The 2013-2014 season is, unfortunately, in the books for the Atlanta Hawks. A 38-44 record and a first-round playoff exit seem to be directly in line with preseason predictions (both here and elsewhere), but when you factor in a 50+ game absence from the team's best player, it starts to look a bit more positive. In that vein (and to keep things in perspective), it is time to evaluate each and every member of the roster with a full report card of what went down this season. Let's go.
It is somewhat depressing to start the report card with Al Horford, but as the starting center and best player on the roster, it is also warranted. Horford played in only 29 games as a result of a torn pectoral, but he led the team in PER (22.0) and Win Shares per 48 minutes (.141) while averaging 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. In addition, the team played its best basketball of year with him on the floor (+3.7 points per 100 possessions), and in totality, Horford was on pace for the best season of his already outstanding career.
Much of the team's final record of 38-44 can (and should) be attributed to his extended absence, but worries about his long-term health are mostly unwarranted given the "fluke" nature of the injuries, and he was outstanding when on the floor this season. The future is bright with Al in the middle, and reports to the contrary seem crazy to me at this stage.
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When Pero Antic signed a two-year deal with the Hawks during the off-season, the collective thought was "who?!", but he greatly outperformed expectations. Antic made only $1.2 million for the year, but he ended up making 26 starts and playing nearly 19 minutes per game while posting very solid metrics for what amounts to a backup center role. Unfortunately, Pero was asked to do much more than that down the stretch, and his failure to make shots in the playoff series against Indiana will be the lasting image for some people.
It must be noted that Antic led the entire team (Horford included) in net rating this season, as the team was +3.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, and he is a valuable piece at low cost. Next season, Antic will be cast in the role that was designed for him, but under pressure this year, he was very solid.
Ayon has become the forgotten man when discussing Atlanta's rotation this season, but prior to his season-ending surgery, he was an important piece. The big man played nearly 17 minutes a night in his 26 games, and he posted the best rebound percentage on the roster during his court time. There are real limits to what he can accomplish on the floor, but at $1.5 million per season, expectations should be lowered.
Gustavo is a free agent after this season, and with Mike Muscala around (and Lucas Nogueira likely on the way), there probably isn't a place for him. However, he was more than serviceable in his time.
After coming over from Europe mid-season, the 2013 secnd-round pick had an interesting time while in Atlanta. On one hand, Muscala averaged nearly 13 points and 9 rebounds per 36 minutes while showing flashes of that high-level skill that saw many people like his game out of Bucknell. However, the downside was ugly at times for Muscala, who struggled with his jump shot on the way to just 42.5% from the floor and looked lost on the defensive end to the tune of the team's worst defensive rating.
The tools are there for Muscala to become a quality, rotation big man in the league, but he definitely needs the off-season (and probably more) to refine those abilities.
It was a fantastic season for Paul Millsap. The versatile power forward was selected to his first All-Star team (the lone member of the Hawks to be named) and Millsap averaged 17.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, an impressive 1.7 steals and even 1.1 blocks per game. Millsap also added the 3-pointer to his arsenal this season, shooting nearly 36% on more than 3 attempts per game, and he was the consistent workhorse for a team that desperately needed it following the injury to Horford.
At $9.5 million for the season, Millsap basically exceeded any rational expectation. Many will point to a somewhat lackluster 46% shooting clip on the year, but when you account for the extra attention and the increase in 3s, it is basically a wash in true shooting percentage that allows for this acceptable dip. It will be incredibly interesting to see how Millsap and Horford co-exist for a full season, but with what we saw this year from Paul, it would be very harsh to knock him on anything.
It is a challenge to explain the impact of a guy who averaged fewer than 20 minutes of playing time per game, but Elton Brand was incredible for this team. As the team's "senior" player, he was third on the roster in WS/48 (behind only Horford and Millsap), led the team in blocks (1.2 per game) and shot nearly 54% from the floor while playing high-end defense. In addition, Brand averaged nearly 30 minutes per game for a full month while the Hawks were dealing with their well-chronicled injury issues and even played north of 70 minutes during a back-to-back set at age 35.
