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Fixing The Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are already a step ahead of other teams trying to rebuild. Spencer Davies dives into how the organization can stay on the right path.

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Basketball Insiders continues its “Fixing” series by heading down to Georgia.

The Atlanta Hawks are in the basement of the Eastern Conference, tied with the Orlando Magic for last place at 20-45. They’ve seen their fair share of struggles, sitting at the bottom of nearly every statistical category in the NBA and appearing to be set for a top-five selection in this summer’s upcoming draft.

With that being said, there’s plenty to be optimistic about in A-Town.

The Hawks were smart about the way they went about things. In some cases, the decline happens very fast. A rebuild can smack you right in the face and result in the sacrifice of an entire season with a talent pool that likely won’t be around for the future of the organization.

Fortunately for Atlanta, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, they’ve focused 110 percent on giving their young core invaluable experience. Seeing the writing on the wall ahead of time with Kyle Korver getting older and the impending free agency of Paul Millsap not far away, preparation for life without the two remaining pieces from 2014-15 campaign began last year. It’s paid off so far.

What Is Working

Taurean Prince has seen his minutes nearly double and his production has improved as a result. With the usage increase, the sophomore forward has thrived as an offensive threat and will likely get better as the seasons pass. The vast progression he’s made with his three-point shot (38.1 percent) is a real talking point.

Rookie big man John Collins already looks like he not only belongs but also could be one of the most dominant forces in the league someday. He’s extremely aggressive on the glass, has incredible athleticism, and makes his presence felt on both ends of the floor with his infectious energy. Among all of his peers, not only first-years, the Wake Forest alum ranks in the top seven in both field goal percentage (57.8) and offensive rebound percentage (13.1).

DeAndre Bembry has yet to have a fair shake due to his battles with injuries. There have been signs of potential from second-round pick Tyler Dorsey here and there. Undrafted players such as Tyler Cavanaugh and Isaiah Taylor could be diamonds in the rough that could stick around.

The most reassuring statistic that proves Mike Budenholzer’s philosophy remains the same regardless of personnel? Atlanta is eighth in the NBA with nearly 24 assists per game. They’re not so great in the field goal percentage (44.8) and rebounding department (41.1) as a team, but that shows the ball is moving well and they’re trying to play the right way.

What Needs To Change

Not too much, really. As previously mentioned, the Hawks are on the right track and ahead of the curve in a situation with inexperienced talent. However, for those that have been in the league for a little while, it’s been an up-and-down season.

In his first year as the true focal point and leader of this Atlanta bunch, it’s obvious Dennis Schroder has had to adjust. With the majority of the scoring load on his shoulders, the 24-year-old has taken a step back as an individual defender. Though he’s naturally become more of a driver and scored on those opportunities, his three-point shot has suffered. Being “the guy” takes getting used to, so that probably won’t continue once he’s used to it.

Kent Bazemore’s been everything the Hawks have wanted and more as a veteran leader with efficiency that plays well on both ends. That said, he can’t keep coughing up the ball with the frequency he has. His usage has increased (23.3 percent), but his turnover percentage has also skyrocketed to 16.9, which ranks in the third percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

Mentioned above, the rebounding has been abysmal. There are only two players on Atlanta who are average seven or more rebounds per game: Collins and Dewayne Dedmon. The next player on the list, Ersan Ilyasova, isn’t on the team anymore, and he’s followed by Prince (4.8) and Miles Plumlee (4.0). It’s hard enough to win games with a young roster, and losing the boards battle doesn’t help your chances.

Focus Area: The Draft

Between Schroder, Bazemore, Prince, and Collins, the core is already assembled. Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk just needs to add to that. Looking at what’s needed most, you’d probably pinpoint two things: A frontcourt partner for Collins to wreak havoc with and a natural scorer that can make plays with the ball in his hands and move without it to help create opportunities.

The former may be more important, and for that reason, Mohamed Bamba should be the call here. There’s a lot of debate as to whether he or DeAndre Ayton would make a better big man at the professional level. While Ayton far and away has the size factor and star power, Bamba makes his mark as one of the best defenders in the NCAA.

He’s multi-skilled, an excellent floor runner and boasts ridiculous leaping and dunking ability. So far as a freshman at Texas, Bamba leads the Big 12 in rebounds per game (10.4), blocks per game (3.7), and defensive rating (89.4). Needless to say, the issue on the glass we discussed earlier would disappear if Atlanta landed the 6-foot-11, 225-pounder.

Bamba’s ability to finish and step out to hit shots displays the gravity he brings by simply being on the court. Defenders can’t fall asleep or else he’ll make them pay, in one way or another. If Collins and Bamba were to join forces, it could very well be the most exciting athletic and energetic four-five duo in the league.

Focus Area: Free Agency

Financially, Atlanta is in a good position to continue adding talent. They’ll have three potential contracts expiring with two player options (Dedmon, Mike Muscala) and one team option (Malcolm Delaney). In addition, the majority of salary in Cavanaugh and Taylor’s deals becomes guaranteed on May 15 and June 22, respectively.

It’s unlikely that Dedmon will stick around, considering that the strides he’s made this year will probably earn him a decent contract. With Muscala, it’s up in the air and probably depends on the direction he sees the franchise going at his position.

Depending on what avenue the franchise wants to take, the Hawks have flexibility with a projected $33.5 million in cap space. They could potentially accelerate the rebuild (trading Bazemore, Plumlee) and acquire proven talent. They could also go the opposite direction and bring in assets by taking on a bad contract or two.

As for the pool of free agents, Atlanta could take a look at paying a shooting guard in his prime like Denver Nuggets swingman Will Barton. He’s a player that attacks at will, can knock down the three and does plenty of damage in transition. It’d be an easy fit for a team desperately lacking scoring.

If Barton being 27 is too old for their taste, it’d always be smart to keep an eye on Rodney Hood. He’s two years younger and taller. Entering the last season of his rookie scale deal, the Cleveland Cavaliers will likely try to restructure his contract or bring him back on the qualifying offer. Yet if another team took out the checkbook, he could be pried away if the terms are too high for them to match (he’ll be a restricted free agent).

Those are only two names to look at, but it’s those types of players the Hawks could use to continue the rebuild they’re undergoing. Having the right head coach and the right core is a great start.

Now they just have to stay on the path and remain patient.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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