Taking the 5th seed, the Atlanta Hawks will take on the 4th placed New York Knicks, which should be quite the matchup. New York, with the number three ranked defense, facing off against Atlanta with the number eight ranked offense that has improved greatly throughout the second half of the season.
First, I’d like to explain one of the major factors that is fueling this team, and that is Bogdan Bogdanovic. Darkhorse for MIP? No, but Bogdanovic’s improvement since the all-star break has been tremendous. To give you a quick example, over the past 6 games, he has averaged 23.5 PPG while shooting 57.3% from the field and 55.4% from three. His movement off-ball is exceptional, and his teammate’s picks are what seals the deal for an open three (or simply enough room for him to get the shot off).
The Knicks will struggle to handle Clint Capela and John Collins in the paint. With the Knicks announcing on March 28th that Mitchell Robinson fractured his foot and would be out indefinitely, that leaves them with Nerlens Noel as the only defensive stopper/shot blocker. No offense to the 35-year-old Taj Gibson, but the Hawks will take full advantage of him in pick and roll situations. Gibson is not quick enough to press up on Trae Young but also doesn’t have the athleticism to contest a lob to Clint Capela. Like many other centers throughout the league who aren’t 35, Gibson will likely be stuck in the middle between a Trae Young floater and a Clint Capela jam.
Now that I’ve touched on the pick and roll situation in Atlanta, let’s unravel the full arsenal that the Hawks have incorporated into their offense. Trae Young’s floater is elite. Teams are forced to press up on Young, and if they don’t, he’s making the shot at an extremely high clip. What if the defense presses up on him? This is when it’s awful handy to have two guys in Clint Capela and John Collins that are two terrific lob threats. Young is a magnificent passer and delivers accurate passes to his two big men in Capela and Collins. What if they face a team that can defend both the floater and the lob? That’s where players on the perimeter like Bogdanovic, Huerter, and Snell will chip in. Atlanta can also diversify the pick and roll game. Capela and Collins are the primaries, however, Atlanta calls plays for Danilo Gallinari to pick and pop and fire a three which he shoots at a tremendous rate, 40.6%
Lastly, the free throws. Trae Young isn’t the only one generating free throw attempts. He is shooting 8.7 per game, which is a phenomenal number, but the team averages 24.2 FTA per game, which ranks 4th among the NBA. They shoot those free throws at 81.2%, which ranks 5th among the league. If this team can score consistently from three (because they can in the paint with their big men on a daily basis) they could be lethal even to a team as good defensively as the Knicks.
It sure is exhilarating to have playoff basketball back in the garden, and with an increased amount of fans allowed throughout the playoffs, New York and MSG will be bouncing with excitement.