The stat sheet will never account for a veteran presence like Elton Brand, and, as much as the blogosphere likes to make fun of that impact, it can be tangible. Throw in the fact that he was actually very good when he was on the floor, and the grades are off the charts, especially with a modest $4 million investment.
When training camp opened before the season, there was a significant contingent of people who thought that Mike Scott would be cut. Yes, you read that correctly. The same Mike Scott who exploded during the Game 5 win and led the Hawks in games played (80) was on the cut line just seven months ago. Well, from there, Scott went on to put up a very solid season off the bench for Atlanta, even if he established himself as a highly divisive player among diehards along the way, thanks in part to the ugly defense (107.6 points per 100 allowed) played when he's on the floor.
Scott led the team in field goal attempts per 36 minutes (15.3), and certainly "earned" his reputation as a chucker. Still, he shot a very respectable 47.9% from the floor as a power forward, and posted a 15.3 PER, which would be in line for the average player in the NBA. For a player making secnd-round money, that is an unequivocal win, and, as referenced with virtually every frontcourt player, Scott was playing a role that was bigger than the one designed for him in the preseason. Yes, Mike Scott is a bad defensive player at this stage, but when he is your 9th/10th man, there is a role there, and he fills it.
DeMarre Carroll should have garnered a lot more attention this season, and frankly, he should have been firmly in the running for the league's Most Improved Player award. Carroll's numbers (11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds per game; 47% shooting) may not scream at the general public, but he was the team's best perimeter defender all season long while drawing every elite player from the opposition. In addition, Carroll was able to develop his long-range game by shooting more than 36% from 3-point distance, and that was an incredible lift for the offense.
In addition to his pure impact (Carroll finished 3rd on the team in Win Shares), his production versus the cost to acquire him was off the charts. DeMarre was given a two-year, $5 million deal in the off-season, and he soundly outplayed that deal while establishing himself as a legitimate starter in the NBA. For my money, he was the player who most thoroughly exceeded expectations, and for that, he grabs the team's highest grade.
The Hawks played yo-yo with Cartier's contract throughout the season, but in the end, Martin appeared in 53 games and was eventually cast as the primary (read: only) backup as a pure swingman. To be frank, playing Martin more than 800 minutes is far less than ideal for a playoff-bound club, but with real worry about whether he was an NBA player, I think it is safe to say that he played acceptably well.
Going into next season, there should be a real emphasis on developing that position via the draft or free agency, but that shouldn't take away from what was a solid year from Martin.
Let's see. Kyle Korver is one of the best shooters in the world, and he also happened to lead the NBA in 3-point shooting at 47.2% while putting up a true shooting percentage north of 65%. In addition to that, Korver routinely shoved quality defense down the throats of his critics, finished second on the team in Win Shares, and even averaged 4 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game along the way.
There is an argument that Korver isn't an ideal fit as a team's best wing scorer, but given the nature of Budenholzer's offense, he is a blessing to have on the perimeter. At just above $6 million per season, Korver is a bargain in my estimation, and again, it is tough to downgrade him anywhere.
For the first time during this process, a player is going to be graded relatively harshly. I have long been a fan of Lou Williams, both personally and professionally, and I roundly defended the signing when it occurred. However, Williams' production fell off in a big way this season after recovering from his torn ACL, and that can't be ignored.
Williams posted five-year lows in PER and Win Shares per 48 minutes, and his field goal percentage dipped to just 40% as a result of his inability to get in the paint. In his defense, Lou looked much more comfortable during the latter stretches of the season, but with his well-chronicled defensive issues, there were some inherent problems with the rotation. It will be worth watching to see what type of player he is (read: whether he has the full burst back that will allow him to get to the free throw line) following a full off-season, but he remains Atlanta's lone trade chip, and that is something to monitor.
