Last night the New York Knicks lost in Atlanta to the Hawks. This is not big news. If you’d told fans of either team before the season that in January the latter would win a home game versus the former, neither fan base would blink.
However, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there really aren’t that many Hawks fans. I searched “Atlanta Hawks fans” in the system we use via SB Nation for article photos and LITERALLY got images of the Milwaukee Bucks and their fans, the Detroit Pistons and their fans, the Houston Rockets and their fans — yet no Hawks fans. Zero. For years, any team with any semblance of a fan base could count on games in Atlanta being de facto home games. That’s understandable: the Atlanta Hawks haven’t really ever been really good. Never a title contender. Never made the Finals. They’re less popular than the Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Falcons, Georgia football and possibly the Atlanta Thrashers, the NHL franchise that left years ago for Winnipeg.
This past summer the Hawks traded three first-round picks, a pick swap, Danilo Gallinari and essentially Kevin Huerter for Dejounte Murray. While the Albany-born Huerter wasn’t actually in the Murray trade, Atlanta owner Antony Ressler is only worth $6,100,000,000.00 and might’ve had to take on a paper route to cover the couple mil Huerter would’ve cost against the luxury tax, so Atlanta shipped him to Sacramento — who, thanks in part to a career-year so far from Huerter, are way better than the Hawks.
(Doesn’t Ressler looks like a soap opera silver fox villain who gaslights his way-too-young wife into believing she’s going crazy, she never was pregnant, those baby’s cries that wake her every night are all in her head? This is a man who takes his scotch neat.)
The Kings aren’t the only perennial playoff peripheral currently ahead of the Hawks. Even with this loss, their third straight, the Knicks remain a half-game ahead of Trae & Co. I think most fans recognize these two teams are pretty much in the same ballpark as far as quality. The Knicks and the Hawks are the NBA’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, crossing paths with true legends while they themselves remain eternally, eminently minor characters.
And yet last night, not long after the game ended and I was loiterting on Twitter, I was accosted by multiple Hawks trolls. My crime? Responding to this.
I was told Jalen Brunson was better. pic.twitter.com/Wpk4A8uUVs— HawksMuse (@HawksMuse) January 21, 2023
Awfully full of yourself at 23-22— Miranda (@MatthewEMiranda) January 21, 2023
Turns out I short-changed the Hawks a W; they’re 24-22. I consider my mistake understandable, in light of their season-long impersonation of a dead fish. Until last night’s win they hadn’t been more than a game over .500 in six weeks.
I found it odd that a fan of a team that aspires to not just make the playoffs but make noise once there would be so full of themselves for achieveing the 18th-best record in the Association. Some of these trolls, for reasons still unknown to me, responded with vitriol about Jalen Brunson being better hyped than their big summer move, Dejounte Murray. Of course that’s ridiculous. The two players have played an almost identical number of minutes, with Brunson just five ahead of Murray, so this is more apples to apples than most comparisons. This is honeycrisps to pink ladies.
More two-pointers made? Brunson. 3s? A handful more for Murray. Brunson has made twice as many free throws. Both are shooting 50% on 2s and are terrific from the foul line (86% for Brunson, 84% for Murray). Brunson has the edge from deep, 40% to 36%. Murray is the better rebounder and the better defender. Brunson has slightly more assists, slightly fewer turnovers. Statistically, Brunson is a nose ahead, but like the teams they play for, these two are generally in the same ballpark (in continuing with the Raptors as the final member of our middle Eastern trio, welcome to the Pretty Good Point Guard Pagoda, Fred VanVleet!).
Both players deserve extra credit for excelling the way that they have while simultaneously adjusting to different roles. Brunson left a Dallas team where he could live large as Luka’s co-pilot for the largesse of the big city, where laconic need not apply — a bigger role, a bigger paycheck, a bigger story to tell, and all of it one big fat bet on himself. Murray could have led a comfortable and well-compensated life shepherding San Antonio’s flock of fledglings into the future. Instead, the former All-Star who averaged nearly a triple-double last season agreed to change positions and take major cuts in ballhandling and decision-making while playing alongside Trae Young, a man who has never ever alienated his teammates or coaches. Considering the leaps Brunson and Murray made into wildly different ecosystems, both deserve praise for their performances to this point.
Murray was brought into his team with the expectation that he’d elevate them from a play-in heavy to a playoff dark horse. And yet it’s Brunson who’s elevated his game as well as his teammates to such stunning, splendiferous skies. Still, the season is young, and this season more than most; it’s been maaaad streaky. The Knicks’ current three-game losing streak follows a seven-wins-in-eight-games stretch, which came after the five-game losing streak they piled atop an eight-game winning streak, which itself came on the heels of a two-game slide. Now Atlanta’s won six straight, pulling them just about dead even with New York. The way these two teams stumble and soar, the standings figure to remain volatile through game 82.
I’d give Brunson the slight edge over Murray at this early stage of things, but it’s already quite possible the Knicks made a better move in signing JB than the Hawks did trading for DM. Not only did the Knicks not give up all the talent, assets and draft control for their new guy as the Hawks did for theirs, but Brunson signed for three years, guaranteed (the fourth year is his option). Murray is a free agent two summers from now and has been clear he will not sign any extension before then. In 2024-25, the first year Murray will be on his new deal, the Hawks already have $113M committed to four players: Young, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela. Assuming they trade Capela before then, they’d also have to re-sign Onyeka Okongwu to a new deal and likely pick up the option on AJ Griffin. So even if they make some moves between now and then to free up money, there’s a chance the Knicks will get more years out of Taj Gibson than the Hawks do from their shiny new toy.
In conclusion, Brunson > Murray.