It has been close to five months since the final seconds ticked away on the most successful season in Atlanta Hawks history. An Atlanta franchise record for wins in a season (60), four All-Star selections, a Coach of the Year award and the team’s first Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Not too shabby for a team that, just two years prior, had gutted virtually an entire roster from a team that had made the playoffs 6 consecutive seasons. A few short years and a few bumps in the road later, this team is positioned to again be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference, something that even the 47 and 53 win teams from a few years back couldn’t say. There is a buzz around this team that we haven’t seen since before the 08-09 season after taking the eventual NBA Champion Celtics to 7 games as an 8 seed. The team has a new “hip” logo and color scheme, the fan base is re-energized and the City of Atlanta is more ready than ever to get this season underway.
Key Additions – Tiago Splitter (San Antonio), Tim Hardaway Jr. (New York), Walter Tavares (Spain), Justin Holiday (Golden State), Lamar Patterson (D-League)
Key Departures – DeMarre Carroll (Toronto), Pero Antic (Turkey), Elton Brand (retirement)
Free Agency & The Draft
To say that the Hawks were a busy team during the NBA’s offeason would be an understatement. The Hawks, armed with draft picks and cap space, were key players on both draft night and during the free agency period. On draft night, the Hawks made a very contender-esque move by essentially trading their #15 overall pick (thank you Brooklyn) to the New York Knicks for the sharpshooting son of former Miami Heat great Tim Hardaway, a player who can contribute right away as opposed to someone who needs time to develop. The Knicks had seem to have soured on the younger Hardaway and decided to move in another direction. The Hawks, knowing that they had two wings in Kyle Korver and Thabo Sefolosha coming off of injuries and needing the depth, gladly took him off of their hands.
The former first round pick out of Michigan started 30 games for the Knicks last season and averaged double figures during both of his seasons with the team. Granted the Knicks were a bad team and Hardaway Jr. had a high usage rate which would make him less desirable to some teams but when looking at his advanced stats, Hardaway Jr. is a much more efficient and effective player when coming off the bench and playing limited minutes. That’s exactly what the Hawks need from him. They need him to come in for 15-20 minutes per night, stretch the floor and use his size to help defend on the wing. He’s a great role player and one that should thrive on this Hawks team. He will be able to provide versatility on defense and will be a guy who competes on a nightly basis. He won’t “wow” you with any particular part of his game but isn’t that the M.O. of the Hawks?
Free agency proved to be an adventure for the team as they saw prized free agent DeMarre Carroll head north of the boarder to Toronto. Pero Antic went back across the ocean to Europe and Elton Brand retired. The team used their cap space to resign Paul Millsap along with acquire Tiago Splitter from the Spurs which allowed them to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. The team added a few bench pieces by signing Jordan Hamilton to provide depth on the wing and by bringing over draft and stash big man Walter Tavares from Spain.
For most fans, the loss of Carroll was unexpected but to anyone who knows the intricacies of the NBA salary cap, it was no surprise. The money just didn’t and wouldn’t work unless the team let Millsap walk and did nothing else aside from resigning Carroll. For those of you wondering why, you should take a look at Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ. It is a difficult read unless you are a numbers person but it will really help you understand why your favorite team makes some of the roster decisions they do. Carroll got the money he deserved but the Hawks weren’t going to be able to give it to him and in a year or two we will most likely be praising this franchise for not giving it to him. With Carroll’s cap hold off the books, the Hawks were able to work out a deal with San Antonio for Splitter, a guy that Hawks fans will come to realize is exactly what this team lacked last season in the post and coming off the bench. He’s essentially replacing Pero so if he has a pulse and can box out then he will have done a better job than his predecessor, but I digress. Tavares and Hamilton were depth additions in the post and on the wing. Neither guy will get a lot of run this season with established unit that we have but both could be called upon to fill a major role if the injury bug rears its ugly head.
The team is bigger, deeper and more talented from top to bottom this year even with the loss of Carroll and when you can come into a season more talented than the year before that is a win and hopefully the first of many from this Hawks team.
The Hawks may have finished atop the Eastern Conference last season but they were far from a perfect team. Last season, the Hawks’ offense was predicated in the half court on unselfishness, ball movement and the ability stretch the floor with their shooters. But they lacked a true post presence and were a small-ish team on the interior. They were 30th out of 32 teams in the NBA in rebounding, dead last on the offensive glass and dead last in second chance points. Bigger, longer and more athletic teams gave them fits as we saw against Cleveland in the playoffs. Enter Tiago Splitter and Walter Tavares. The team is really counting on Splitter to help remedy the team’s woes on the glass. He and to a lesser extent, Tavares, will provide some much needed size and length on the interior. Tavares is still extremely raw but should be able to spell our bigs in a pinch if foul trouble or an injury forces Coach Bud to mess with the rotation.
