After a season mired in complacency and an early playoff exit, the Atlanta Hawks made a large splash in the offseason. The eighth-seeded Hawks sent a sizable package to San Antonio in exchange for All-Star guard Dejounte Murray. The Hawks now arguably boast the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference, pairing the defensive stud with All-NBA guard Trae Young. Though the fit is lauded, many are not too convinced and are also not convinced the package was worth the return.
Atlanta Hawks: Advantages
Murray’s presence on defense alone upgrades a squad that had the 25th-worst defensive rating in the league. The Hawks would often have to scramble in order to hide Young’s deficiencies, often having Kevin Huerter tasked with guarding opposing star point guards. When healthy, De’Andre Hunter would also get called to do so, but he is significantly better at guarding wings and sizing up versus dealing with faster guards. While the Hawks hide Young in better matchups, Murray can make things difficult for opposing ball handlers.
The often lazy comparison has been made between Trae Young and Steph Curry from the moment he entered the league. Those who watch both players can tell you that, aside from long-range ability, Young’s play style differs drastically from the reigning Finals MVP. From the beginning of his career, Young has been a heliocentric offensive engine.
Many wish he played more like Curry, with more off-the-ball action. In a limited showing, Young shot 48.1% on catch-and-shoot threes. Murray’s offensive ability gives the Hawks another competent ball handler with creative ability, incentivizing Young to be more than a dangerous catch-and-shoot threat. This opens new doors for an already potent Hawks offense.
A second star in Atlanta alone eases the burden for Young, regardless of a cohesive play style. With another guard who is unselfish and plays both sides of the ball, Murray could be a major difference-maker for years to come. After almost bringing a rebuilding Spurs team into playoff contention, Murray looks to make a difference as a member of a winner.
A more egalitarian offense will also create more buy-in with the rest of this Hawks team to commit on offense and defense, a major issue from last season that needed fixing. Murray is a bonafide shot creator and excels in the midrange. A clear second option is something this Hawks team has been searching for since Young’s arrival.
Atlanta Hawks: Disadvantages
The main flaw pointed out with this flashy new pairing is Dejounte Murray’s shooting numbers. Not an abysmal shooter, but Murray shot 33% from three-point range for his career, hitting below that mark at 32.7% last season. These numbers would make anyone feel dubious about their ability to play with a player that draws so much attention as Trae Young. Murray’s catch-and-shoot numbers aren’t fantastic either, shooting 34.5% on such attempts. This is certainly a storyline to keep an eye out for.
The other critique, albeit a weak one, is the fact that Murray is also a high-usage player. Though many would think the myths about fits between high-usage players would have been dispelled with the successful pairings of players like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, or Chris Paul and James Harden, some have used this to scrutinize Atlanta. Through limited preseason action in Abu Dhabi, the fit seemed to work fairly well, with both players initiating and moving off-ball.
The final con isn’t necessarily in regards to the on-court fit, but long-term implications. Many have voiced that the Hawks gave up too much for Murray, with draft equity for many years in the future being given to San Antonio. The Hawks would argue that they don’t have any intentions of being bad during those years (2025, 2026, and 2027), but detractors would say that in the modern NBA, with constant movement and changing of luck, anything could happen by that point in time.
Murray himself will hit free agency in two seasons and expect a payday after being on a relatively team-friendly deal. The Hawks believe this move puts them into title contender status, but with an improved Eastern Conference, many argue that all it did was raise the floor of the team, not necessarily the ceiling.
Atlanta Hawks: Prediction
The Hawks can certainly claim they have the best backcourt duo in the Eastern Conference; their only legitimate rival would be the new pair in Cleveland. With an already deep team in place, the addition of a second star certainly propels the Hawks above their standing from last season. Atlanta is poised to take advantage of the turmoil in Brooklyn and Boston to try and secure a top-4 spot in the Eastern Conference, health provided.
Many lessons were learned from last year’s disappointing run, and Murray’s arrival moves the Hawks closer to finding the solutions they need. The fit between two players who clearly wanted to play with each other and whose games confidently complement each other will be seamless.