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Atlanta Hawks take large strides toward young core

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Just how young will the 2017-18 Hawks be?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret that the 2017 summer has been one of major roster transition for the Atlanta Hawks. The departure of veterans Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Thabo Sefolosha and others point to an upcoming season when younger players are expected to carry a much heavier workload than the Hawks have relied on in recent seasons.

Second-year players Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry, as well as rookie John Collins, are expected to be key cogs in Coach Mike Budenholzer’s rotation. During Budenholzer’s tenure, the Hawks have typically deployed one of the more veteran NBA rosters. With the roster shift towards younger players, its fair to ask just how young the Hawks will actually be this season.

The measuring stick

A typical measurement of an NBA roster’s age tends to be the average age of the players on the roster. However, when correlating age and on-court performance, taking the roster’s average age and weighting it by minutes played is more precise. For the purpose of this article, we’ll use just that measurement, a roster’s average age weighted by minutes played for each player.

Projected Minutes

We’ll have to project the minutes to be played for the Hawks roster in order to assess the roster’s age for the upcoming season. With input from other Peachtree Hoops contributors, we’ll use the following projections for minutes per game:

  • Dennis Schroeder 32
  • Kent Bazemore 30
  • Taurean Prince 30
  • Ersan Ilyasova 24
  • Dwyane Dedmon 24
  • Mike Muscala 22
  • DeAndre Bembry 20
  • John Collins 20
  • Malcolm Delaney 18
  • Marco Belinelli 16
  • Tyler Dorsey 4.

The assumptions are certainly speculative with the key driver being Mike Budenholzer’s history of leaning on veterans more heavily than younger players, especially rookies. Miles Plumlee and Diamond Stone are not projected to have minutes for the purpose of this exercise as they are not expected to be rotational players, barring injury.

Hawks when compared to the NBA

So, just how young will the 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks be? The answer is, younger, but not as young as one might think. During the 2016-17 NBA season, the Hawks ranked 6th oldest in the league. Given the playing time assumptions asserted for the upcoming season, the Hawks would rank as the 13th youngest team compared to league-wide data for last season, essentially the middle of the pack.

Of course, if John Collins were to absorb more of the Paul Millsap replacement minutes than Ersan Ilyasova, the numbers would change a bit. If we move the needle for Collins up 8 minutes per game, with the offset to Ilyasova’s playing time, the Hawks would then be 10th youngest compared to last season’s data, still closer to the middle of the pack than to the youngest in the league.

One reason the Hawks are not as young as some might assume is that Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry will be entering their second NBA seasons both as 23-year-olds. In the 2016 draft, the Hawks spent two first round picks on players that played fours years (Prince) and three years (Bembry) of college basketball respectively. Contrast this with the league’s youngest team last season, Minnesota, whose Andrew Wiggins and Zach Lavine who both opened their 3rd NBA seasons at age 21 in addition to Karl-Anthony Towns who opened his 2nd NBA season at age 20.

It could be argued that NBA service time is an appropriate measure for the “youth” of a roster. But a player’s age still prevails. There is a reason that NBA teams value a 19-year-old prospect much more than a 22-year-old prospect given the same size, skill and athleticism.

Hawks versus history

Even before the Mike Budenholzer era began, the Hawks were deploying one of the league’s more veteran rosters. The last time the Hawks played a roster younger than an average age of 26 was the 2008/09 season which closely coincides with the onset of the franchise’s current run of ten consecutive playoff appearances.

The pinnacle of this ten season run is the 60-win 2014-15 season, which featured a veteran starting unit of Kyle Korver (33), Paul Millsap (29), Al Horford (28), DeMarre Carroll (28) and Jeff Teague (26). During the two seasons since that 60-win season, the Hawks were even more reliant on veterans but the results have not been the same. These results have led the Hawks to where they stand today with a new GM and a roster that is much younger than it was at the end of last season.

Atlanta Hawks Youth Movements.csv

Off-Season Change in Avg Player's Age Key Departures
Off-Season Change in Avg Player's Age Key Departures
*2017 -2.04 Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Thabo Sefalosha, Tim Hardaway Jr.
2005 -1.91 Antonie Walker, Tyronn Lue, Predrag Drobnjak
1999 -1.95 Mookie Blaylock, Steve Smith, Grant Long
1990 -1.79 Moses Malone, Doc Rivers
1974 -2.05 Pete Maravich, Lou Hudson
*2017 playing time is forecasted

Since the 2000 season, Atlanta’s only similar transition towards a much younger roster took place after a 13-win 2004-05 season when the Hawks cleared veterans Antoine Walker and others from the roster to open playing time for Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia and Shelden Williams. While this core group never became a championship contender, with the addition of Joe Johnson (by trade) and Al Horford (by draft), this group did go on to end the team’s 8-year playoff drought and begin the current 10-year playoff run.

During that summer of 2005, the roster got younger by 1.90 years (again weighted by minutes played). This current off-season is likely to bring a more significant shift. Given the estimated minutes we’ve assumed, the Hawks would get younger by 2.04 years.

Further, if rookies John Collins and Tyler Dorsey get more playing time than expected, the Hawks are likely to experience the largest shift towards a young team in Atlanta Hawks history.

Uncharted Waters

Coach Mike Budenholzer now finds himself in a completely new situation. His coaching staff’s approach to player development tends to shy away from allowing players to go out and play, make mistakes and learn. Instead, the focus is on practice time and individual work with player development coaches. Young players have not been handed playing time, they earn it through a trust that takes time to develop but can quickly be lost.

It will be very interesting to see how the Hawks coaching staff walks the tightrope this season, precariously striving for wins while developing young players. During Budenholzer’s tenure, first and second year player’s have only accounted for about 12% of Hawks’ playing time. Removing Euroleague veterans Pero Antic and Malcolm Delaney knocks that number down to just 8%. In the upcoming season, given the forecasted playing time, first and second year players will account for 38% of the minutes played for Hawks and that number could climb north of 40%.

Conclusion

While there is ample time for more roster changes during this off-season, the Hawks roster is almost full and the rotation slots seem to be pretty much settled. Every season creates a blank slate for every NBA team. Undoubtedly, we will have to wait far beyond the 2017-18 season to see the full impact of the Hawks’ movements this summer. What we can expect for the upcoming season is to watch a young team with a coach who prefers to keep veterans on the floor while the franchise perhaps makes it largest one-season stride towards a young roster in franchise history.