As far as preseasons go, the Atlanta Hawks just completed one of the quietest and least eventful in some time. They came through without controversy and relatively healthy which is always the goal at this time of the year. Given the circus that was surrounding the franchise at this time last fall, the Hawks will gladly take it.
The quiet preseason once again has the Hawks flying a bit under the radar. They are the popular pick for the team that regresses and by winning 60 games last season, they certainly set the bar for themselves high. At this point I think it is important to remind people that this is still a good team. They will be different in 2015-16 and may not reach 60 wins this time around but hopefully have shored up some of their weaknesses from last season.
With the preseason now in the rearview mirror, here are some thoughts on the team heading into Tuesday's season opener.
The offense is behind the defense
Atlanta has a 93.7 offensive rating through seven games including the throwaway game in the finale against Detroit. There have been flashes, but the stretches of sustained execution that became a trademark last season have been largely absent. That is to be expected given the amount of players used by the coaching staff along with the amount of new faces that are being incorporated into the system. Atlanta is also adding new wrinkles for existing players. Al Horford went 6 for 16 from three-point range and severely reduced the amount of mid-range attempts that he took. Paul Millsap saw time at small forward in big alignments. It will be interesting to see if those trends carry into the regular season or if the experimenting ends with the preseason.
One thing the team can be happy about is the production they have seen defensively during the preseason. Atlanta finished the preseason allowing 92.6 points per 100 possessions and that is skewed somewhat by the 115 points they allowed in the preseason finale. What we are seeing is Atlanta's current players getting more in tune and comfortable with what the coaching staff wants defensively. Also, the new faces have spent much more time getting tuned in defensively.
It is dangerous to draw too many conclusions from the preseason. Each game is met with a different set of circumstances for each team. Small sample size applies, but the Hawks would be happy to see their preseason defensive success carry over to the regular season.
New faces still getting up to speed
Tiago Splitter was the biggest addition to the Hawks this offseason even if it did seem to be forgotten by many in the mainstream media. The Hawks system is very similar to the one Splitter played in last season with the Spurs, there are some differences. Mike Budenholzer is going to have to adjust his gameplan accordingly to allow for Splitter after favoring players that could spread the entire floor last season.
The one knock on Splitter has been that he sometimes struggles to finish plays at the basket. That was evident during the preseason where he averaged just 3.6 points on 29 percent shooting. However, Atlanta didn't acquire him for his offensive talents and the impact he will provide defensively and on the boards should give the team a huge boost this season.
Tim Hardaway Jr and Justin Holiday were brought in to provide more depth on the wing. Both struggled offensively throughout the preseason shooting a combined 18 for 71 from the field. Kent Bazemore's season from a year ago might be a good reference point for both players. Both players are capable of having an impact, but it may be further into the season before each is fully comfortable.
What will the rotation look like?
Good question and the preseason didn't exactly give us a clear look of what to expect on Tuesday for the regular season opener. Budenholzer shortened his rotation in just one game, but even that didn't clearly define what the rotation will be. He played just nine players in the first half against the Grizzlies which included stints with the big lineup featuring Millsap at small forward and the two point guard look with Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder both occupying the backcourt. Hardaway made an appearance in that rotation during the second half and that could be close to what we see on Tuesday.
It appears that Budenholzer has a few options that he could mix and match depending on what matchup the opposing team presents. Mike Muscala provides a bigger and more defensive option for the frontcourt with Mike Scott available to provide a boost offensively. My feeling is that Hardaway is likely to get a stint in the first half, but could lose time if the big lineup is successful or Budenholzer elects to go with dual point guard look. Budenholzer likes to utilize a deep bench but typically doesn't go past 10 players. It may be unlikely that we see both Muscala and Scott in the same game and Hardaway, or another wing, could find themselves in and out of the rotation at the start of the season.
What about Walter Tavares and Lamar Patterson?
Tavares turned in a somewhat surprising preseason and didn't look quite as far away as some might have predicted. He still needs to develop and the Hawks will likely utilize the D-League to get him on the court early in the season. His size alone makes him an intriguing option and if he can show similar improvement as Muscala did last season, then the Hawks could benefit greatly from it down the stretch.
There was a perceived competition for the Hawks' final roster spot, but it appears as if it was Patterson's to lose from the outset. At this point it appears Patterson is looking up at a roster loaded with wing options. The worst case scenario for him is that he rides the D-League train back and forth until January when the Hawks must make a decision to fully guarantee his contract for the remainder of the season. The best case scenario is that Patterson shows enough improvement that he gets into the conversation for playing time with Hardaway and Holiday. It doesn't appear likely, but to even get in that position he had to first make the team and he has accomplished that task.