2017-18 Preview: Atlanta Hawks

By Josh Eberley #41

The Atlanta Hawks are diving and it may not be graceful. The 2018 draft has been praised by many scouts and analysts but the draft’s biggest fans might be Georgia residents. Skeptical? Well, the Hawks have the third longest playoff streak in professional sports (10 seasons). They trail only the Pittsburgh Penguins (11) and the San Antonio Spurs (20) and that pretty, little header is about to become a footnote. The lack of celebration surrounding a franchise that had a ticket to the dance for a decade offers real questions about how we as an audience measure success. Three years ago, the Atlanta Hawks won 60 games and had four All-Stars. Today, those All-Stars are scattered throughout the League. Al Horford is a Boston Celtic, Paul Millsap is a Denver Nugget, Kyle Korver is a Cleveland Cavalier and Jeff Teague is with the Minnesota Timberwolves. They traded away Dwight Howard this offseason and chose not to retain one of their top scorers in Tim Hardaway Jr. Make no mistake, the Hawks are hitting the reset button in a big way. Dennis Schroder is the last established player they have on the roster and he’s going to be busy this season.

Hawks 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Dennis Schroder, Malcolm Delaney Kent Bazemore, DeAndre’ Bembry, Taurean Prince, Mike Dunleavy Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala
Newcomers John Jenkins, Marco Belinelli, Quinn Cook Luke Babbit, Nicolas Brussino, John Collins, Miles Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon, Jeremy Evans
Gone Jose Calderon Tim Hardaway Jr., Thabo Sefolosha Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: The good news for Hawks fans terrified of what this offense might look like is that Schroder had a phenomenal playoff showing last year. He absolutely torched the self-proclaimed best two-way point guard. John Wall had no answer for Schroder who averaged 24.7 PPG, 7.7 APG, and did so with a .586 TS%. All three marks were career highs for Schroder in the regular or postseason.

Outside of Schroder is where things get tricky. Kent Bazemore signed a large deal with the franchise in 2016 and he’s struggled to live up to it since. He shot 40 percent from the floor last year and would’ve been glued to the bench if the Hawks had better options but they didn’t and still don’t. The Hawks had the 27th ranked offense last year and that was with Howard and Millsap in town. Taurean Prince flashed some potential late in the year and might be the Hawks best chance at an in-house prospect making a leap this season. He’s 23 years old with size and above average athleticism. If there’s a wing on the roster that’s going to surprise in a positive way, it’s likely to be Prince. Marco Belinelli can play either guard spot and gives them some shooting but he’s just a stop gap measure until the Hawks decide their youth pecking order.

Rookie John Collins might be the only reason NBA fans flip League Pass to the Hawks this year. The 19th overall pick out of Wake Forest can fly. He’s going to make posters and aside from Dennis Smith Jr., might be the best athlete of the class. Ersan Ilyasova is another guy who doesn’t excite the average fan with splashy plays but his overall range and skill set offensively will warrant a large role for him on this team.

If there’s one reason to be optimistic about the night-to-night play of the offense, it’s head coach Mike Budenholzer. Coach Bud has earned a great deal of respect around the League and knows how to keep guys involved. The 2014-15 Hawks might be the worst 60-win team of all-time and that’s a compliment to the coaching staff.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Defense: Is it possible Millsap is disgustingly underrated as a team defender? The 2015-16 Hawks had the No. 2 defense. The 2016-17 Hawks lost the defensive-minded Horford and still finished at No. 4. The Hawks did insert Howard in place of Horford but he never truly found his footing in Atlanta. Through it all, Millsap was the constant; it will be interesting to see how the Hawks defend without him.

The Hawks will look to new center acquisition Dewayne Dedmon to lead the charge at that end. Budenholzer is a pupil of Gregg Popovich, so former Spurs will be familiar with the system he has in place. While former Spur Tiago Splitter acquisition never panned out, the Dedmon pickup is promising. Health isn’t a factor and Dedmon is only 27 years old coming off a career year at both ends. Schroder scores terribly as a defender by most metrics but Bazemore and Prince are capable defenders. While the defense won’t be top 10, it’s unlikely it plummets to the bottom with Budenholzer and a cast of young players trying to prove themselves worthy of big minutes.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Upside: Upside will be limited. The Hawks have guys in Malcolm Delaney, DeAndre’ Bembry, Prince and Collins that one could see impressing to some extent but each guy also comes with a limited ceiling. The Hawks need a hit in next year’s lottery to once again find relevance.

Durability: Injuries always suck, that can’t be stressed enough. But look at the Philadelphia 76ers over the last few years and you can see why durability isn’t much of a factor for a franchise looking long term. The Hawks would miss Schroder immensely should he go down but the expectations for this team are nil. A major injury to Schroder, Prince or Dedmon wouldn’t change the overall direction of the team. It’ll be interesting to see if the League’s newly voted anti-tanking measures alter anything this season. Remember, the NBA’s three worst teams will now share equal odds at acquiring No. 1 pick. Expect Atlanta to be in that mix.

Synergy: This team is a year away from even worrying about their identity. The 2017-18 campaign is filler for who the Hawks see themselves as three or four years from now. From an outside perspective, it’s the individual assessment and not team cohesion that needs monitoring this season.

Experience: This year is about getting young guys like Collins, Bembry, Prince and Delaney adjusted. Ilyasova, Belinelli and Mike Dunleavy Jr. have been in the League long enough to help instill things like work ethic, team culture and day-to-day NBA dealings.

Win-frame: 20-25 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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