, as JC’s ability to flex between the 4 and 5 became arthritic with the arrival of the Swiss Mister. Capela was nursing a sore Achilles to start the season, but he’s played in four straight now and his presence predictably cuts into Collins’s value.

The bad news first: minutes have fallen from 33.2 last year to 27. The shot attempts are down too, from 14.8 to 11.7, which has depressed his scoring output from 21.5 to 17 flat. Boards (10.1 to 6.8) and blocks (1.6 to 1.2) are also down, fouls are up, and steals–never a category of strength–have almost dried up entirely. Capela isn’t going anywhere and there’s a healthy store of competent basketball players in the Big Peach these days, so the need to lean heavily on JC isn’t nearly as great as it was last year. Barring injury, it’s hard to imagine that Collins will get back north of 32 MPG this season. Given the depressed time and being pushed off the block, I’d expect that replication of last year’s rebounds and swats is probably not on the table.

The good news: the 27 MPG is low. Looking through his game logs, he played 18 minutes in a blowout of Chicago, 20 minutes in a thrashing of Brooklyn, and 27 foul-plagued minutes against Detroit. I’m obviously cherry-picking, but it’s also true that Collins led the Hawks in minutes (34) in a losing effort to Cleveland, which was the same game that Clint Capela absolutely shredded the Cavs. Clint is a roadblock to Collins playing a lot of minutes at the 5, but JC is still too valuable to be squeezed much more. Despite the less-than-ideal start, he’s Y!’s 36th best 9-cat player.

More good news for Collins: he’s currently shooting 28.6% on threes, which is down 8% from his career average of 36.5% and a whopping 11.5% off last year’s career-best of 40.1% The volume of attempts has not changed and the eye test is showing lots of open looks. He turned down chances against Cleveland after struggling to find the range early. The point totals should bubble up as the shot begins to fall.

Additionally, Collins has shown gains in his free throw shooting every year, and that trend is continuing in the early season (71.5% as a rookie to 76.3% to 80% to this year’s 90.9%) He’s not going to finish the year as Steph Curry from the charity stripe, but it does indicate that the underlying skills haven’t suddenly vanished. Collins will be a percentage booster as the season unspools. And while Capela is present and doing his thing (double figures for points and boards, a healthy number of swats), Collins is still the guy to pick and roll or pop with Trae. Young serves up plenty of lobs for the springy JC, and being flanked by additional offensive options could open up cleaner looks for all involved (see Hunter, De’Andre).

There’s no time like the present to start turning things around, and the next two weeks should be good ones for Collins. The Rooster rolled an ankle three minutes into the first tilt with Brooklyn and won’t be re-evaluated for a fortnight. Though never a picture of health, Danilo’s eventual return stirs up additional concerns about Collins’s MPG, but I tend to think the sky isn’t falling. Solomon Hill and Bruno Fernando are currently soaking up 18.7 and 10.8 MPG, respectively. When looking at where the minutes come from to accommodate a healthy Gallinari, I’d start there. He won’t repeat last year’s performance, so your feeling on him is tied directly to where you drafted him, though it’s not all that gloomy.

Here lies Cam, killed by a Hunter

Cam Reddish was someone I (and many others) wanted during draft season. The communal lust for the second-year pro can be attributed to the boost in minutes and FGA that Reddish saw last February and March when Cam was a killer. When given the chance (29 MPG and 11.5 FGA), he jammed out numbers to the tune of 16 points, 3 boards, 3 dimes, and 1.3 steals per game on 49/40/83 shooting splits. The hype was so hot that I entered the season with exactly 0 shares.

Unfortunately for those who snagged him, there isn’t a ton of oxygen for Cam to really catch fire this time around. The minutes are still there (28.3), but the shot attempts have become harder to come by. Reddish is a starter and he’s launching 9.2 attempts per game, but that’s only good enough for 6th best on the team. The only member of Atlanta’s core attack that Reddish is outpacing is Clint Capela (8.5 FGA). Cam is still active in the passing lanes–1.3 steals per–and has come out hot with the three-ball at 38.1%, but there are too many better options these days to be terribly excited.

