HomeBasketball TodayBlame the Hawks: Season-Ending Loss to Bulls in Play-In Game

Blame the Hawks: Season-Ending Loss to Bulls in Play-In Game

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The Hawks’ 2023-24 season mercifully comes to an end at the hands of the Bulls in the play-in tournament.

The Atlanta Hawks have been limping towards the play-in tournament for quite some time now. They may have gotten Trae Young back from a finger injury in recent weeks, but the Hawks never really stood a chance to make a playoff run — especially with Jalen Johnson, Onyeka Okongwu, and Saddiq Bey all out with injuries. Thus, the end of the Hawks’ season became a matter of inevitability, and on Wednesday night, the Chicago Bulls mercifully ended their season with a dominant 131-116 victory.

Atlanta is now facing plenty of questions regarding its future; Young has found himself in trade talks over the past year or so, and talks of a potential trade are only going to get louder the deeper we go into the offseason. But the Hawks cannot punt on the next few seasons and start anew, as they owe their unprotected 2025 and 2027 first-round picks to the San Antonio Spurs, in addition to a pick swap in 2026.

Circumstances are looking bleak for the Hawks, especially when a few of the players they expect to deliver for them on a nightly basis failed to hold their end of the bargain during their play-in loss to the Bulls. With that said, here are the two players who should shoulder the most blame for their disastrous play-in defeat.

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Trae Young’s Hawks swan song?

Trae Young returned from injury just in time to try and lead the Hawks to an improbable run to the eight-seed. But all Young did was perhaps play his last games as a member of the franchise, and perform poorly at that.

Young struggled with his shot in the blowout loss to the Bulls. He airballed a few jump shots, missed a few of his pet floaters, and looked rather lethargic. He finished the game with 22 points and 10 assists, but he struggled from the field, going 4-12, with the only saving grace being his ability to get to the foul line (11-13 from the charity stripe).

The Hawks star point guard wasn’t already the best defensive player in the world. He has markedly improved on that end this past season, but against the Bulls, he was back to his usual turnstile ways. He let his man get by him a couple of times, he was late to a few rotations, and his effort level looked like it came from a man who knew that his season was about to end.

Major changes might be afoot for a Hawks franchise going nowhere fast. They can try to run it back next season, perhaps with a healthier roster, but at this point, it’s fair to wonder just how high this roster’s ceiling is.

Back in the 2020-21 season, it looked as though De’Andre Hunter was going to emerge as the two-way wing the Hawks needed to compete year-in, year-out. Hunter’s scoring efficiency and confidence was soaring, and he was only 23 at the time, which led many to believe that he could fit the archetype of the 3 and D, shot-creating wing any contending team needs to flourish.

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Since then, however, Hunter’s play has remained relatively steady. He hasn’t improved much; in fact, his efficiency has declined even though his three-point shooting has improved in recent seasons. The 26-year old has stagnated, and he has even lost his starting spot this season, coming off the bench for 20 of the 57 games he played in.

De’Andre Hunter doesn’t have the top-shelf athleticism to get to the rim consistently. Thus, he settles for jumpshots often, and his accuracy is hit or miss. And on Wednesday night against the Bulls, boy, was Hunter missing or what?

In dire need of his offensive production with three of the team’s rotation players missing due to injury, Hunter was a disappointment in the Hawks’ play-in loss to the Bulls. Hunter shot a horrific 3-17 from the field, including 0-7 from deep, finishing with just eight points. The Hawks were outscored by 16 points in his minutes, as he did nothing to help his team on either end of the floor.

It will be a painful sight for Hawks fans to see that De’Andre Hunter’s huge contract runs for three more seasons; the 27-year old will be making nearly $70 million until the 2026-27 season, and at this point, it’s looking like Hunter’s production won’t be matching the amount of space he’s taking up on the Hawks’ cap sheet.

A change of scenery may be what’s needed for Hunter; the Hawks explored trading him away this past offseason, so expect them to revisit that idea given how much he’s underperforming.

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