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NBA Western Conference Bright Future Watch

The Atlanta Hawks had quite the offseason. After a dreadful 2019-20 season in which they finished 14th in the Eastern Conference standings, Travis Schlenk completely overhauled his roster. When the free agent market opened up, the Hawks dished out $158.2 million to bring in some immediate upgrades.

The first big splash was the highly sought-after Danilo Gallinari. That was the outside threat that they needed to pair with either John Collins and/or Clint Capela. They added key veteran role players like Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill, Tony Snell and Kris Dunn. They stole Onyeka Okongwu in the draft and did not lose much of anything in terms of on-court production.

Atlanta’s biggest offseason addition was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who became available after the failed trade between the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks. The restricted free agent got a four-year, $72 million deal that included a player option.

On paper, the Hawks were almost assured to be a playoff team. Their additions to the roster made them arguably the deepest team in the league. The young nucleus of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Collins and Capela now had the experience and veteran leadership to mold them into a playoff team.

After three years of collecting losses in Sacramento, Bogdanovic was eager to start winning on a consistent basis. The 28-year old shooting guard got off to a slow start with his new team. He played just five games in January before being sidelined with an injury. He was averaging just 5.6 points per game while shooting 31 percent from the floor.

Around the time of the All-Star break, Atlanta was widely regarded as the most disappointing team of the season. The ingredients were all there, but the finished product was far from delicious. This is where Atlanta’s season turned around.

Sitting 11th in the Eastern Conference standings, the Hawks fired head coach Lloyd Pierce and named Nate McMillan the interim coach. Atlanta won that first game under McMillan against the Miami HEAT, which also happened to be the night Bogdanovic returned after missing 25 games with an avulsion fracture in his right knee.

After getting his legs back under him, Bogdanovic has returned to the player we saw in Sacramento. He averaged 11.2 points per game in the month of March, while shooting 44 percent from the floor and has really come alive in his last eight games. So far in April, Bogdanovic is averaging 21.6 points per game while shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc and 51 percent overall from the floor.

Bogdanovic has been incredibly efficient shooting the ball, but he is also taking care of it extremely well. Including the preseason, Bogdanovic has played 33 games this season and has never had more than two turnovers in a game. Some of that is due to Young having the second-highest usage rate in the league, but Bogdan still has the ball in his hands a lot.

Typically, when a player carries the scoring load, the team loses. That has not been the case in Atlanta, where Bogdanovic has scored 28 points, 26 points, 21 points, and 32 points in four games this month. The Hawks won all of those contests.

The outside shooting from Atlanta has been key to their recent success. As a team, they are shooting 37.2 percent from behind the arc, which ranks 11th in the league. Both Bogdanovic and Gallinari have played a large part of that, especially in last week’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans where the Hawks were a perfect 11 of 11 from deep in the third quarter. They made 20 of their 31 three-pointers in the victory.

After the game, Young acknowledged the outstanding play of his new teammate. “It’s great to have him back and great to have him back in a groove, too,” Young said. “Everybody has been kind of feeding off him knocking down shots.” Gallinari summed it up well after Friday’s victory over the Chicago Bulls. “The chemistry is getting better.”

The Hawks were 14-20 when McMillan took over coaching duties. They won their next eight games and have now won 15 of their last 20. Bogdanovic has played in each one of those games, but they are still missing some of their key players.

Collins remains out with an ankle injury, Hunter is out after a non-surgical procedure on his knee and Reddish will miss at least four more weeks. Young, Gallinari and Snell are all day-to-day with minor issues. The Hawks were counting on Dunn to provide much-needed perimeter defense alongside Young, but he has still yet to play this season. Despite all of this, Atlanta owns the fourth-best record in the East.

When this team returns to health, they will be a team that nobody wants to face. They still aren’t at the level of Brooklyn, Philadelphia or Milwaukee but they are coming together at the right time. Everything seems to be clicking for Atlanta. They have not had a taste of postseason basketball since the 2016-17 season. Now they just might be able to host their first playoff game in State Farm Arena, as one of the top four seeds in the East.

There have been some dark days in Atlanta, but going forward, the future for this team is extremely bright.

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