Somehow, in one of the most unpredictable matchups of the playoffs, the underdog five seed Atlanta Hawks defeated the number one seed Philadelphia 76ers to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks weren’t even expected to face the 76ers, as many thought that the New York Knicks’ bruising defense would contain them in the first round. However, after a five-game demolition of the Knicks, the Hawks beat the 76ers in seven painstakingly close games. While this reflection comes somewhat late, as the Hawks are playing in the Eastern Conference Finals as of the writing of this blog, hopefully it will be insightful as well. Here are five takeaways we need to learn and look for in the future:
#5: This year’s playoffs are all about the underdogs
Aside from the Hawks coming back from down big against the 76ers, many other upsets have happened in this year’s playoffs as well. On the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket, the Milwaukee Bucks upset the Brooklyn Nets in a seven-game series that saw Game Seven feature overtime, a go-ahead basket, and an incredible shot by Kevin Durant that ended up being an airball as he was tired and never rested during the game. I watched the whole game, and at the end, my conclusion was…. Why doesn’t Durant have shoes that are two sizes smaller? Smaller feet=championships. If you don’t get what I mean, look at this:
The Nets were the favorites to come out of the East, with former MVPs James Harden and Durant, as well as All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. They had a good supporting cast with players such as Joe Harris, Jeff Green, Nicholas Claxton, Bruce Brown, Blake Griffin, and more. However, the Bucks played great defense (injuries to Harden and Irving helped as well), except for certain moments such as Game Six, when Kevin Durant had a 49 point triple-double which was the third greatest playoff performance ever. The Bucks played wonderfully, and I think they will defeat the Hawks to make it to the NBA Finals.
On the other side of the playoff bracket, the Suns obliterated the Denver Nuggets in a four-game sweep, which wasn’t expected. The Nuggets had MVP Nikola Jokic, and while everyone knew they weren’t going all the way this year due to an injury to Jamal Murray, people still thought the Nuggets might make the Western Conference Finals. However, Devin Booker and Chris Paul have proved to be one of the best backcourts in the NBA, gelling wonderfully while Deandre Ayton thrived in the paint and wing players blossomed into key threats under the guiding hand of head coach Monty Williams. It will be interesting to see if the Suns can make it to the NBA Finals, and personally, I’m rooting for them because I want Paul to win a championship.
The Utah Jazz, the other number one seed in the 2021 NBA playoffs, was also upset, this time by the Los Angeles Clippers. What made this upset even more spectacular is that while Utah had its three All-Stars (if you count Mike Conley being included as an injury placement), the Clippers only had one of their two stars. Kawhi Leonard was injured and did not play in Game’s Five and Six… however, Paul George put the team on his back, and with some help from Terrance Mann, delivered the team to their first conference finals in 51 years, before the team was moved to California and even called the Clippers.
One thing’s for sure… never expect the top seed to win in this year’s playoffs.
#4: Trae Young was severely underrated this season
Despite the fact that Young statistically dropped a little bit from his 2019-20 season this year, his overall performance has been amazing. You can argue whether or not he should have made the All-NBA Third Team, but there shouldn’t have been any doubt about Young being an All-Star, or at the very least, being a better person to replace Devin Booker in the All-Star game than MIKE CONLEY! Whatever the case, Young averaged 25.3 points, 9.4 assists, and 3.9 rebounds this season as compared to last season where he averaged 29.6 points, 9.3 assists, and 4.3 rebounds. While the Hawks got off to a terrible start during the 2020-21 season, this wasn’t Young’s fault. The blame was placed on Lloyd Pierce, as after a 14-20 start, the Hawks fired Pierce, and replaced him with Nate McMillan, who had recently been fired by the Indiana Pacers. McMillan revitalized Atlanta’s offense by adding more motion into the offense, and turned the team from play-in bound to a secure berth in the NBA playoffs. However, despite the turnaround, Young still was underrated by everyone.
During the first two rounds of the 2021 NBA playoffs, Young averaged 29.1 points, 10.4 assists, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals on 41.3% shooting. Considering that this is Young’s first ever year in the playoffs, leading his team to the Eastern Conference Finals is more than impressive. It’s astounding, and it really makes you scratch your head when you realize that in one year, Young has taken his team further than Luka Doncic has in two (and Doncic has a co-All-Star in Kristaps Porzingis). In his first ever playoff game, Young had 32 points, seven rebounds, and 10 assists while hitting a game-winning floater to give the Hawks their first Game 1 victory since 2016.
Counting the first two playoff series, Young has a record of 8-4 in the playoffs, has recorded seven double-doubles, and made me realize that the last two years the Hawks did not make the playoffs were not to blame on him. As the old saying goes, “Quality over quantity.” Although some stars drag their team to the playoffs every year, they often get bounced in the first or second round. Young made up for not making the playoffs by leading the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Trade Scenario: Ben Simmons for Kristaps Porzingis and a second round pick
#3: Kevin Huerter is the Hawks’ X-Factor
Kevin Huerter has proven to be the X-Factor for the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, especially during the 76ers-Hawks matchup. As the team’s starting shooting guard, Huerter makes sure that defenses don’t double Trae Young, because if they do, Young can easily find Huerter due to his incredible court vision and passing. While Huerter is nowhere near as good as Young, he has shot around 38% from three for his career, and has shot that same amount in this year’s playoffs. Huerter has averaged 11, four, and three so far, and his consistent shooting gives his team a boost when they are trying to come back from a double-digit deficit. He also gives Young room to run pick-and-rolls with John Collins and Clint Capela.
