The NBA's regular season is just days away and there still is not a crystal clear picture of what Mike Budenholzer's rotation for the Atlanta Hawks might look like. Atlanta's problem is somewhat unique. Often teams at this juncture are combing the waiver wire looking for a player that could possibly come in and contribute. The Hawks on the other hand have a nice mix of options that are still competing for playing time.
Before we take a closer look at this season's roster lets take a look back at last season's team. Atlanta battled injury throughout the 2014 season but Budenholzer showed a willingness to play a lot of players and was focused on keeping his starters minutes in check. Here is a look at last season's minutes per game courtesy of NBA.com:
As you can see from the chart, Kyle Korver led the team at 33.9 minutes per game. Atlanta's normal starting unit averaged at least 32 minutes although Al Horford was only around for 29 games due to injury. Budenholzer often mixed and matched at the center position after Horford went down but also showed an affinity for the small lineup and often deployed less than traditional alignments. In Atlanta's spread the floor system, it wasn't unusual to see three-guard alignments that often times were without a traditional center.
Which brings us to this season's roster. The Hawks will enter the season healthy with Horford back but with more depth thanks to the addition of a pair of wing options in Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore. Atlanta went into the offseason looking to get bigger and better defensively on the wing. Sefolosha and Bazemore fit into that role nicely. Added depth behind DeMarre Carroll will give Budenholzer the opportunity to use a more traditional lineup with his reserves but he also has the flexibility to go small when the situation calls for it.
Atlanta will trot out the same starting lineup as last season thanks to the return of Horford. Barring injury, this group will lead the team in minutes played but don't expect any to be among the league leaders. Atlanta's added depth should enable Budenholzer to keep his starters fresh.
Mike Scott emerged last season as a valuable scorer off the bench and had a great preseason. He and Sefolosha figure to be the primary guys off the bench to start the regular season.
Position battles to watch:
Who will back up Jeff Teague?
Shelvin Mack vs Dennis Schröder - Both of these guys have competed throughout the preseason and neither was disappointing. Its still unclear who will be the backup point guard behind Jeff Teague heading into the regular season. If I had to make a guess I would go with Mack thanks to his three-point shooting and his experience of holding down the job last season but Schröder looks improved and will likely find his way onto the court at some point.
What about shooting guard?
John Jenkins entered training camp as little more than an afterthought after missing most of last season with a back injury. He pronounced himself healthy at media day and backed it up with an inspiring preseason performance. Kent Bazemore was slowed at the start of camp due to a foot injury but is progressing and looked to be in front of Jenkins at the end of the preseason. This is also a situation where you could see Mack slide over to shooting guard and share the court with either Teague or Schröder in a dual point guard alignment. Additionally Sefolosha could figure in here as well in some matchups. Plenty of options at Budenholzer's disposal but someone will have to sit and may not dress for every game.
What will the big man rotation look like?
In a lot of ways its similar to the backcourt in that there are a lot of options depending on what the matchup calls for. The Hawks brought back Elton Brand and Pero Antic who both provide a different skill set for the center position. Brand gives the team an interior defensive presence and a big body who is a solid rebounder. Antic was a big part of Budenholzer's spread the floor attack after Horford went down and will once again be used when the Hawks want to draw an opposing big man away from the basket.
The front court also features a couple of young players in Mike Muscala and rookie Adreian Payne. Muscala had a solid summer and drew praise from Budenholzer for how hard he plays and the energy he brings to the court. Payne looked a little behind in the preseason but is easily the most athletic option among the reserve bigs.
It very well could be a situation where the matchup dictates either Brand or Antic dressing which would give Budenholzer the option of finding playing time for his young bigs. Its not a situation where the Hawks could afford a major injury to a guy like Horford or Millsap but there are more options behind them this season.
This appears to be one of the deepest rosters the Hawks have had in sometime. There may not be a large collection of All-Stars but there are solid options with high basketball IQ's that understand how to play the game. There is always the fear of having too many players to the point where guys are unhappy with their roles. There appears to be good communication between the players and the coaching staff which is essential in these situations. Competition is good if handled correctly and a guy out of the rotation for a week or more could suddenly find himself in the game in a big spot.