Today, the Atlanta Hawks officially announced that they will be adding a franchise to the NBA D-League. The team will be based in College Park, Georgia (southwest of downtown Atlanta), and will begin play in the 2019-20 season. The team does not yet have a name, and College Park will construct an arena between now and 2019.
Getting a D-League team will bring huge benefits for Atlanta’s player development. Not only will this affiliate allow the Hawks to get younger players more playing time, but it will also allow Mike Budenholzer to make sure that these same players are developing to fit the Hawks’ system.
Right now, the D-League operates as something similar, but not identical, to minor league baseball teams. The crucial difference between these two leagues is that D-League players — unless they occupy a roster spot on a parent NBA team — are essentially free agents and can sign with any franchise at any moment. New CBA talks could open the door for increased roster spots (and thus more team-controlled D-League players), but we’re still waiting to hear on whether or not this will be the case.
However, even if the new CBA doesn’t bring D-League changes, having an affiliate would allow the Hawks to develop their younger players more. Atlanta has placed a premium on player development over the last few years, and that emphasis has made the franchise’s lack of a D-League team somewhat odd. Atlanta always seemed like a likely candidate to add a team in the next few years, and now this addition has been confirmed.
Last season, the team sent Tim Hardway Jr. and Edy Tavares to teams like the Austin Spurs for several stints. This option becomes much more reasonable with a team in the same city. As Mike Budenholzer said in the official announcement, “[Players] may practice in the morning with the D-League team and play at Philips Arena that night for the Hawks.” Easy transitions from the NBA to the D-League allows for closer monitoring of players and quick moves to ensure maximum playing time.
Budenholzer’s claim that players could easily switch between the Hawks and the D-League squad also shows the importance of owning an affiliate. While sending Hardaway and Tavares helped their development as players, that development would have been much quicker and more effective on a Hawks-owned team. The reason for this is that once Atlanta’s affiliate is up and running, that team will mirror the Hawks’ play style and use develop players to fit in the Hawks’ system.
The Hawks will handpick coaches and assistants, ensuring that their philosophy will be reflected onto developing players. No matter how much time Hardaway or Tavares spent with the Austin Spurs, for example, that time would not be helpful for learning Hawks-specific plays or strategies.
It will be fascinating to see how the Hawks’ player development changes once the team is set up. While there are still a few years between now and when fans can actually go watch young Atlanta players develop, it’s exciting to see how a “Hawks University” satellite campus can help the team mature and grow in the coming years.