The player doing the most damage to Reddish’s value sure looks to be his fellow 2019 draftee De’Andre Hunter, who seems to have refined his offensive game a bit during Atlanta’s long offseason. The 3-point percentage is eye-popping through six games (48.3%!) but he’s also improved in other areas as well. He’s eating more glass (6.5 per, up from 4.5) and seems comfortable putting the ball on the deck and getting to the cup. Last year, 11.8% of Hunter’s buckets came from the mid-range; this year he’s getting all the way in, driving that number down to 2.3% Not coincidentally, Hunter’s percentage of points in the paint (38.6, up from 32.4 last year) is inflated as well.

Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce seems to believe in Hunter’s capabilities as a defender, as he tasked De’Andre to check Kyrie last week. He’s got good size (6’7”) that allows him to slide around with his defensive matchups, though he’s not nearly as active or aggressive as Reddish in pursuit of the pill (0.5 steals). De’Andre’s 31.5 MPG only trails Trae Young (32.2), and as Son says, minutes are gold. Given the similar usage rates for the two young wings–Reddish is at 17.2, Hunter at 16.1–I think the discrepancy in playing time is the most telling indicator of who is the better player to roster.

Things aren’t as grim as my sub-head implies, but my FOMO on Reddish has subsided considerably after two weeks of games. Hunter’s percentage from 3 will come back to earth a bit, but he shot 35% from there last year, and adding a splash variety in his offensive game gives him sturdier legs for the long run. At the time of writing, he’s the 66th best player in Y!’s 9-cat, which is unsustainable given how little he contributes defensively and that he’s connecting on 2.3 triples per contest (a number that currently outpaces Young, who cans 2.2 a game). Still, the time on the floor and capability of scoring almost 15 points as the third or fourth option and only needing a little more than 10 FGA to do so is yummy.

Bogi and Big Red, Briefly

The acquisition of Bogdan Bogdanovic during the seconds-long free agency period certainly made a lot of noise, but since arriving in Atlanta the output from the ex-King has been relatively quiet. The MPG, FGA, scoring, FG%, dimes, and steals have all ticked down from the halcyon days in Sacramento. A silver lining exists in the number of 3s launched (7.8) and the hit rate (a career-best 40.2% thus far), but the balance seems too heavily tilted. Damn-near 73% of Bogi’s shots are from 3 this season. Prior to coming down South, that number had peaked at 57% Considering the downturn in opportunities and shrinking contributions outside of triples, Bogdanovic seems to have found a ceiling. He would be further down the road to specialist territory if not for how aggressively he’s rebounding the ball (a career-best 4.8). Bogi is a good shooter and a good player in real basketball, but it feels like his game is narrowing from a fantasy standpoint.

Copy and paste Bogi’s downturn and then decrease the values some and you get an idea of what’s happening with Red Velvet. Kevin Huerter is playing the lowest MPG of his career, sending all of his counting stats–save steals–into a downward spiral. The percentages look good, 47/46/85, but him getting enough time to cash in on them is dependent on coach Pierce identifying his hot hand and staying with it. That’s a tall order when factoring in the opportunity cost to do so. If Pierce trusts Hunter and Reddish as defenders, the path for Huerter to consistently contribute starts to look like a balance beam.

With the development of younger wings ahead of them, either Bogi or Huerter getting enough time to be a difference-maker is a long shot. Neither reserve really hurt you, but good luck figuring out what night of the week they’ll go off. Bogdanovic, who landed a 4-year, $72M deal, has the added benefit of occasionally closing games out with the starters, but I imagine there’s a growing sense of frustration for those who scooped him up on draft day. The minutes played will range between 23-32 for Bogdanovic and 21-27 for Huerter. With Gallo and Okongwu looming, seek upside elsewhere.

Thanks for hangin’.