Charles Barkley Sends an Unpopular Message About a Recent Conference Finalist: ‘They’re Not Better Than the Chicago Bulls’

In an improved Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks emerged as one of the two finalists last season. The Hawks made quick work of the New York Knicks, upset the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, and gave the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks all they could handle. However, none of that was enough to impress Charles Barkley.

Thursday night, Chuck expressed a serious level of skepticism on Atlanta’s prospects as a contender. The Hall of Famer even listed several teams he’d take over the Hawks, including a pair of teams with zero playoff victories last season.

The Atlanta Hawks rolled against the Dallas Mavericks

In a primetime showdown on TNT, Trae Young and the Hawks took down Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 113-87. Atlanta outscored the visitors in all four quarters, headlined by a 35-20 third quarter to increase its lead to 22 heading into the final 12 minutes.

The Hawks had six players in double figures, including 19 from Young and 16 from John Collins. However, third-year forward Cam Reddish led both teams with 20 points on seven-for-15 shooting. As a whole, Atlanta shot 47.9% from the field and 42.9% from three.

Meanwhile, the Hawks held the Mavs to 33.3% shooting and 30.2% from deep. Their defense, led by De’Andre Hunter, contained the All-Star Doncic to just 18 points on six-for-17 shooting. They also held Kristaps Porzingis to only 11 points while forcing four turnovers.

“We can play 10, 11 guys,” head coach Nate McMillan said after the win. “There’s no need to pace yourself when you have a bench that can come in. We want to keep the pressure on an opponent.”

“It’s a good problem to have,” Young said. “We’ve got so many guys who can play.”

Charles Barkley doesn’t believe the Hawks are a contender

With the Hawks game on TNT, Barkley got a firsthand look at last year’s conference runner-ups. But although they dominated a playoff-caliber team in Dallas, Sir Charles still believes the Hawks’ postseason run was a bit of a fluke.

“Let’s just slow it a bit,” Barkley said. “I think they got a lot of young talent, but it’s going to come down to Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. But I said last year, the Sixers should have beaten the Hawks.”

Barkley compared Atlanta to the Phoenix Suns, another team he believes got lucky on the way to last season’s NBA Finals. Then, Chuck rattled off some teams he believes are superior to the birds (h/t: Inside the NBA).

“The 76ers are a better team than the Atlanta Hawks. They should have beaten the Atlanta Hawks. So this notion that just because they got to the conference finals … they’re not better than Brooklyn. They’re not better than Milwaukee. They’re not better than the Miami Heat. They’re not better than the Chicago Bulls, in my opinion.”

Charles Barkley

It may be difficult to dispute Barkley’s take on the Nets and Bucks. However, the Heat were swept out of the first round by Milwaukee, a team Atlanta took to six games. Meanwhile, the Bulls are a team with several new pieces but are in search of their first playoff berth since 2017.

The Atlanta Hawks are no fluke

While the Hawks advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals may have been unexpected, it was far from shocking. Especially when you consider Atlanta’s record since McMillan took over behind the bench.

In two-and-a-half seasons under Lloyd Pierce, Atlanta went 63-120, including 14-20 last season. The switch was flipped after McMillan, as the veteran coach helped guide the Hawks to a 27-11 mark the rest of the way, as well as a 10-8 postseason record. Factoring in Thursday’s season-opening win, and ATL is 38-19 since March 2, McMillan’s first game.

Beyond coaching, the Hawks have depth. Atlanta had six players on ESPN’s preseason ranking of the top-100 players in the NBA, tied with the Utah Jazz for the most in the league. As McMillan mentioned above, it’s a deep roster that never gives opposing teams a break.

Of course, since it’s still the NBA, you need a star on top of everything else. That’s where Young comes in. Trae’s clutch shots against the Knicks, five double-doubles against the 76ers, and 48-point clinic in Game 1 against the Bucks solidified his place as one of the league’s best players. And at 23 years old, his best is yet to come.

Barkley might be hesitant to believe in the Atlanta Hawks. But the rest of the basketball world should be on high alert.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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