It isn’t a stretch to say that the Hawks wouldn’t have beat the 76ers without Huerter. In the first game of the series, Huerter put up a solid 15 points, but in Game Two, he had 20. His only playoff double-double so far in his career came in a losing effort in Game Six, with 17 points and 11 rebounds. However, what really made the difference was Huerter’s Game Seven performance. In the deciding battle between both teams, Huerter scored 27 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out three assists, helping to lead the Hawks to a seven-point victory over the 76ers and sending the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals.
#2: Tyrese Maxey could be the 76ers point guard of the future
Despite the fact that Maxey’s playoff statistics don’t exactly jump off the page at you, his value on the court goes beyond stats. Despite getting inconsistent minutes, he was a helpful role player for the 76ers, averaging 6.3 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists for 13 minutes of playing time a game. Since he doesn’t get that much playing time, let’s look at his Per 36 Minute numbers to get a better look at what Maxey can do when given the opportunity. Per 36 minutes, Maxey is averaging 18.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game, which are excellent numbers.
In 156 playoff minutes this year, Maxey only recorded five turnovers, meaning he is smart with the ball and won’t pass up open dunks or layups (yes, that was a subtle dig at Ben Simmons). He also can shoot the ball, like most point guards coming out of Kentucky (save for Rajon Rondo). Maxey shot 33% from three and 44% from the field this year, and while he isn’t jacking up threes every second he’s in the game, he shoots the ball more often than Simmons does. When Maxey gets more minutes, he will be ready to help lead Philadelphia to their future, whether it is or isn’t with Simmons. Speaking of which:
#1: Ben Simmons must be traded
While Doc Rivers has said that he and the franchise have a plan to work on Simmons’ shot and get him to shoot more often and more accurately, many are skeptical and weary of this. It seems as though every year, someone says Simmons will improve his shot, and he never does.
Although Simmons was still named an All-Star this year, it’s worth pointing out that he had a worse year than the previous season. Simmons led the league in steals in 2020 with 2.1, as well as averaging 0.6 blocks and 5.8 defensive rebounds a game. Now, in 2021, Simmons was named a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate despite putting up 0.6 blocks, 7.2 defensive rebounds, and 1.6 steals? While Simmons is making baby steps in the right direction, he is not progressing fast enough to be the second star everyone thought he would be. Against the Hawks in the 4th quarter of Game’s Four-Seven, Simmons tallied a total of six points, three assists, two turnovers, and 34 minutes! In 48 minutes of crunch-time basketball, Simmons did not even score double-digits! This looks like a stat-line from a bench warmer! In this time, Simmons also shot a dismal 6-12 from the free throw line.
This is why my perfect trade scenario for Philadelphia would be this:
76ers receive: Kristaps Porzingis
Mavericks receive: Ben Simmons, ’22 or ’23 second round pick
Why is this a good trade?
This trade works very well for both teams. Let’s look at the 76ers’ side of things first.
The 76ers have been trying to build a championship ever since they drafted Joel Embiid in 2014 and attained the number one overall picks in 2016 and 2017. “Trust the Process” has been their motto, and the crazy Philadelphia fans have done just that. However, after a second round exit in 2018, a second round exit in 2019, a first round sweep by the Celtics in 2020, and a second round exit in 2021, things are starting to get restless. The 76ers have/had enough talent to get to the Eastern Conference Finals, but never seem to get there. Simmons’ shooting has always been a problem for him, and he doesn’t generate nearly enough offense for a point guard who could shoot over just about anybody. He’s averaging around 16 points per game for his career, well below that of a usual All-Star. The 76ers need a scoring injection and a more traditional point guard. I believe that Maxey can step up and be the 76ers Point Guard of the Future, and Kristaps Porzingis can take over at Power Forward, giving them another scoring threat. Philadelphia would get a set of twin towers, but what makes it so scary is that they are deadly from anywhere. Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson were amazing as Twin Towers in 1986 when they made the NBA Finals… could you imagine if they could shoot the three? They would have to have been guarded by the perimeter, and the Rockets would have won so many championships.
While Al Horford and Embiid didn’t work together, I think Porzingis and Embiid could. Porzingis has been unhappy in his role with Dallas, and since the 76ers need another spark for offense, he should be getting many more scoring opportunities. Porzingis is injury prone and not terribly efficient, but his trade stock is low, and he may be one of the best players the 76ers can get for Simmons.
As for the Dallas side of things, it’s clear Luka Doncic is the alpha dog and anyone else is playing second fiddle. Porzingis could handle that to a point, but he eventually complained and wanted more shots. Simmons is a great complement to Doncic, as he doesn’t demand the ball and can play power forward or point guard beside Doncic. If Simmons is passing up open dunks and not shooting in crunch time, there’s no reason he should be complaining about not getting shots. Doncic would thrive even more on-ball, and maybe a change of scenery and playing off-ball to Doncic might do Simmons some good.
This trade works so well because both players have relatively similar salaries, were/are All-Stars, and have trade stocks that are at a current all-time low for both. Neither one of these teams has a real chance at trading their respective player for another big-time star, so unless they want a few role players and maybe a few draft picks, I think this may be as good as it gets for both teams.
What do you think of the takeaways and potential trade-scenario? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always have an awesome day!