It has been a while since either of these teams made it to the playoffs, or had a legitimate chance of making it deep. New York is the story of the year, reborn with the help of underestimated stars who burst onto the scene. Atlanta is full of young talent headlined by Trae Young, and after a couple big signings in free agency this team is looking for a playoff run. Both teams are super talented, and as a 4 vs 5 matchup this series is set to be the most intense of the first round.
Both teams in this series are young, and will be in the hunt for years to come. This series provides one of the most valuable items to any young team, playoff experience. Both teams are going to get a series worth of playoff experience, but the winning team has more experience as well as a win. Neither team has made it to the playoffs with their young cores yet and this experience, but most importantly a win can help the development of both teams. Getting a first win in the playoffs can be huge, and the chance to play the number one or eight seed team will be huge for both teams. Getting even a single victory against the 76ers, the favorites to win that series, could be huge moral boosts to teams that were both in the lottery this season. These seasons have been breakouts for both teams, and cementing themselves as a top playoff team for years to come will start with getting a victory in this series.
Trae Young is the undisputed star of this team. He has the shooting and scoring ability that is coveted in the modern NBA. He is guaranteed 20+ points in almost every game. The key for the Hawks will be their role players. After spending big on free agency on some impact role players, they are hoping that the money will deliver in the postseason. The Hawks have eight players averaging double digits, and four players averaging 15+ppg. After coming back from a knee injury, De’Andre Hunter has been slowly getting back into form. The trio of him, John Collins, and Young was working out perfectly for the Hawks. Now that Hunter is not at 100% someone will need to pick up the production. We also do not know how well some of the young guys will produce in a postseason atmosphere. 5 of the eight players that are averaging double digits for the Hawks are under 25, and none of these guys have played in the postseason before. Adapting to the playoffs is not something easy, and that is why the Hawks added veterans to this roster. They knew that they would need clutch scoring and that guys like Lou Williams and Danillo Gallinari who had done it before, could get it done again. The Atlanta Hawks will need production from the vets with all the playoff experience and the role players who need to fill the void of a still recovering Hunter.
The New York Knicks have a strong group of guards headlined by R.J Barrett and Derrick Rose. The backcourt of the Knicks have been highly effective, and they must take advantage of a weak backcourt defense for the Hawks. The Knicks have 6 guards averaging double digits, and in a playoff situation they will need every single point they can get. R.J Barrett has been the perfect compliment to Julius Randle and he will need to punish teams when they give any extra attention to Randle. While Randle might be the Knicks superstar, the role of the guards on this team are much more important. We can expect Randle to be a consistent 20+ppg scorer, and it is up to the rest of the team, specifically the guards to add the scoring. Barrett is a former top 3 pick and Rose is a playoff vet, if there is any type of scoring that will need to happen we can expect it to come from these guys. The Hawks have a strong group of defenders on the frontcourt, Collins and Onyeka Okongwu are just a few long and lengthy defenders the Hawks will use to stop Randle, and Barrett and Rose will need to be able to advantage of one-one situations that could make all the difference in a series projected to be quite close.
I feel like this is one of the most underrated series in the playoffs. Both teams have a chance to win and I’m saying that this series is going to be at least 6 games. Both teams will put on a show, but in the end I believe that the Knicks will come out on top. It’s hard to bet against Trae Young but the amount of depth that the Knicks have and the mamba mentality that Randle will be carrying into his first playoff series is why I think New York will win this series 4-3.
Top Image: Jason Decrow/New York Times