What are the Atlanta Hawks trying to do? That seems to be the million dollar question coming out of a confusing offseason.
Atlanta appeared to decide to go into a full mode rebuilding mode after reaching the playoffs for a tenth straight season. The Hawks, who have seen their victory totals decline the last two seasons, lost to the fourth-seeded Washington Wizards in the first round four games to two – marking the first time the franchise has not won a playoff series in three years. In the 10-year playoff run that the Hawks have enjoyed, they have gone out in the first round of the playoffs on six occasions.
Following the season, the Hawks knew that they wouldn’t re-sign star forward Paul Millsap as he declined his player option. The Hawks then decided to deal disappointing hometown hero Dwight Howard after just one season. Atlanta shipped Howard to Charlotte for veterans Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli. The teams also swapped 2017 second round picks with the Hornets getting the No. 31 overall selection and the Hornets got the 41st pick.
The Hawks also traded for veteran guard Jamal Crawford and youngster Diamond Stone, giving up only a 2019 second rounder. The Hawks eventually bought Crawford’s contract out and waived Stone outright. They also waived veteran Mike Dunleavy, allowed RFA Tim Hardaway to jet for New York and lost Thabo Sefolosha in free agency to Utah.
Atlanta had three draft picks where the Hawks earned a B+ from ESPN Chad Ford. But then the Hawks signed veterans free agents Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova and Luke Babbitt. Dedmon is the only player of the three who figures to have a role with the team next season.
Atlanta currently has 15 players under contract with 14 of the players with fully guaranteed contracts. Undrafted rookie power forward Tyler Cavanaugh has a partially guaranteed contract for the upcoming season. The Hawks also have used one of their two allotted two-way contracts with the signing of 27-year-old point guard Josh Maggette.
So, that leaves the Hawks with a maximum of four training camp spots left. Unless they decide to cut Cavanaugh, which is conceivable particularly if they find a front court player worthwhile to offer a guaranteed contract. Atlanta still has all of its Room exception, valued at $4.3 million, available.
2017 second round draft choice Alpha Kabba has signed a three-year deal with French club ASVEL Basket, so the 21-year-old is not in the immediate plans of the club.
Coach Mike Budenholzer, 5th season, 189-139 regular season record
Budenholzer has done a fantastic job in his first four seasons in Atlantic. The 48-year-old has guided the Hawks to the playoffs every year, reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2014-15. That season, the Hawks won a franchise record 60 games though they were swept by Cleveland in the finals. The 2014-15 NBA Coach of the Year, who has compiled a 17-22 record in the playoffs, has the best winning percentage (.576) in franchise history since the team moved to the ATL in 1968.
Budenholzer is a Gregg Popovich disciple, meaning his basketball philosophy is centered around team-oriented basketball with a strong emphasis on defense. The Hawks have improved their defense in each of Bud’s four years. They finished 14th in defensive rating in 2013-14, but they have finished in the top-seven in each of past three seasons. The Hawks finished second in defensive rating in 2015-16 and fourth last season.
Lineups and position battles
The Hawks appear pretty set at point guard, though they could use an upgrade in the depth department.
Dennis Schroder showed that he is very capable of running a team.Schroder put up career numbers across the board in his first season as a full-time starter. The 23-year-old, who is a scoring point guard, averaged 17.9 points to go along with 6.3 assists while shooting 45.1% from the field. He does have to work on lowering his turnovers, as he finished with the eighth most per game (3.3), and work on his defense. Schroder finished ranked 72nd out of 78 in ESPN’s defense real plus-minus.
Malcolm Delaney and rookie Tyler Dorsey will likely vie for the right to back up Schroder. Delaney showed flashes of being a quality backup as he is a very skilled scorer and distributor. The 28-year-old does need to shoot the ball better, however.
Dorsey is more of a combo guard and probably will not see much time at the point. Dorsey is more of a scorer and showed very little ability to create for others at Oregon. But the NBA has been trending away from the “true point guard” for awhile.
