The New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks will face off for just the third time ever. History does not favor the Hawks here since the Knicks won convincingly in each of their prior playoff meetings, holding a head-to-head record advantage of 8-1. However, those prior meetings from decades ago have no impact on this year’s teams so let’s investigate and see which squad should win what could be an epic Knicks vs Hawks series.
Knicks vs Hawks Playoff Preview
The Big Apple
As is the nature of the four versus five matchup, these two teams have similar records. And when I say similar I actually mean identical records. The Hawks and Knicks have been almost identical not only with their 41-31 record but also with their advanced statistics. They both have an SRS of 2.1, an SOS of 2.3, and a net rating of 2.4. Just from these numbers alone, this matchup should be a tossup but how they got to these stats couldn’t be more different.
The Knicks are a relatively simple team to understand. Their goal is to be as bruising and tough as possible and hope that with their intense defensive mentality combined with Julius Randle‘s superb offensive play that they can grind out a win. The Knicks held true to this identity all season. With defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau, New York’s finest ended up with the best defensive field goal and three-point percentages in the league. Randle, on the other hand, is the favorite to win the Most Improved Player award after his stellar All-Star campaign in which he averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. He became just the sixth player to ever match or exceed those numbers. In fact, if Nikola Jokic wins the MVP award, Randle will be the only player on that list without an MVP to his name.
The Hawks are a tale of two seasons. Through 34 games the Hawks were just 14-20 and 11th in the conference. Then the Hawks did the unthinkable. They fired Lloyd Pierce. This was the rare instance of a team firing a coach midseason but before it was too late. By simply replacing Pierce with an average coach in Nate McMillan, the Hawks started to figure things out. The Hawks were 11th in offense and 23rd in defense before the break, and since have been ninth and 12th in those categories. While the Knicks specialize in defense, the Hawks are more well-rounded. They can win a grinded-out game, or they can outshoot you with the capabilities of Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Danilo Gallinari.
Despite having star point guard Young, the Hawks are not nearly as reliant on a single player as the Knicks are with Randle. If Young isn’t having a good night then Bogdanovic, Gallinari, Collins, Huerter, or Hunter can each carry the night’s scoring load while also having defensive anchor Clint Capela to clean up their mistakes.
How do they match up?
If you just looked at their regular-season meetings you would think the Knicks own the Peach State since they won each of those three games. Two of those games were before the Hawks switched coaches and the third one the Hawks were winning quite convincingly until Young twisted his ankle and was done for the night. And even that one had to go to overtime. So in reality there isn’t much we can take away from these three games. Neither of these teams has ever made the playoffs with their current cores, so we do not have that to look back on either. The oddsmakers also think this is a complete crapshoot since the Hawks are only very slight favorites over the Knicks.
Personally, I believe the Hawks are the superior team though. They have more ways to win games than the Knicks. The Knicks are a good shooting team but their offense is almost entirely reliant on Randle, a 26-year-old who has played in exactly zero playoff games in his career. The Hawks have more players who are capable of creating for themselves and for others while also still being a good defensive team. Like most four-five series, this one will probably go long. Maybe even to a game seven in Madison square garden. I think the Knicks would have a pretty clear advantage with game seven on their home floor which is why the Hawks would have to win it in six. So in a Knicks vs Hawks playoff series, I’m going with the ATL.
Prediction: Hawks over Knicks in six games
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