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Atlanta Hawks Summer League preview: What to watch for in Las Vegas

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Hawks basketball (of a sort) is almost here!

NBA: Preseason-Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of a crazy off-season for the Atlanta Hawks — one that has already seen Paul Millsap leave Atlanta — the 2017 NBA Las Vegas Summer League (in which the Hawks are competing in) is just around the corner.

Summer League is always a great holiday on the NBA calendar (in more ways than one if you’re out in Las Vegas). Anticipation among fans, coaches, executives and writers alike is high, as everyone gets to see the players that their respective teams have drafted showcase their talents and skills.

Summer League is also the ground where some players receive another chance to impress. Seth Curry is a great recent example of a player who effectively used Summer League as a platform to launch himself into the NBA, having struggled to establish himself in the NBA other than being Steph’s younger brother.

However, he kept plugging away at his craft, and Curry enjoyed a great Summer League in 2015, from which he earned himself a contract with the Sacramento Kings and, with it, a chance to nail down a rotation spot. Following a solid season with the Kings, Curry signed with the Dallas Mavericks and had successful 2016-17 season. From being unable to be a mainstay on a team’s roster once upon a time, Curry is now one of the better three-point shooters in the league and was an important player for the Dallas Mavericks a season ago.

Summer League was the springboard for Curry’s NBA career and others will look to follow in his footsteps.

Every year there’s always something to focus on, something to look out for. It could be a coach, it could be a style of play, maybe a certain player...it could be many things for many different teams.

But let’s spin this around to the Atlanta Hawks. What’s worth looking out for in Summer League 2017 from the Hawks’ perspective? Well, plenty, as it turns out...

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The Rookies/2017 Draft Picks

Summer League is many things to many different people, but for most people it’s all about the rookies and how they fare in their first taste of NBA-like action/competition. For the Hawks, all eyes are going to be on the 19th overall selection and power forward John Collins.

With Paul Millsap choosing to move on with his career with the Denver Nuggets, Collins now seems set to see a lot of playing time in his rookie season (at least as it stands right now), placing a further importance on his Summer League showing.

We’re going to see Collins’ athleticism and his skill in the post on display in Las Vegas and it’s going to be interesting to see how those strengths of his translate from the collegiate level to the NBA.

It’s also going to be interesting to watch the big fella work in the post and see what opportunities he can create for both for himself and possibly his teammates, as there’s always going to be some opportunities for your teammates if you can work the post well enough (example: opportunities for open cutters).

Beyond that, it is fascinating to see whether Collins’ defense, which was the one big grey area surrounding Collins’ game heading into the draft, stands up to professional level competition.

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk told the media, after Collins was selected, that he believed part of the reason for Collins’ poor defensive effort in college was because his college coach needed him to absolutely stay out of foul trouble, as he was the best player on the floor and he needed Collins in the game.

In Summer League, fouls are, um, not an issue (the limit is 10, ha-ha) so we’ll see if this really was the reason for Collins’ poor defense in college or if he’s just not good on the defensive end, period.

Collins could have a big role to play in Atlanta next season in the wake of Millsap’s departure, but let’s see how he handles Summer League first...

Tyler Dorsey is going to make for an interesting viewing throughout Summer League. It’s going to be interesting to see how his long-ball translates to the NBA level (Dorsey shot 42% from three in college). If he can hit similar percentages, that’d be great for the Hawks.

Schlenk has also said that he likes Dorsey as a secondary ball handler, so look out for that too and see how he fares running the pick-and-roll.

Dorsey could end up being the third point guard (as such) who the Hawks might have to call upon if there’s some foul trouble/injuries — something the Hawks didn’t have until they signed Jose Calderon in the latter stages of the season. I can’t imagine the Hawks will want to go down that route again (of running with just two point guards for the season) so there could well be an opportunity for Dorsey here as third point guard/combo guard.

You never know...

Alpha Kaba could prove to be one the biggest mysteries of the entire Summer League. Kaba might be a guy we never see in the NBA, so the opportunity to showcase himself/what he could be on a basketball court is a hugely important for him.

A good friend of mine, Nick LeTourneau of Brook-Lin.com, compiled this video of Kaba prior to the draft. Perhaps there is much more than meets the eye than his status as the 60th overall pick in the 2017 draft suggests...

He certainly fits the ‘Travis-Traits’ when it comes to athleticism and length, that’s for sure.

If Kaba could display what he has displayed in Europe on the Summer League platform, it would certainly make him an interesting NBA prospect going forward. Even if things go well for Kaba in Vegas he’ll still more than likely be stashed overseas for a season, but I think he will be the source of plenty of excitement in Summer League, purely for his aura of mystique if nothing else. And his unique name, of course.

We shall see...

