The external expectations for the Atlanta Hawks have perhaps never been lower. But that doesn’t mean those expectations are shared by the organization itself. Hawks forward Taurean Prince said at NBA Media Day that anything less than a playoff appearance would be a disappointment. Asked about Prince’s comments at training camp at the University of Georgia this week, coach Mike Budenholzer didn’t downplay Prince’s enthusiasm.
“You have to love Taurean,” said Budenholzer. “The playoffs is a goal. I’m much more interested in what we’re doing day by day and the process that we embrace. My history in this league is, if you embrace the process, then the results will be what you want.”
Budenholzer himself suggested at Media Day that outside observers may not have a complete grasp of how good his team can be this season.
“Maybe there’s some degree of underestimation of who we are and what we can be,” said Budenholzer. “We’re all competitive. We hope through the work and through the player development and the individual development that the results are going to be something that we’re all proud of.”
For his part, Prince said he comes into the season with a fairly good grasp of what Budenholzer expects and needs from his players to make exceeding expectations possible.
“I kind of got the feel of what he wants … still to play the right way, play with each other and play hard,” said Prince. “Coach Bud is going to do a good job of putting us in a position to win games.”
Prince will be a centerpiece player for the Hawks in only his second season as one of only two starters remaining from last season’s playoffs, along with point guard Dennis Schroder. While Prince has been enthusiastic, Budenholzer made clear that he will need to moderate his expectations for himself.
“To see Taurean emerge and start for 15-20 games and a playoff series and for him to play really efficiently, for a rookie, he was a great contributor for us,” said Budenholzer. “Going into the second season for Taurean, we just want to see that carry over. There’s steps to a player’s development, and if you start skipping those steps, sometimes it can lead to a regression.
“Taurean wants to be great,” continued Budenholzer. “Taurean wants to have a big impact on the game on both ends of the court. In some ways, we’re probably going to have to keep reminding him and reminding ourselves that it’s a process and it’s going to take incremental improvement and incremental steps. I think because of what he went through, he understands that and appreciates that.”
Meanwhile, in the wake of Schroder’s arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge Friday morning, enthusiasm for his role as an emerging team leader may need to be tempered as well.
“I think now I’ve got to lead,” Schroder told assembled media Wednesday at UGA. “I’ve been here four years. I learned a lot from Jeff [Teague]. He was leading us for a couple of years. I’m just trying to carry it on for the Hawks franchise.”
Nonetheless, while Schroder sorts out his off court issues, Budenholzer continues to express optimism about the new additions to the team, including rookie first round pick John Collins.
“A lot of the things that the NBA does — not just us but the NBA in general — I think fit John Collins, his athleticism [and] his ability to play around the basket, to attack the rim in pick and roll situations,” said Budenholzer.
“I think John’s development and John achieving all the things that he wants and that we want for him is going to come down to how he comes in every day, how he works every day, how he fits into a team and plays [with] unselfishness and competitiveness. All those things will dictate what kind of season he has. Our expectation is just that he competes at a high level, he works at a high level and he begins to understand how we play and how the NBA game is played.”
Budenholzer added that Marco Belinelli is a player he’s excited to have the opportunity to coach.
“He’s one of those guys that, at least me personally, I’ve always wanted to coach and wanted to have on a team I was with,” said Budenholzer. “We finally [had] it happen. I think his role, particularly as an offensive player, I think he’s unique in how he can score and how he can play pick and roll. The way he moves off the ball — his cutting, his slashing, his IQ — I think it’s unique. We’ve always had a lot of success with European players and maybe a little bit of a European-type style of play, and there’s nobody that understands that better than Marco.”
While Schroder’s situation is a cause for concern, Budenholzer added that the shortening of the preseason can have benefits for a young team like the Hawks, which is eager to get going against regular season competition.
“I think coming out of training camp with a young team that’s well conditioned, ready to go, ready to play fast, ready to out-compete their opponent every night … getting to the season a little sooner for a young team might be even better.”
There’s a lot for the young Hawks to look forward to this season, even with the current dose of off-court distractions. While external expectations remain low, the team will be gunning for regular season wins, and hopes to do so sooner rather than later. Prince hopes to emulate the surprise success of last season’s HEAT, and if something similar comes to pass, you heard it from the Hawks first.
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