While the 2015 season was a banner year for the Atlanta Hawks, one of their biggest weaknesses was in the rebounding department. That was never more apparent then in their loss in the Eastern Conference Finals where they struggled against the sheer size of the Cleveland Cavaliers' front court. Atlanta retooled its front court during the off season in an effort to get bigger up front, but did they do enough to correct their rebounding deficiency?
Before we dive in it is important to note that part of Atlanta's rebounding woes were self inflicted. Mike Budenholzer and his staff emphasized transition defense and therefore, the Hawks rarely sent multiple players to the offensive glass. Atlanta finished dead last in offensive rebounding in 2015 averaging just 8.7 per game. Overall the Hawks grabbed 40.6 rebounds per contest which was 28th in the league.
In theory, the acquisition of Tiago Splitter will pay immediate dividends. Splitter is an accomplished veteran that brings championship experience. He will replace Pero Antic who was often an underrated (and appreciated) defender, but often struggled to come up with rebounds. However, on the surface, Splitter's rebounding numbers from 2015 might not make Hawks fans feel all warm and fuzzy. Splitter averaged 4.8 boards in 19.8 minutes for a Spurs team that was 15th in the league in boards per game.
Its likely that Splitter will come off the bench in Atlanta, but could see an uptick in minutes if he stays healthy. Still his 13.7 rebounding percentage in 2015 would have equaled Paul Millsap's team lead in Atlanta. While the Hawks will continue to take a team approach to rebounding, Splitter's addition was a step in the right direction for the Hawks.
However, how much will Splitter's addition be offset by the loss of DeMarre Carroll? Carroll finished third on the team in rebounds at 5.3 per game last season behind Millsap and Al Horford. While Atlanta may use a committee of players to replace Carroll, none of the options possess the ruggedness or the size that DeMarre used to his advantage so often. Many times the Hawks relied on Millsap and Al Horford to box out bigger players and counted on guys like Carroll and the smaller players on the court to secure the rebounds. This is an area where that team approach could certainly take a hit without Carroll.
One area where the Hawks could turn for improvement is finding more minutes for Mike Muscala. Muscala saw limited minutes for much of the 2015 season, but saw his role expand late in the season and in the playoffs. He will likely be in competition with Mike Scott for backup minutes behind Millsap. Muscala played in just 40 games last season, but his 13.5 rebounding percentage was second best on the team behind Millsap. While he doesn't possess the offensive explosiveness of Scott, he does bring more size and is potentially a much better rebounder.
It would be a bit remiss not to also mention the addition of 7-3 Walter Tavares to the equation. While Tavares certainly isn't a finished product, his sheer size makes him an attractive option if he can get up to speed with what the team is trying to do offensively and defensively. Tavares led the Spanish ACB in rebounding in 2015 averaging 7.9 per contest. He may be a year away from seriously contributing, but having a player of his size on the bench is a luxury that the 2015 team simply didn't have.