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The Returning Cast: Prince, Bembry and Cordinier

Summer League 2016 was the first chance that Hawks fans got to see their 2016 draft selections (Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry and Isaia Cordinier) in action. Well, all three return for a second year of Summer League in 2017.

With a whole year of NBA experience under their belts, I expect Prince and Bembry to arrive in Vegas with a leader’s mentality, a mentality to lead this team to Summer League success. And I think it will start with Taurean Prince.

After starting and performing well in the NBA playoffs, Summer League could prove to be child’s play for Taurean Prince — he has far more meaningful basketball experience than the majority of players who will take to the court in Vegas and this should help him establish superiority at the Summer League level.

He also has the scoring talent to potentially take over a game at this level and people seem to forget he was an important scorer when he was at Baylor and has since improved his abilities. With that, Prince should find that the game comes naturally to him, again, especially after a year of experience at the highest level and exceeding everyone’s expectations in the playoffs.

Prince is also set to play a bigger role with the Hawks next season and I think you’re going to see the Hawks possibly look to go to Prince a little more on the offensive end this season. Summer League may lay the ground-work for such a possibility.

DeAndre’ Bembry didn’t receive a whole lot of burn in the NBA in his rookie season but look for him to also see a larger role heading into next season as a number of Hawks wings from last season will not be returning next season. And the foundation for Bembry’s increased role next season is all going to start here in Summer League, where he will arguably have the largest responsibility on the team — a mesh of being the primary ball-handler and a scorer.

I think you’re going to see Bembry do the majority of the ball-handling this year at Summer League (I would certainly make that a point of emphasis if I was coaching, since it’s possibly that’s what he’ll be doing more of next season), and it’s going to be interesting (and fun) to see Bembry run the offense and to see how far his game has come in the last year in terms of his own offense — what he could possibly create for himself.

It remains to be seen how far Bembry’s defense, shooting and overall offense have progressed in a year but I think a lot of Hawks fans are looking forward to finding out

Everyone knew when Isaia Cordinier was selected in the second round in 2016 that he was on the raw side. A year later, not much has changed.

Cordinier didn’t have a great season with Antibes in France (averaging 6.5 points per game on 33.7% shooting from the field and 23% from three in 23 minutes per game) so, perhaps, don’t get your hopes up when it comes to Cordinier, at least right now? He’s still only 20 years old and being out in Vegas for Summer League again will do him the world of good.

Even though he hasn’t played particularly well in the last year, Cordinier is definitely worth keeping an eye on as the Hawks progress through the Summer League schedule.

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Legitimate Roster Auditions

In seasons past, if a player who performed well with the Hawks at Summer League, there was a possibility of that player earning themselves a training camp invite. However, the chances of actually making the final 15-man roster in October would be pretty slim, as the Hawks have been an established playoff team for the last 10 seasons and needed depth/players who could possibly contribute rather than younger players/projects.

However, the game is different this year for a few reasons.

Firstly, the Hawks are seemingly headed in a new direction with a new set of goals, highlighted — of course — by the departure of Paul Millsap.

Making the playoffs, I imagine, won’t be the end-all and be-all for this organisation next season. As such (and as is the case right now) there are plenty of roster spots available and it’s possible the Hawks — if they are impressed — may take a flier on one of the players that impresses in Summer League. The development of younger players may be the course of action the Hawks are taking.

Of course, it’s entirely possible the Hawks might look to sign a player to a training camp deal who didn’t play for the Hawks’ Summer League team (Seth Curry ripped up Summer League 2015 with the New Orleans Pelicans before signing his deal with Sacramento)...

Secondly, there’s simply more roster spots available. And that’s in more ways than one.

Not only do the Hawks have plenty of open roster spots (since they haven’t really been active in free agency as of yet), but every team will have two additional roster spots available to them in the form of ‘two-way player contracts’, as part of the new CBA, bumping up roster spot totals from 15 to 17.

How the Hawks will utilize their new two-way contracts slots is unclear right now, but it’s entirely possible one could be issued to a player who possibly catches the Hawks’ eye in Summer League.

There are definitely roster spots up for grabs this summer, there’s no doubt about it.

Though the Hawks’ Summer League 13-man roster has not been officially revealed, we all but know who’s on the team thanks to a report from the AJC. And they are:

Taurean Prince
DeAndre Bembry
Isaia Cordinier
John Collins
Tyler Dorsey
Alpha Kaba
Josh Magette
Bryce Cotton
Trent Lockett
Duje Dukan
Quincy Ford
Richard Solomon

The latter part of that list will all be competing with the goal of making an NBA roster, whether it be with the Hawks or otherwise. If ever there was a year to turn Summer League success into a roster spot with the Hawks, this seems to be the year.

Summer League is always fun and there’s always plenty to watch out for, but even more so this year than in years past, it seems as the Hawks seemingly look to build toward the future rather than the immediate present.