Mike Budenholzer took to the podium to present the semi-annual “State of the Union” address for the Atlanta Hawks and the head coach was the first to speak with reporters on Media Day. As you may expect, he tackled a number of subjects, and we will get to them in some detail in this space.
First, Budenholzer offered this opening statement:
“I feel like this season presents our organization a tremendous opportunity. We have significant continuity coming back while also making significant changes to our roster. I think that's a pretty rare and unique situation in our league. As an organization, we're constantly embracing ways to improve everything we do, from coaching to scouting to training and, obviously, our roster. As the coach, to have 11 returning players and then also make significant additions, is very unique and exciting for me.”
Dwight Howard and Dennis Schröder
First on the agenda (after said statement) was a prompt about how both Dwight Howard and Dennis Schröder will fit in on both ends of the court and Budenholzer had this to say:
“The hope is to integrate both Dwight and Dennis’s new role into everything that I think we’ve become. Kind of our identity and our core principles of playing unselfishly, playing with ball movement. With Dennis, that’s the exciting thing about him taking the next step in his career. He’s been with us for three years. He knows everything that we expect, that I expect, of him. I think it’s a very natural progression for Dennis. I think Dwight... his basketball IQ, his understanding... I think he’s a great teammate. I think there will be a lot of things that look and feel very similar with Dwight and Dennis bringing their unique talents to what we’ve established over the last few years.”
It would be easy to push back (from an outsider’s view) on Howard’s history as a “great teammate”, but aside from that, it is at least somewhat encouraging to see Budenholzer holding up the fact that the cohesion and “core principles” won’t be overtaken by new influences with his starting point guard and center.
You knew this was coming.
Budenholzer was (quickly) asked about rebounding and that has been a topic of conversation over the last few seasons, particularly when it came to Al Horford’s shortcomings. He painted a rosier picture for 2016-2017:
“Obviously, I think rebounding is something that we feel like is going to be positively impacted. Not just with Dwight’s addition but I think, hopefully, more of an effort, including some schematic things, that we can do to improve our rebounding.... That’s the area where we look and we can see the most obvious area for improvement and it’s the most obvious area where Dwight can have a great, positive impact.”
While Howard’s addition is certainly the headliner here, it is certainly worth noting that Budenholzer expressed the possibility of scheme changes. I’ve long argued that scheme was as much of a factor in Atlanta’s poor rebounding than personnel, and the combination of an upgrade in talent in that area with a more rebound-friendly scheme could work wonders.
Differences in offense with Howard versus Horford
We have spent thousands of words dissecting the potential differences in the offense with Howard in Horford’s place at the center position, and Budenholzer outlined his thoughts on Monday:
I think Dwight is such a physical force at the rim and in the paint. I still think so much of the NBA and our offense is generated through pick and rolls. I think in the pick and roll game, (Howard) rolling and putting pressure on the rim... I think it will make the offense even more efficient and more effective, because he’s going to be able to collapse weak-side defense and collapse help and create opportunities for shooters. I think it’s a credit to our group in the past how they found ways to be efficient offensively given what we had, but I think Dwight’s ability to roll to the rim and play pick and roll is going to give us a lot of opportunities.
As you may expect, this is the absolute best-case scenario and it isn’t a surprise to see Budenholzer seeing things in this way. In a perfect world, Howard will definitely add a pick-and-roll finisher that Atlanta hasn’t had in several years, but what Budenholzer isn’t saying here is that the Hawks could potentially suffer from a lack of spacing given the change. Focusing on the positives is certainly just fine, but there are (sadly) downsides as well.
The First Rounders and the Wing Situation
The topic of the rookie first-round picks, Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry, was put in front of Budenholzer through the context of the battle on the wing.
“I think the depth of our wings and the quality of our wings has been really improved with the addition of Taurean (Prince) and DeAndre (Bembry). I think we’re very excited about the summers that both of them have had. That’s what training camp is for. We’re going to go up there, I think it’s going to be a very competitive training camp. I think the wings are going to be going at each other. And how we decide to mix and match and find a way to manage a game, manage a season, I know we’re very excited about the quality and the depth at those positions. Whether Bazemore is playing more two, or how we do it, the wings are somewhat interchangeable for us and I think they’re all good defenders and capable of doing a lot of things.
It’s very important to note the use of the word “interchangeable” when it comes to the wing positions, because pundits (and fans) often place too much emphasis in differentiating the two. With that said, Prince and Bembry must leap-frog at least one of the four “veteran” wings (Bazemore, Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr.) to garner playing time, and Budenholzer’s point about “going at each other” in camp could be telling. Personally, I believe tempering expectations for rookie playing time is the way to go, but you can read between the lines.
Paul Millsap Update
Atlanta’s best player, Paul Millsap, will be on the shelf for a while as he recovers from a knee procedure and Budenholzer addressed the elephant in the room:
We feel good about what Paul has done for his knee and for finding a way to keep most healthy, most ready, for opening night and for the entirety of the season. We’ll see how the next 10 to 14 days go, and we’ve kind of erred on the side of caution, not just in the preseason but in the regular season. I think we’ll take a big-picture, long-term look with Paul, but I think there is a lot of confidence that he’ll be ready to go as we work our way through the preseason and get ready for opening night.
This is very much of a “nothing to see here” answer, but until Millsap is on the court, that is what we have to go on for his status. The Hawks have shown a willingness to present an extra layer of caution and, for me, that is the right approach with a player of Millsap’s magnitude, age and experience level.
Stay tuned for more coverage of Media Day throughout the week.