Maggette will likely be in trading camp with the possibility of earning a roster spot. With Maggette on a two-way contract, the Hawks can have him on the active roster for 45 days without him counting against the salary cap. Although that means, he will unlikely make the opening day roster unless he really impresses.
Maggette has been a very good distributor in his three seasons in the G-League with the Los Angeles Lakers team. He has also shown the ability to score as well over his time there. The 6-1, 27-year-old has averaged over nine assists in each of his last two seasons with the D-Fenders and produced 15 points a game last year.
Expect the Hawks to bring in a point guard or two for training camp. Trey Burke, Isaiah Canaan and Demetrius Jackson are available on the open market.
The Hawks have several wing options and don’t besides if Bud mixes it up.
Kent Bazemore is the unquestioned starter. Bazemore is a tough, hard-nosed, versatile player whose production took a slight step back from a career season in 2015-16. He does a lot of things but is not great at any one thing, the 28-year-old could stand to improve his defense.
Belinelli will likely see the bulk of the time behind Bazemore. The 31-year-old had one of his best seasons of his career with Charlotte last season, though he is too inconsistent. Belinelli tallied 10.5 points to go along with 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists while 42.9% from the floor as well as 36.0% from beyond the arc.
Dorsey along with Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry could also see time at the 2.
Small forward will likely be the biggest position camp battle. Prince likely has the advantage heading into training camp as he is more experienced than Bembry.
Prince started all six of the playoff games last year at small forward, producing 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 55.8% from the field in the postseason. The 6-8 forward also made 10 starts during the regular season. He is a more prolific scorer and better perimeter than Bembry.
Bembry is versatile and brings extreme athleticism. The 6-6 wing is great in the open court and has the ability to score around the basket. He doesn’t shoot the ball well from the perimeter though he has the advantage in rebounding and passing. Bembry also did have a better summer league than Prince.
Brussino and Babbitt will likely see sparse action. The 24-year-old Brussino is still a project, but showed progress late in the season with Dallas, tallying double figures in three of his last six games. His best asset is perimeter shooting, which the Hawks are desperate for.
Babbitt is a one-dimensional player whose speciality is shooting off the catch. The 28-year-old is a career 40.6% from beyond the arc and has shot over 40% from long-range in each of the last three years.
Ilyasova will likely begin the season in the starting lineup at the 4 spot. The 30-year is coming off a career season where he averaged 13.1 points and 5.9 boards while shooting making a career-best 1.7 three-pointers a game.
First round draft choice John Collins will get a ton of time at both the 4 and 5. Collins is an excellent offensive player, due to his exquisite footwork, and fantastic rebounder.
Collins landed on the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League first team after averaging 15.4 points and 9.2 boards a game. The 6-10, 19-year-old compiled two double-doubles and shot 59.3% from the field.
Mike Muscala, Babbitt and Cavanaugh — if he makes the team — could see some time at the 4.
Dedmon will be the starting center after signing a two-year, $14 million deal — a second year is a player option. The 27-year-old is coming off a career season with San Antonio and is an exceptional rebounder. He possesses excellent athleticism and very strong on the defensive end.
Muscala and Plumlee will likely battle for the No. 2 center spot in training camp. Muscala, who re-signed with the Hawks for two-years ($10 million), scored in double figures 20 times. He averaged career-highs 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds a game in 2016-17.
Plumlee has seen his minutes and role decrease since making 79 starts in 2013-14. Plumlee spent last season with Milwaukee and Charlotte. He appeared in 32 games for the Bucks, making 12 starts, though he still only averaged less than 10 minutes a game. After being dealt to the Hornets, the 28-year-old missed several games with injury and averaged 13.2 minutes a game.
Plumlee has a high motor and hits the offensive boards hard. But he is limited offensively and is not much of a factor on the defensive end.