Let’s take a look at the schedule, matchups, potential adjustments, odds, and more for this Knicks-Hawks series.
The New York Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and that’s not all. The Knicks were the biggest surprise of the 2020-21 NBA season, winning 41 games en route to home-court advantage in the first round. Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks are looking to stop the party.
This 4 vs. 5 matchup is a coin flip at pretty much every sportsbook around and that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Sure, the Knicks swept the Hawks in their regular-season series, but the regular season means nothing in the playoffs. Everything changes once it’s a seven-game series and these young teams are about to learn how to win on the fly.
Game 1 — Sunday, May 23 — 7 p.m. ET
Game 2 — Wednesday, May 26 — 7:30 p.m.
Game 3 — Friday, May 28 — 7 p.m.
Game 4 — Sunday, May 30 — 1 p.m.
Game 5 — TBD
Game 6 — TBD
Game 7 — TBD
Here are the current odds on this Knicks-Hawks series:
PointsBet: Knicks +100 // Hawks -120
DraftKings: Knicks -113 // Hawks -113
FanDuel: Knicks -105 // Hawks -115
BetMGM: Knicks -110 // Hawks -110
Game 1 odds:
Knicks Projected Starters:
PG — Elfrid Payton
SG — RJ Barrett
SF — Reggie Bullock
PF — Julius Randle
C — Nerlens Noel
Hawks Projected Starters:
PG — Trae Young
SG — Bogdan Bogdanovic
SF — De’Andre Hunter
PF — John Collins
C — Clint Capela
Julius Randle vs. Trae Young
Stars tend to shine the brightest in the playoffs, but we can’t say for sure if that will happen in this series. Julius Randle and Trae Young are making their playoff debuts and as a result, it’s tough to know what to expect from either player.
No player in the NBA ran the pick-and-roll more than Young this year. Atlanta’s entire offense runs through him and that’s going to be the case for this series as well. Young finished in the 77th percentile when it comes to pick-and-roll scoring. Shutting down the Young and Clint Capela two-man game is going to be a major key in this series, but more on that later.
The biggest difference between these star players is the fact that the Knicks can try and punish Young in mismatches. The Hawks won’t really be able to single out Randle in that same way. Randle’s breakout season is one of the major reasons why the Knicks are a playoff team. They can’t win without him having a big series.
Of course, Randle and Young won’t be matched up very often, but all eyes will be on these two in this series.
RJ Barrett X-Factor?
If we had to guess, Randle and Young are going to cancel one another out to a certain degree. That means RJ Barrett could be the X-factor when the Knicks and Hawks meet. Barrett’s growth in year two has been nothing short of remarkable. He is knocking down three-pointers at an impressive clip (40.1%) after an abysmal year from beyond the arc as a rookie (32%).
Atlanta finished third in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage (34.9%). The Knicks are going to have to knock down some shots to help soften up the interior of that defense. While they have a number of guys who can knock down the long ball, Barrett might be the most important guy of the bunch.
Teams will still cheat off of him to help out on guys like Randle and Derrick Rose. The Hawks are going to be in trouble once Barrett starts knocking down some corner threes.
The playoffs are all about adjustments. This is going to be a chess match between Tom Thibodeau and Nate McMillan. The question is which coach is going to strike first with a key adjustment?
Well, the Knicks can open the series with a major change to throw the Hawks off balance. Elfrid Payton has been a net-negative this year and he was a non-factor down the stretch. Inserting Frank Ntilikina into the starting lineup might sound like a crazy idea, but it could give the Knicks an early edge.
Tom Thibodeau says he's giving consideration to having Frank Ntilikina in his playoff rotation as the Knicks prepare to face Trae Young.
— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) May 19, 2021
“Frank has sort of been in that role as a defensive stopper. He adds great value to our team,” Thibodeau told reporters earlier this week. “What you guys don’t see is he and Kevin Knox and a bunch of other guys who aren’t in the rotation, how hard they work in practice. And we value the practice greatly. So they’re providing a lot to our team and whatever their strengths are, we’re going to try to take advantage of that.”
So, why would the Knicks make a drastic change to the starting lineup? The answer is Trae Young. Ntilikina is the best pick-and-roll defender the Knicks have and he could be very useful as the primary defender on Young. The Frenchman’s ability to use his length on the rear-contest should be effective against Young in New York’s drop-coverage scheme.
As for the offense, Ntilikina will actually give the Knicks better overall spacing on that first unit. Teams dare Payton to shoot whenever he is on the floor. Ntilikina has shown this year that he’s capable of knocking down open threes (23-for-48 3PT).
Plus, if the Knicks are hunting mismatches involving Young, Ntilikina can run the inverted pick-and-roll with Randle. Changing the starting lineup in the playoffs is a risky move, but it’s one Thibs should seriously consider.
Knicks vs. Hawks Prediction
Knicks in six.