A frontcourt rotation consisting of Horford, Millsap, Splitter, Scott, Muscala and Tavares gives Coach Bud a lot of options and a lot of flexibility. He will be able to matchup with any other frontcourt in the league on a nightly basis. He’s got true centers, combo bigs, stretch fours and with Millsap, even a guy that could slide to the three in a pinch and give the Hawks an even bigger presence on the glass and in the lane. The biggest wildcard is going to be Mike Scott. Through the first 60 or so games of last season, he looked like a force to be reckoned with. He was stepping out and hitting the three ball with consistently, throwing down monstrous dunks and playing with great intensity and energy. Then, for some reason late in the season and in the playoffs he found himself in Coach Bud’s doghouse. He wasn’t seeing the consistent minutes he was early in the season and it seemed to affect the entire team. He had been instant offense and a spark plug off the bench for the first five months of the season and was relegated to the bench down the stretch. We all know of the off-court issues but he seems to have all of that squared away, at least enough so where he is back on the court. If he can get back to the way he was playing early last season then that makes this rotation of bigs that much scarier.
The loss of DeMarre Carroll can’t be understated. He was arguably this team’s most important player last season and it showed when he was hobbled in the Cleveland series. But for the money, Toronto can have him and that’s not meant as disrespect. It’s just reality. I believe the team saw the writing on the wall before the draft and tried to address that need by trading for the aforementioned Hardaway Jr. While he’s nowhere near the on ball defender that Carroll is, he’s the better pure shooter of the two. And remember, Carroll wasn’t worth the $60M he got from Toronto until he spent a few years in this system. I’m not saying that THJ will become a max contract type of player of the next two years but he will improve on what he was in New York and you can take that one to the bank.
Thabo Sefolosha, fresh off of his acquittal of charges stemming from that night club incident earlier this year, will get the bulk of the minutes vacated by Carroll’s departure. He’s cut from the same mold that Carroll is in that he’s a defensive specialist on the wing with the ability to step out and hit the three but he’s not the physical presence that DC was. After suffering an injury during the aforementioned night club incident just before the playoffs, Sefolosha should come into this season with a chip on his shoulder and with something to prove. He knows what the team missed not having him on the court during the playoffs last season and he’s going to be itching to be one of the key players to get this team back to that point.
Kyle Korver, like Sefolosha, is recovering from offseason surgery but looks to be healthy and ready to start the season. After finishing last season with one of the best shooting lines in recent memory 49/49/90, Korver will look to continue the streak of success he’s had during his time here in Atlanta. At 34 years old, Korver’s stroke only seems to be getting better as he’s staved off Father Time at the moment. Ray Allen became a more efficient player during his twilight years and it looks as if Korver is trying to replicate that. He’s hands down the best pure three point shooter in the league. Some might try and make the argument for Steph Curry but from what I’ve seen of the two, the nod goes to Korver if only for this one stat. The Hawk offense is predicated on ball movement, finding the open man and spreading the floor with shooters. Korver is a huge piece to that offense and will be counted on heavily to help fill the gap on the wing left by DC’s departure.
For Hawks’ fans, the emergence of Jeff Teague as a lead guard over the last four years has been nothing short of a beauty to watch. When Jason Terry left the Hawks for the Mavs back in 2004, that left a gaping hole in the team’s backcourt. After missing on guys like Speedy Claxton in free agency and with guys like Royal Ivey and Acie Law in the draft, the Hawks finally landed a franchise PG when they took Teague in the first round out of Wake Forest in 2009. After sitting behind and learning from Mike Bibby for a few years, Teague has taken the reigns of this team over the last five years and become one of the most underrated PG’s in the league. He’s a solid defensive PG with a quick first step and an innate ability to get to the rim. He’s the one player on this Hawks’ roster that can get to the cup at will. The Hawks are more potent when he has the ball in his hands. He’s a great pick and roll PG and with Al Horford (the best pick and pop center in the league IMO) they are one tough tandem to deal with.
The development of backup PG Dennis Schroder from year one to year two was on full display last season. He took the proverbial bull by the horns last season and cemented himself as this team’s number two play caller. He was so good, in fact, that Coach Bud deployed a two PG lineup at times just to keep him on the floor. He averaged double figure points last season and looked much more comfortable with the pace of the NBA game. He’s still got a ways to go but Hawks’ fans have to be impressed with the type of growth he showed last season. Most people don’t realize that he’s still learning the game of basketball. I did an interview with him before the draft back in 2013 where he divulged that his first love was skate boarding and that he didn’t start playing basketball until middle school. That is difficult for any position on the court but especially so for the PG position as that player sets up the offense, gets the team into their sets and makes sure that everyone is where they need to be. A tough task for someone who, at the time he was drafted had been playing the game of basketball for less than 8 years. I would argue that there isn’t a better 1-2 punch at the PG position in the Eastern Conference.
Top to bottom, this Hawks’ team is one of the deepest in recent memory. As per usual with most Hawks’ teams, there is no “star” player and the team will count on a plethora of different guys on any given night. They were a few games an an injury or two away from being in the NBA Finals a season ago and they’ve done nothing but improve the roster as a whole since then. The franchise has the reigning NBA Coach of the Year on the sideline and a team that knows they can compete with anyone. Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap form a big three that is as dangerous as any trio in the Eastern Conference outside of Cleveland. The team has new ownership that is behind both the Coach and GM 100% and a rejuvenated fan base that is ready to bring an NBA Championship trophy to Atlanta. Another 60 win season and a second straight trip to the Conference Finals isn’t out of reach as long as the team remains healthy. As long as Lebron James resides in Cleveland, the road to the East will likely have to go through the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. The Hawks understand that and are poised to pick up where they left of last season as one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
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