Hello, basketball! Training camp is just around the corner for the Atlanta Hawks, and in keeping with that move toward on-court focus (hurray!), we will break down and preview the forwards that are on the current, 15-man roster. Without further ado, let's get to the names, beginning with All-Star power forward Paul Millsap.
The 2013-2014 season served as the "coming out" party for Paul Millsap on a national stage, and he didn't disappoint. Obviously, no one was happy about the injury to Al Horford, but it did shine extra light on Millsap (along with a nice jump in field goal attempts from 13.1 per game pre-injury to 14.8 post-injury) and he responded with an All-Star season.
By this point, you know that Millsap's 2-year, $19 million contract is/was a comical bargain, and his averages of 17.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game serve as a reminder of that fact. If there is a singular negative about what Millsap did last season, it came with a drop in efficiency, as he posted career lows in both true shooting (54.5%) and effective field goal percentage (49.8%). Still, that is easily explainable for a guy who possesses a game unsuited for "number one" touches, and with Horford back in the mix and a theoretical bump from Teague, the pressure should be off for Paul.
Defensively, Millsap is not a world-beater, largely due to his size limitations, but he is a sound team defender who should excel next to Horford on a rangy front line. Millsap also played 33.5 minutes per game last season, and while that is perfectly reasonable for a player of his stature, the number could come down to a more Spurs-ian total in the 30-minute range, thanks to the addition of Adreian Payne and the potential to see Horford at the power forward spot in certain packages.
Paul Millsap isn't an elite player, but he is very, very good, and there is no reason to expect anything but his typically solid production with perhaps a slight uptick in efficiency in year two.
I love DeMarre Carroll and I don't care who knows it. Much like Millsap, Carroll signed a ridiculously cheap, 2-year contract prior to last season, and he also wildly outplayed that deal while simultaneously exceeding any rational expectation. Prior to his arrival in Atlanta, the now 28-year-old Carroll had never averaged more than 17 minutes per game at any stop, and that number jumped to 32.1 as a member of the Hawks, thanks to his gritty defensive play and a surprisingly efficient jump shot.
Carroll entered last season with a 28.4% career mark from 3-point range (27 of 95), and to be clear, he had the reputation of a role player who would be helpful defensively but provide virtually nothing on the offensive end. DeMarre responded by working hard on his jump shot throughout the off-season, and eventually, he would knock down 36.2% of his threes while attempting nearly three times as many shots from beyond the arc (268) than he had in his entire career to that point.
Make no mistake, DeMarre Carroll is still a far more effective defender than he is on the offensive end of the floor, but even with slight regression to the low-mid 30's from three-point range, he has proven to be a solid player offensively, and that is a win. Of course, there are numerous jokes to be made about his ball-handling and creation abilities (or lack thereof), but as long as he is the team's best defender against opposing small forwards while rebounding and converting open jump shots, we are all pleased with the performance of DeMarre Carroll.
I have enjoyed the Mike Scott experience back to his days at Virginia (where I openly pleaded for him as a candidate for National Player of the Year), and he has turned into a highly useful piece in the NBA. Scott absolutely erupted at times during the playoff series against Indiana a few months ago, but while he will be remembered largely for that effort, he was quite effective as a scorer throughout the season.
The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 18.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, and he finished with nearly 48% shooting from the floor despite firing a significant amount of long two-point attempts. It would be surprising to some that Scott only shot 31% from 3-point range, but with his stroke, that could potentially improve and he managed to post an above-average PER (15.3) on the strength of his relative efficiency.
In the area of rebounding, Scott has heavily regressed from his rookie season (and college production), but generally, that is a product of where he plays on the floor. Scott operates as a "chucker", spending the majority of his time deep on the perimeter, and that is not necessarily conducive to prime rebounding position. Still, he is at least competitive in that area, which is an upgrade over where he is defensively.
If there is a place where Scott could lose playing time this season (other than Al Horford's return), it will come defensively, as he is arguably the worst defender on the active roster. He is an average athlete at best, and with some size limitations against opposing power forwards, Scott can ill afford to have mental lapses. However, he does... with regularity. There are moments of encouragement on defense for Mike, and when he tries, he can be somewhat effective, but the mental aspect is lacking to this point and that will be a point of emphasis.
Scott enters the season as the "primary" backup to Paul Millsap, but with additional depth and the versatility of Horford, he will have to continue to earn his playing time.
I'm a fan of Thabo Sefolosha's game, and while he may not be an outright bargain at $4 million annually, he isn't overpaid. The Hawks desperately needed a wing defender to spell DeMarre Carroll, as that was one of the larger areas of deficiency on the 2013-2014 roster, and if nothing else, Sefolosha fills that role beautifully. At 6-foot-5, he doesn't possess ideal size as a small forward (listed at 6-foot-7), but he is incredibly long (7-foot-2 reported wingspan) and active defensively.
At 30 years old, it is entirely possible that Sefolosha could be the best wing defender on the roster (especially against shooting guards), but even if he doesn't overtake DeMarre Carroll in that area, he is a clearly number two. However, the offensive end is where the majority of pundits feel concern for the Sefolosha addition, and his shooting dropped off the table during the 2013-2014 season.
After a breakout in which he shot 48.1% from the floor and 41.9% from 3-point range in 2012-2013, Thabo saw those numbers dip to an ugly 41.5% from the floor and 31.6% from 3-point distance a year ago. Much has been made of his confidence seemingly shrinking before our very eyes, but Sefolosha was also hampered by injuries, and to be honest, there was a bit of regression in store after the previous season.
However, there is every reason to believe that Sefolosha (who is a 34.8% career shooter from 3) can make enough open shots to keep the opposition honest in this system, and that is all he will be asked to do. Much like DeMarre Carroll last season, expectations are extremely low offensively, but there is a real scenario in which Sefolosha plays 20-plus minutes per game with 35% (-ish) shooting from long distance, and that is a win.
Lastly, Adreian Payne arrives as the team's first-round pick from the 2014 NBA Draft, and as you likely know by now, I am all in on Mr. Payne. On draft night, I surmised that the "Mike Scott era had ended", but with the re-signing of Scott, the path to playing time for the rookie from Michigan State isn't exactly clear.
There was a mandate in place from the Hawks coaching staff to get Payne a ton of offensive looks in Las Vegas, and while he wasn't particularly efficient, you can see why the brain trust wanted that to occur. The rap on Payne is that he has been a notoriously slow learner, coming on very late to stardom in college, but if he can learn the NBA game, there is no reason he couldn't excel in the near future.
Payne is a tremendous athlete. Because he was a four-year player at Michigan State, he is often cast into the "low ceiling, high floor" category, but this is a player who won the collegiate slam dunk competition at 6-foot-10, and his pure measurables are out of this world. As a senior, Payne averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in just over 28 minutes per contest, but more importantly, he shot a blistering 42.3% from beyond the 3-point arc, flashing what most feel is an NBA-ready shot from the perimeter.
To me, Payne is an ideal long-term fit next to Al Horford in a Mike Budenholzer system, as he profiles as a player who can protect the rim (2.0 blocks per 36 minutes in college) with tremendous athleticism and the potential for big-time range. As a rookie, he will likely appear lost defensively at times (all rookies do), but the aptitude and skill level are there for Payne to improve into a well above-average player on that end.
As mentioned above, Mike Scott will be the primary backup at the power forward spot barring a monster training camp from Payne, but it certainly wouldn't be a surprise to see the former Spartan blow the coaching staff away in the early going in an effort to gain additional playing time. The upside is tremendous despite the four-year pedigree, and Adreian Payne has legitimate star potential.