The Atlanta Hawks have made the playoffs 10 years in a row, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference. But that streak is almost surely coming to an end this upcoming season thanks to a major roster overhaul during the offseason which saw them say goodbye to their best players.
Arrivals: Luke Babbitt, Marco Belinelli, Nicolas Brussino, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, Tyler Dorsey, Miles Plumlee
Departures: Jose Calderon, Mike Dunleavy, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Howard, Kris Humphries, Ryan Kelly, Paul Millsap, Thabo Sefolosha.
The Hawks hired a new general manager in Travis Schlenk this offseason to oversee the first rebuilding project in Atlanta in over a decade. Schlenk opted not to re-sign free agents Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. for the big money they eventually went for. Veterans Jose Calderon, Thabo Sefolosha, Kris Humphries, and Mike Dunleavy were also not brought back, but they did re-sign versatile big men Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Muscala.
Schlenk swung a big trade which sent Dwight Howard and the No. 31 pick to the Charlotte Hornets and got back Marco Bellineli, Miles Plumlee, and the No. 41 pick. It wasn’t a very good deal for the Hawks, who ended up with the worse pick and also the worse contract in Plumlee’s, which still has three more years on it as opposed to the two years left on Howard’s deal.
But the Hawks look like they selected well in the draft with John Collins at No. 19. The Wake Forest big man was highly productive at Summer League, and figures to play some significant minutes in his rookie year despite the presence of veterans Ilyasova and Muscala along the frontcourt.
This Hawks team will be so different from last year’s squad, and it remains to be seen exactly how all of their new pieces will fall into place. Pretty much the biggest (and possibly only) thing they can consider a strength at the moment is head coach Mike Budenholzer, who has shown that he can maximize whatever team is at his disposal. (See: the 2014-15 team he led to a franchise-record 60 wins.)
With Millsap gone, Dennis Schroder will be the main focal point of the Hawks’ offense. Schroder should at least have ample spacing around him with shooters like Ilyasova, Luke Babbitt, Muscala, Nicolas Brussino, and Marco Bellineli capable of spreading the floor, while Dedmon and Collins should be pretty capable roll men.
Schroder showed flashes of his potential as he became the team’s full-time starter last season, although he remains pretty inconsistent. If the German point guard can continue to grow into his role as a reliable floor general, he has a couple of talented running mates in Collins and third-year forward Taurean Prince to form a promising, young and athletic trio.
If you thought the Hawks’ 27th-ranked offense was bad last season, the shot creation they lose with Millsap and Hardaway almost definitely guarantees that it will get even worse in 2017/18. Their two go-to scorers will be Schroder, who can be inefficient, and John Collins, who has shown he can be efficient, but is only a rookie.
Meanwhile, the top-four defense that was easily the Hawks’ biggest strength last season lost arguably their three best individual defenders in Millsap, Howard, and Sefolosha, and could turn into a weakness as well.
With Howard gone, their center rotation, currently composed of Dedmon, Muscala, and Miles Plumlee, could literally be a big problem. While Dedmon is a good defender, none of the three is anywhere near starter-caliber.
But that’s all by design, of course. The Hawks are rebuilding, after all, so winning is pretty low on their list of priorities this year. Instead, it’ll be about going through the growing pains of playing youngsters like Collins, Prince, and DeAndre’ Bembry, and see what they can do.
Player to Watch – John Collins
While fellow rookies Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. stole a lot of the spotlight, Collins was one of, if not the best non-lottery rookie performer in Summer League. The No. 19 pick averaged 15.4 points on 59 percent shooting, with 9.2 rebounds in just 23.0 minutes. He was also second in Summer League in Player Efficiency Rating (32.5), the stat he led all of college basketball in last season.
Collins will be one of the very few reasons to watch the Hawks this season, especially if he tries to absolutely posterize opponents like he did with abandon in Summer League. He’ll be a massive work in progress on defense, but if he gets enough minutes, he could end up being a highly productive rookie.
Collins does indeed put up some impressive numbers, while Schroder and Prince take incremental steps forward. But the clear absence of top-line talent sees the Hawks go from a playoff team last year to the second-worst team in the East with a 26-56 record.
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