Lost in the Al Horford injury story was John Jenkins, who only appeared in 13 games this season. The 2013 first-round pick has been a gigantic disappointment through his tenure in Atlanta, and while that is certainly mitigated by this injury, he wasn't particularly effective (4.7 PER, negative win shares, 22% 3-point shooting) prior to the absence.
The jury is firmly out on whether Jenkins can be a rotation player at this level, but until we see a larger sample, it is tough to evaluate in full. Atlanta has already picked up his option for next season, meaning that he will be around to compete, but unless guys like Lou Williams and/or Shelvin Mack vacate the premises, it is tough to find minutes for the former Vanderbilt star.
The curious case of Jeff Teague.
On the positive side, Teague posted career-highs in points (16.5 per game), free-throw attempts (4.8 per game) and PER (17.1) while learning a new offense for the first time in his career. However, there were plenty of negatives surrounding Jeff, from his inexplicable drop in long-distance shooting (32.9% from three) to a declining assist rate after Horford went down. Defensively, Teague is nothing to write home about (I'm trying to be nice), routinely getting lost in team concepts and being exposed at times, but offensively, he can also be dynamic to the point where the entire arena is game-planning to stop him.
No one on this roster is more enigmatic than Jeff Teague. That fact is virtually indisputable. However, he is the one player in the current group who can actively create offense for himself on the perimeter, and as we noted with #PLAYOFFTEAGUE, the upside is high. I'd love to see more consistency from Jeff on both ends, and perhaps with a full year and a full off-season under his belt, he will take the Tony Parker improvement curve under Budenholzer's tutelage.
Mack was a revelation this season. Much like Mike Scott, there was real concern that Mack would be on the cutting block (Royal Ivey!) in camp, but he went on to play out of his mind for the better part of six months. The 25-year-old guard emerged as the primary backup point guard, played in 73 games (11 starts) and was the team's best defender of small guards. Mack put up a very respectable 13.0 PER, shot nearly 34% from three, and even distributed the ball well when playing the point.
Like Scott (again), Shelvin is a free agent in the off-season, and it will be interesting to see what teams come calling for his services. The pedigree isn't there as a pro (he was nearly out of the league prior to this season), but in this system, Mack excelled as a better-than-average backup point guard, and even if that is all he is, the role is valuable.
Ah, first round picks. Because of the lofty perch by which Dennis arrived, expectations were high, and to be honest, he didn't meet many of them. Schröder appeared in 49 games, but he quickly was surpassed by Mack in the rotation, and the rookie from Germany had easily the worst net rating of any Hawk, with opponents outscoring Atlanta by 16.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the court.
In fairness to Dennis, that number is certainly impacted by who he played with, but for the most part, Schröder wasn't ready to assume a meaningful role this season. There is big-time upside on the horizon given his vision, length and ability, but for this season, the grade isn't a good one.
I know, I know. Mike Budenholzer isn't exactly a member of the "roster" itself, but I'm pulling out all the stops here.
I believe that Mike Budenholzer is a top-5 coach in the NBA. Today.
Yes, I just said that aloud. In examining the roster, the injuries, and the battle with the Pacers, it is a bold conclusion, but one that is justified in my view. Budenholzer is already a top-flight tactician in the game of X's and O's, the team always feels prepared, and there was entire season without a peep from any player in denigration of his performance. It will be easier to see his strengths with a full roster at his disposal, but remember, this team lost 15 of 16 games during the "Injury collapse of 2014," and if it wasn't for that, the Hawks would have soared past the .500 mark even without Al Horford. I feel great about the Mike Budenholzer era.
The off-season will be highly intriguing for a few positions and a few players individually, but even if the Hawks simply reboot, draft a player at #15 and bring the great majority of the roster back for 2014-2015, we are in great hands. Now? Let the grade debate begin.