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Atlanta Hawks should prioritize shooting for remainder of free agency

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Let’s take a look at a handful of options if they choose to do so.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks still have two roster spots to fill even as the free agent market appears to be coming to a standstill. The team’s priority thus far has been to add players willing to sign contracts that have market value and that offer future flexibility. From a roster construction standpoint, if the Hawks intend to be competitive at all, they should look to prioritize perimeter shooting with one, if not both, of the remaining spots.

Last season, the Hawks were 27th in the league in offensive rating and had the worst offense of any playoff team by a pretty good distance. A major part of the offensive shortcomings was their shooting from the three point line. Atlanta was 23rd in the league shooting from distance (34.1 percent) and were just league-average in three point attempts. It’s important to note that the Hawks did not take a significant step backward last season on offense so much as the rest of the league took a giant step forward but, at the same time, there is no reason to think the league-wide trend will reverse direction.

As such, the Hawks should still be looking to add shooters. I am on record having stated that one of the best ways for an organization to tank, especially if you have a good coach, is to build a roster that is lacking three point shooters. But even if the Hawks aim to bottom out this season in an effort to improve their odds of landing in a favorable spot in the draft lottery, perimeter shooting should still be of some value to them for player development purposes.

Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry should continue to be as good, if not better, offensively attacking off the dribble than operating as a shooter. As such, they need teammates on the floor with them to create the necessary space to operate. Prince especially made progress last season attacking close-outs. Going forward, if defenses rotate to him and he passes the ball to the open man it will reinforce his good decision making if the result is, with some reasonable frequency, seeing the ball go through the basket.

It is also important to note that, of the five of their top three-point shooters from last season (ignoring volume), only one is returning in Mike Muscala. Of the 13 players currently on the roster, only four of them shot a higher percentage from the three-point line last season than the Hawks did as a team: Muscala (41.8%), Marco Belinelli (36.0%), Ersan Ilyasova (35.3%) and Kent Bazemore (34.6%).

To be clear, I would prefer that the Hawks not sign a wing they intend to play in front of Prince or Bembry. If Belinelli were to be lost to either injury or trade at some time before or during the season, it would be useful to have another shooter as an option at the wing position to help create space on offense.

Likewise, I would prefer the Hawks not sign a big man to play in front of Muscala as he is their best returning 3-point shooter. Additionally, I think he has earned an opportunity to get increased playing time this season as to establish a fair market for himself next summer in free agency. But there is no doubt the Hawks would move Miles Plumlee, if the opportunity arose, or Dewayne Dedmon, if an asset of future value were made available for him. In either of these scenarios, it would be optimal if the next guy to step in to the rotation had the ability to make a three point shot.

So let’s take a look at a few options.

Luke Babbitt

Babbitt contributed to an overachieving Miami Heat team last season that just missed the playoffs. He had a career high 210 three-point attempts last season and converted 41.4% of them. That was the best mark on his team apart from Josh McRoberts, who logged just 381 minutes during an injury marred season.

On the flip side, Babbitt has not always had the best defensive reputation. He’s not quite big enough to play on the interior and not quite quick enough to play on the perimeter. But he did average almost 16 minutes per game last season on the team with the 5th best defensive rating. And statistically, at least, he was a defensive plus playing in Eric Spoelstra’s system.

Leandro Barbosa

Barbosa saw his team option for next season declined by the Phoenix Suns, who are prioritizing their young core in a very talented and crowded western conference. He’s not the automatic knock-down shooter Babbitt is but he is a good enough shooter that defenses have to account for him. He has shot 35% or better in 5 of his last 6 seasons. He is also still good attacking close out defenders with dribble penetration.

The 14-year veteran is also not a player you want to entrust a high volume workload to on the defensive end of the court. But he accepted the role of a veteran playing behind younger players with the Suns last season and was ready to perform when called upon. By all accounts, Barbosa is a valuable player on the bench and in the locker room and has experience contributing to successful teams. Young players will listen to him.

Gerald Henderson

The former Duke standout also had a team option declined for the upcoming season. The Philadelphia 76ers ran out of roster spots with all of the draft picks they have had over the past few seasons and the addition of the veteran sharp-shooter J.J. Redick. Some observers were surprised the Sixers did not pick up the $9 million dollar option as it at least could have had some trade value.

He did have a fairly persistent hip injury during much of last season but Henderson did play in 27 of the last 30 games on a team that was undoubtedly headed toward the lottery. He has made himself into a reliable three point shooter after not even threatening the 25% mark during his first three seasons in the league.

Henderson might be prioritizing playing time a little more than Barbosa at this point in his career as he could be looking to hit the market next summer again at the age of 30. But there is just not a lot of roster spots still out there and the Hawks could sign him with an agreement to move him or buy him out by the trade deadline if the Hawks stay healthy at the wing position and he is not getting the playing time he needs to build his value.

Tyler Ennis

The Hawks are reportedly planning to add another point guard to the 15-man roster and Ennis is still available. He seems to have kind of gotten lost in the shuffle after the Bucks-Suns-Sixers point guard exchange at the 2015 trade deadline. He was after all the 18th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. He has always had a reputation for being a good play-maker, an area in which the Hawks have been lacking the last several seasons.

But, last season, Ennis improved as a perimeter shooter which had previously been the knock on him. He made 38.6% of his three point shots on a career high 70 attempts during the 2016-2017 campaign. That is certainly not a reliable statistical sample but the Hawks have a reputation as being one of the strongest shot development teams in the league. Ennis could see Atlanta being one of the best potential landing spots as he looks to rehabilitate his value as a legitimate NBA player.

The Hawks are likely to be waiting out the free agent market for a bit longer before making decisions regarding their last two roster spots. With that said, there are still some interesting players available that could offer real value to the team in the immediate future.