Atlanta Hawks: The “Underdog Hoopers” are giving the Hawks a boost

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images /

In the past two seasons, the Atlanta Hawks have been doomed without Trae Young. They’ve also been doomed when Young was on the court. Fast forward to this season, and they’ve had more help than they could ask for. If “next man up” was a person – or in this instance a group of people – it would be them.

For a team that has had some of the most injuries this season, the Hawks have still found a way to fight and win games without their core players. So if De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Danilo Gallinari, Kris Dunn, Tony Snell, and Trae Young are missing important games down the stretch, who’s been stepping up?

Bogdan Bogdanovic calls them the “Underdog Hoopers.”

The Atlanta Hawks have had many injuries during the season, which means others have had to step up. Bogdan Bogdanovic calls them the “Underdog Hoopers”.

In a postgame interview, Brandon Goodwin talked about his time playing at Best Friend Park (Gwinnett County) before he was in the league, and how every time he passes the park it reminds him of where he came from. If he’s been using that as motivation this season, things have been working out well for him.

When Rajon Rondo was on the team, Goodwin was barely seeing the court, and if he did it was during garbage time. Since Rondo has been traded, Goodwin has been playing more minutes, but his real impact has shown when Young doesn’t play.

Young went down against the Knicks, and Goodwin came right in and hit a big shot. In a game where the Hawks were missing almost half of their roster against the Heat, Goodwin came out and played an impressive game. It’s almost like he took some of Trae’s secret stuff before this shot:

One thing that makes Goodwin even more impressive is his scrappiness and energy, and he plays big even when he’s the smallest player on the court.

Kevin Huerter was the one player on the Hawks that many didn’t know where he would fit after all the acquisitions made in the offseason. Instead, Huerter has played in every game so far, has started and come off the bench and has been playing good basketball as of late.

Huerter has a versatile skillset. He can score from all three levels on the court and has grown into a solid defender. With the Hawks missing their best perimeter defenders, Huerter has taken on the challenge of guarding the opposing team’s best player. He also leads the teams in steals and steals per game.

When everybody comes back healthy, there’s no telling what his role will be, but we know for certain he has earned the minutes.

Onyeka Okongwu has taken a big leap from his first game to now during the season. When he was coming back from injury, he didn’t look like he knew his place on the court, and he was rushing a lot on offense.

Now, he’s showing a soft touch around the rim, is making smart decisions and is slowly developing into an underrated defensive big man. There have been numerous times late in the season where Okongwu gets switched onto a guard or forward, and he’s been able to keep up with them on the perimeter.

Two of my favorite plays from Okongwu have come strictly from his presence on the defensive side of the ball.

In the play above, Okongwu gets matched up on Keldon Johnson. As Johnson drives, Okongwu gets the block, and the ball finds its way to Patty Mills in the corner. Okongwu rushes over to the corner and stays grounded, preparing for a potential drive or shot from Mills. Mills settles for the shot, and Okongwu does a good job of closing out.

Okongwu has been compared to Bam Adebayo, mostly because of the work he can do on defense around the perimeter. In this clip, Okongwu switches on Kent Bazemore, and he’s able to use his long wingspan to reach in for the ball. Okongwu recovers the ball near the sideline and drives into the heart of Bazemore.

You have to give credit to Bazemore for going straight up on the contest, but Okongwu has to know to go up stronger on a smaller defender. Nonetheless, in every game it seems as if Okongwu is getting better and showing something new in his arsenal.

The Hawks needed veterans, and Solomon Hill seemed like a good choice to have on the team, especially after just coming from an NBA Finals trip with the Heat months before signing with the Hawks. Not only has Hill been leaving his imprint on the team as a vocal leader, but he’s gained more minutes with injuries as well.

While John Collins was out, Hill was moved into the starting lineup and his presence has been felt on both sides of the ball. Even though he’s small for his size to play at the four, he uses his physicality to match up against the bigger forwards he’s had to face. Like Goodwin, he’s a scrappy player willing to dive for loose balls and getting second-chance opportunities.

Lou Williams is another veteran player that the Hawks have had the luxury to add to their team, as he provides an extra scoring punch off the bench. He’s been on and off most nights, but when the Hawks really need him, he gives them a much-needed score.

The player to round out the underdogs is Bogdan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic has been on a tear in the month of April, averaging 21.5 points per game while shooting 49.6 percent from three. He leads the Eastern Conference in threes this month and is second to Steph Curry in the entire NBA.

It’s safe to say that the Hawks have needed everything Bogdanovic has given them this month, and he’s the sole reason the Hawks have won some of their games. Similar to Huerter, Bogdanovic can get a shot almost anywhere on the court, and now when he misses it’s a surprise. He’s turned into the perfect backcourt mate for Young, but he’s also shown that he can carry the offense himself.

Remember that “secret stuff” Goodwin used in the Heat game? Bogdanovic took some too to put the dagger in them.

This Hawks team has shown resiliency through the entire season, no matter how many injuries they’ve suffered. Every player has stepped up in their own way, and you have to give credit to Nate McMillan and the coaching staff.

After their win against the Heat, Young put out this tweet:

It reminded me of this line J.Cole said in the song “Looking for trouble”: “Ironic you been sleeping on the one that you been dreaming ‘bout”.

Don’t sleep on the Hawks’ “underdogs”, because they’ve shown throughout the season that they can put a good game together.

Next. Each franchise's best duo. dark