National Basketball Association

Youth-dominated Heat, Hawks square off

nba1HAWKS (2-1) AT HEAT (2-1)
7:30 p.m. ET; FSSE. NBATV, FS-SUN

When the Atlanta Hawks visit the Miami Heat on Tuesday night, it will be a battle between two teams that are off to positive starts while also playing a lot of young players.

The Hawks start rookie Cam Reddish, 20; rookie De’Andre Hunter, 21; Trae Young, 21; John Collins, 22; and Alex Len, 26.

Miami starts rookie Tyler Herro, 19; rookie Kendrick Nunn, 24; Justise Winslow, 23; Meyers Leonard, 27; and Bam Adebayo, 22.

It is expected that Jimmy Butler — Miami’s biggest offseason acquisition — will replace Leonard in the starting lineup on Tuesday. Butler, 30, missed Miami’s first three games on paternity leave after the birth of his first child, but coach Erik Spoelstra said that the forward definitively would make his Heat debut against the Hawks.

Besides Butler’s debut, the other big attraction on Tuesday will be Atlanta’s Young. The second-year guard put up 38 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a season-opening victory over the Detroit Pistons, and he followed that with 39 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a win over the Orlando Magic.

Young scored Atlanta’s final eight points in the 103-99 win over the Magic.

“He’s clutch, man,” Collins said of Young before the Hawks’ 105-103 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, when Young put up 25 points and nine assists. “Guys like him take shots down the stretch and expect them to go in. He just has that clutch gene.”

It remains to be seen who will have the clutch performer for the Heat this season. It was supposed to be Butler, but, while he’s been out, Winslow and Adebayo have shown versatile skill sets, and Nunn has been a revelation as a scorer.

Undrafted last year, Nunn averaged 19.3 points per game for the Golden State Warriors’ development squad in 2018-19 before the Heat signed him.

In three games this season, Butler has 67 points — the most in franchise history by a Heat rookie over his first three contests.

Nunn leads Miami with a 22.3 scoring average, and that figure also tops all NBA rookies.

Even so, it’s possible Nunn’s role and production will diminish now that Butler is back. The Heat also eventually figure to work in shooting guard Dion Waiters, who has yet to play this season following a team suspension. Waiters has apparently been unhappy with what he saw in the preseason as a reduced role.

The Heat also have been without forward James Johnson, who has yet to play this season after he reported to camp out of shape. And wing Derrick Jones Jr. (groin injury) missed Miami’s most recent game.

So where does that leave Nunn?

“I just want to contribute any way I can,” he said. “I’d like for us to go on a playoff run.”

Young, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, would love the same thing for his Hawks. Atlanta missed the postseason in each of the past two seasons, combining for a 53-111 record during that span.

The Hawks drafted Luka Doncic third overall in 2018, then traded him to the Dallas Mavericks, who had selected Young two picks later.

Atlanta got Young and an extra first-round pick, a selection they used to take Reddish out of Duke this year. Doncic was the NBA’s 2019 Rookie of the Year, and he helped attract Kristaps Porzingis to the franchise. Meanwhile, Young is reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, with more big games and big weeks expected, so it’s safe to say both franchises are happy with the trade.

–Field Level Media

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