ATLANTA (AP) - Trae Young gladly accepted his role as the new face of the Atlanta Hawks.
He knows he will have to step up his game even more to make the franchise relevant in the NBA.
Young had a brilliant debut season, averaging 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game while showing fearlessness in clutch situations. He finished as runner-up to Dallas’ Luka Doncic in rookie of the year balloting.
“I had pretty much everything thrown at me at least a couple of times last year,” Young said. “I know it’s going to be even tougher this year, but that’s something you work on during the summer and something I knew I needed to be even more prepared for. Be able to adjust at any moment to what defenses are trying to do.”
Even with two of the NBA’s top young players in Young and high-flying John Collins, the Hawks struggled to a 29-53 record. They are still in the midst of a massive rebuilding job, so it will be another year or two before they are ready to make a big push in the free-agent market.
Young thrives on those who doubt him and his team.
“There’s never going to be 100% of the people on my side, and that’s OK,” he said. “That chip of proving people wrong will always be there.”
Young paired well with the 6-foot-10 Collins, who emerged as the team’s top scorer (19.5) and rebounder (9.8). It will be intriguing to see how they develop in their second season together.
Young needs to become a better defensive player. Collins must expand his shooting range. Their continued improvement will be a key to the Hawks’ success. Also keep an eye on shooting guard Kevin Huerter, another former first-round pick. He didn’t have Young’s immediate impact as a rookie but was an effective outside threat by the end of the season.
“We’re still in foundation mode,” second-year coach Lloyd Pierce said. “Progression will be a word I use all year.”
While the Hawks lost out in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, they still added to their core with a pair of top 10 draft picks.
De’Andre Hunter is a polished wing player who starred in Virginia’s run to the national championship. He gives the Hawks a much-needed defensive presence as well as another threat from 3-point range.
Cam Reddish might have even more upside, though his lone college season at Duke was a bit of a disappointment. The Hawks will focus on his development, hoping he matures into a key contributor in the seasons to come.
Atlanta also landed center Bruno Fernando with a second-round pick. He’s not likely to play much at the outset, but could be worth watching down the road.
“We’re a really young group,” general manager Travis Schlenk said. “That’s what is real exciting from my seat. What I see is what we could be.”
Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, is looking for a reset with the Hawks. Parker is still just 24 years old and has averaged 15.1 points per game over his first five seasons in the league, including a career-best 20.1 with Milwaukee in 2016-17, but he has yet to reach his full potential.
Schlenk said the Hawks are looking to “maybe spark something in him. We’re talking about a kid who was the second pick in the draft, who was the No. 1 player in high school, who won four state championships in high school. He’s an extremely talented player.”
CENTER OF THINGS
The Hawks are taking on another project at center: Seven-footer Damian Jones was acquired from the Golden State Warriors, where he barely played the last three seasons.
Atlanta hopes that he’ll have a breakout season, mirroring Alex Len’s progress after joining the Hawks Len averaged 11.1 points and showed surprising skills for a 7-footer from beyond the arc (36.3 percent from 3-point range).
Forty-two-year-old Vince Carter is returning for his record 22nd - and final - season. Carter showed last season that he’s still got game (he played in 76 games, including nine starts), but he doesn’t figure to get a lot of minutes in his last hurrah. The Hawks made it clear his role this season will be more of a player-coach and mentor to a bunch of teammates who are young enough to be his sons.
Associated Press writer George Henry contributed to this report.
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