NBA: Atlanta Hawks Battle New York Knicks in Round 1
The New York Knicks and Atlanta get to square off in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs this year. Let’s break down some of the matchups and get this ball rolling with two squads building a foundation.
Mismatch here. Trae Young has had another All Star year and is a rising star. Young averaged 25.3 points per game in the regular season. He also averaged 9.4 assists which placed him second in the league. Trae is most dangerous at the perimeter where he is always a threat from three point range.
Elfrid Payton struggled down the stretch and could be in danger of losing his starting job in the playoffs to perhaps the red hot Derrick Rose. Payton has started all year but doesn’t finish late in games. He is not a perimeter threat but is effective driving to the lane and finishing for layups. If he can attack the basket consistently when on the floor, he can create havoc down low for the Hawks defense.
Terrific matchup here. Neither of them are All Stars but both of them have been solid contributors offensively. Both of them have been effective from downtown. Bogdanovic shot 44% from three point land while Bullock shot 41% from downtown. Both of them also shot over 90% from the free throw line.
Bogdanovic averaged more points per game at 16.4 while Reggie averaged 10.1 points per game. Bullock is a better defender and his D on Bogdan could be one of the key factors in this series.
Small Forward: Solomon Hill vs R.J. Barrett
R.J. Barrett clearly gets the edge here offensively. The second year man took a step up this season. His scoring rose from 14.3 ppg to 17.6 ppg. R.J.’s perimeter game improvement was the key. His three point percentage went up from 32% to 40%.
Hill will not be asked to do much offensively but to provide some grit and defense. He will have a huge task though in trying to slow down the versatile Barrett, who could be the X-Factor in this series.
Collins, like Trae Young, is another key future piece for the Hawks. Only 23 years old, he averaged 17.4 ppg and shot 40% from three point range.
But Collins will going against Randle who had a season for the ages and was the biggest reason for the Knicks turnaround. Julius averaged 24.1 ppg, 10.2 rebounds and 6 assists. Randle also shot 41% from downtown and 81% from the charity stripe. He also owned Atlanta in the regular season, averaging 37.3 ppg against them, including two 40+ point games.
Center: Clint Capella vs Nerlens Noel
Nerlens Noel has done a terrific job filling in for the injured Mitchell Robinson. Noel has been a defensive terror as advertised. He averaged 2.2 blocks, which placed him third in the league and has made constant key blocks down the stretch in close games.
But Capella has been a beast all year and he can be the difference maker for the Hawks in this series. Along with his 2.0 blocks, which placed him fourth in the league, Clint also averaged 15.2 ppg and 14.3 rebounds. Like Randle, Capela has also been a double double machine all year, including 24 points and 23 rebounds in one game.
Both teams have solid depth in their bench. How their benches perform, could also be a big factor in the series result.
The Hawks bench will counter with a lot of perimeter threats. Kevin Huerter, former Knick Danilo Gallinari, and former Sixth Man Lou Williams are all threats from the perimeter. All of them shot over 36% from downtown. Former Virginia University star De’Andre Hunter is a versatile forward and Onyeka Okongwu will provide some size down low.
The Knicks bench is a little more versatile. Derrick Rose and rookie Immanuel Quickley are the backup point guards. Both of them have been solid all year. Rose has had a renaissance season and is a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Along with attacking the rim, Rose has improved his three point shooting as well. Quickley has been the steal of the draft and provides another perimeter threat.
Alec Burks is the backup shooting guard and like Bullock, has been a three point from three point range and is a solid perimeter defender. Taj Gibson has been a solid backup center, providing a low post presence down low. The Knicks can also have a secret weapon on their bench in Frank Ntilikina, who they can use to defend Trae Young.
Head Coach: Nate McMillan vs Tom Thibodeau
Two terrific coaches. The Hawks turned their season around after McMillan took over midway. They went 27-11 the rest of the way under Nate. The question now for Nate is if he can translate his regular season success into the playoffs. In his previous stop with the Indiana Pacers, Indy got swepted in the first round in back to back years in 2019 and 2020.
Thibodeau meanwhile has done the unthinkable and one of the biggest accomplishments in the NBA. Turn the Knicks around from constant perennial losers to a playoff teams. He took over a team that won 21 games the year before, and won 41 games and a 4th spot this season. He changed the culture around, by preaching defense, grit and more ball movement. Deservedly a Coach of the Year candidate.
This looks to be a competitive series that can go the distance. Both teams are evenly matched.
The Hawks have won with plenty of offensive firepower, especially from the perimeter with players like Young, Bogdanovic, Gallinari, Huerter and co. The Knicks have won with a hard nosed defense, similar to the 1990’s Knicks gritty style.
So it’s sort of a tale of two opposites. Even though the NBA has morphed into more of an offense, perimeter style play, defense still matters and is still a difference come playoff time.
The Knicks offense is also more trust worthy than the Hawks defense. Even though McMillan is known as a defensive guy from his playing days, Atlanta has been one of the worst defensive teams.
The Knicks offense is better than advertised and they actually finished fourth in three point efficiency as a team. Along with Randle’s prowess, Barrett has been a solid No. 2 player. But Rose may have been the Knicks second best player down the stretch. Burks, Bullock and Quickley all provide help from the perimeter as well.
In the end, it all comes down to how the Knicks D handles the Hawks perimeter game, which certainly won’t be an easy task, especially with how they defend Trae Young. Atlanta will look to double team Randle more especially with how he manhandled them in the regular season. If the Knicks supporting cast gives Randle help and provides consistent offense, it will be a long series for the Hawks.
Close, long series but I will give the Knicks the edge. They have home court advantage and the better defense.
Pick: Knicks in 7
What you guys think? Who is your pick to win this series? Leave a comment below.
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