We continue our pre-training camp look at the Atlanta Hawks with a focus on the wing position which figures to be one of the most talked about storylines throughout the preseason. Unlike the point guard position, the Hawks saw quite a bit of turnover on the wing. Atlanta must replace last season's spiritual leader DeMarre Carroll, who left to sign a big free agent deal with the Toronto Raptors over the summer. In addition, two of their key returners are working their way back from injuries that required surgery.
While the loss of Carroll shouldn't be understated, it is an intriguing group that remains for Atlanta. Kent Bazemore made huge strides during his first season as a regular rotational player. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Holiday arrive looking to take their games to a higher level similar to the jump Carroll enjoyed during his two seasons in Atlanta. Here is a player by player look at the group entering training camp:
Bazemore got off to a bit of a slow start in 2015 but eventually settled in as the team's backup shooting guard behind Kyle Kover. It was the most extensive playing time that Bazemore had seen during his young career. While he primarily played at the shooting guard position, he did see some time as the team's small forward in smaller alignments. If Thabo Sefolosha isn't ready to start the season, Bazemore figures to be one of the favorites to be in the starting lineup on opening night.
While providing defense and energy off the bench may be Bazemore's calling card, he will be looking for continued improvement on the offensive end of the floor. He finished 2015 shooting 43 percent from the field and a respectable 36 percent from three-point range. Those shooting numbers peaked in February as he struggled a bit to finish the season.
Whatever Atlanta gets offensively from Bazemore is a bit of a bonus. He's an average to above average defender on the wing with the tools for further improvement. He's listed at 6-5, but that may be a generous measurement. Naturally he is more effective defending shooting guards than he is against some of the bigger small forward options.
Bazemore is a good teammate and seemed to fit Atlanta's culture well. He should again play a big part for the team during the 2016 season.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
The draft night trade that brought Tim Hardaway Jr. to Atlanta was one of the most controversial moves made by the team this summer. Despite his struggles last season, Hardaway was a player that the Hawks had kept their eyes on for some time. He brings a dynamic skill set to the team, but lots of question marks in regards to his talent and his fit with the team.
Hardaway saw his scoring average improve slightly in 2015, but it came at the expense of his efficiency. His shooting percentage tumbled to 39 percent overall and his three-point percentage to 34 percent. He has never shown much of an ability as a defender either but does possess the athleticism to be better in that area.
Hardaway in many ways may end up being the biggest challenge yet for Atlanta's celebrated player development system. He was a very good three-point shooter from the wings and the Hawks will be looking for improvement from him the corners.
Perhaps the biggest part of Hardaway's adjustment this season will be accepting his role and buying into Atlanta's system on both ends of the floor. Both Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox believe in his talent, now it is about him utilizing that talent and becoming a better player all around. He will get his opportunities and the Hawks need him to produce given the premium price tag they paid to acquire him.
Atlanta signed Justin Holiday to little fanfare as a free agent from the Golden State Warriors. On the surface, this looks like a move that has limited risk but could pay off big for Atlanta. He had a very limited role with the Warriors in 2015 and shot just 39 percent from the field. When he did play, he often showed flashes of being something more.
Holiday knocked down just 32 percent of his three-point attempts last season and that is an area that he will have to improve in Atlanta. However, that is a number that is eerily similar to those had by Carroll when he arrived in Atlanta two seasons ago. Holiday may not develop into a 40 percent three-point shooter the way Carroll did, but he should be able to show substantial improvement. He is a good enough defender although, like many of his wing counterparts, he really doesn't have the bulk to bang with some of the bigger small forward options around the league.
Holiday comes from a team in Golden State that rode a team-first system to a championship. While his opportunities were limited, you have to think they were valuable to a young player. If he can end up becoming something of a cross between Kent Bazemore and DeMarre Carroll, then the Hawks may have struck gold once again with an under the radar signing.
Kyle Korver turned in one of the greatest shooting seasons in league history for the Hawks in 2015. He flirted with becoming the first player to shoot 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line. He eventually settled in at 49/49/89 and was rewarded with his first trip to the All-Star game.
Korver was such a big part of Atlanta's offensive attack that he became the focal point for teams defensively during the post season. That led to some uncharacteristic struggles for him before an ankle injury ended his season prematurely in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That injury ended up requiring surgery. Faced with a long recovery time from the ankle, Korver opted to also undergo elbow surgery to have some loose fragments cleaned out. He is expected to be ready to go by the time the regular season rolls around, but his offseason shooting and training routine will have been disrupted. For that reason alone, it wouldn't be surprising to see him get off to a slow start.
Korver has set the bar unbelievably high in Atlanta. At 34 years of age and coming off of a significant injury, it remains to be seen how long he can sustain that high level. He figures again to be the focal point of many opposing defenses and the Hawks are going to have to come up with solid counters to punish teams that pay so much attention to Korver. That was something they didn't have a lot of problems doing during the regular season, but it proved to be much more problematic in the playoffs.
Since Budenholzer arrived, Korver has played the majority of his minutes at the shooting guard position. With Carroll gone, Korver may see a bit more time at the small forward slot. He's an underrated defender who fits Atlanta's defensive philosophy well but naturally is going to struggle against some of the league's more premiere scorers in one-on-one situations.
Korver's health and offensive presence are paramount to Atlanta's success. He may not approach record-setting numbers this season, but remains the perfect fit for Budenholzer's space the floor system.
Had Thabo Sefolosha not suffered a season-ending injury in a scuffle with the New York Police Department last season, there might not have been quite as much trepidation about Carroll's departure to Toronto. Small sample size applies, but Sefolosha boasted the best defensive rating on the team by far at 95.3 and was a part of the team's best five-man lineup statistically last season. That knowledge no doubt factored into the decision in choosing to pursue Paul Millsap over Carroll this offseason.
Sefolosha's signing last off-season brought jeers from Atlanta's fanbase. Those cries grew louder as he struggled with his shooting to start the season. However, he was an instrumental part in Atlanta going undefeated in January and their eventual 19-game winning streak and surge to the top of the standings. His absence was often and continues to be overlooked down the stretch. The Hawks simply had no way of replacing him during the postseason. His stats will never jump off the page at you, but he is a highly intelligent player who is a fearless defender. His team first attitude fits the mold of what Atlanta looks for in players.
Sefolosha likely won't be ready for the start of training camp and might not be ready for the start of the regular season. The Hawks have to hope that he can overcome what was a serious leg injury without losing any of his effectiveness. If he can, then the Hawks may not miss Carroll as much as some think especially if some of the other offseason additions pay off. However, if he can't stay healthy or has lost a step, then Atlanta may be forced to look for help on the wing before the postseason.