The Atlanta Hawks will be playing basketball next month (hello, August!) and, with that in mind, the depth chart is beginning to take shape. It should be noted that there is always the possibility of a last-second trade before training camp opens, especially with an organization that appears to be in a rebuilding phase.
Still, the likelihood is that the Hawks will simply sign a 14th and 15th player (in the post-Diamond Stone era) and begin the campaign with the players on the current roster. Let’s take a look at just what the roster displays at this moment.
Dennis Schröder, Malcolm Delaney, Josh Magette*
Schröder is, at this moment, the best player on Atlanta’s roster. The still-young point guard has the opportunity to put up massive counting stats this season, based largely on the fact that Schröder will have the ball in his hands with regularity.
Schröder averaged 17.9 points and 6.3 assists per game a season ago and, while his defense dipped considerably with a starter-level workload, he’ll have the opportunity to bounce back in that area for a more solid overall performance.
If nothing else, Hawks fans absolutely know that Schröder will be on the floor for 30-plus minutes per game. Behind him, Malcolm Delaney is the central option at the point guard spot. Delaney landed back in the United States last season after an extensive professional trip to Europe and, frankly, he struggled with efficiency.
The 28-year-old shot just 37.4 percent from the floor and 23.6 percent from three-point distance (40.7% eFG) and, for an aggressive offensive point guard, that won’t cut it long-term. With that said, Delaney seemingly fell victim to a trend of players struggling with their shooting in year one after arriving from Europe and, on the bright side, the former Virginia Tech standout has always been a plus shooter in both college and in professional settings. Defensively, Delaney provides solid effort and, if the shooting comes around, Atlanta will be just fine at point guard.
Finally, Josh Magette is an option on a two-way contract. NBA rules dictate that he cannot be on the Atlanta roster for more than 45 days during the season but, in an emergency, Magette could serve as a point guard option that could facilitate the offense. Primarily, he will serve as a starting-level point guard in Erie after leading the D-League (now G League) in assists a year ago. If nothing else, he will be able to set up Atlanta’s developmental assets with high-end passing and a steady hand.
As for the incumbent third option on the roster, GM Travis Schlenk has been vocal in declaring that the team will use one of the remaining spots on another point guard. That could come in the form of a training camp invite or with a last-second addition (either of a veteran or a young asset) and, at that time, it will be interesting to see what Atlanta prioritizes in terms of the position and the use of a roster spot.
Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Marco Belinelli, DeAndre’ Bembry, Nicolas Brussino, Tyler Dorsey
The NBA is moving toward a more position-less brand of basketball in general and, while Mike Budenholzer hasn’t fully embraced this trend in the form of extensive small-ball, we’ll combine the wings for clarity’s sake. In addition, Atlanta quite honestly deploys only one “natural” small forward in the form of Taurean Prince, making things more difficult from that perspective.
While he did not enjoy a tremendous season in 2016-2017, Kent Bazemore returns as the best (read: most proven) wing on the roster. Bazemore quietly shot 38.6 percent from three after the All-Star break and, if he can replicate that with a floor that includes more spacing in a post-Dwight Howard era, that would be encouraging. If nothing else, Bazemore is a solid two-way option that won’t kill you on either end and he has been a starter-level player in the past. There is value in that, even if his contract is less than optimal.
Prince is the younger, more intriguing incumbent, as he finished last season as the full-fledged starter at the 3. The former Baylor star’s upside is up for debate, but Prince is already a solid, physically gifted defender that has performed well within a small role offensively. Can he expand his offensive game to include on-ball creation and/or plus shooting? We’ll see but, at the very least, the Hawks have a reasonable starter for the future.
DeAndre’ Bembry has been praised across the board for his summer performance and displayed good effort and reasonable effectiveness on the floor last season. Bembry will likely earn playing time early in the year but his shooting is a concern and the 2016 first round pick will need to improve that performance to stay on the floor in a big-picture sense.
Marco Belinelli is a shooter. Full stop. Does he do anything else particularly well? Not really, but Belinelli’s shooting is sorely needed in a post-Kyle Korver realm and he is immediately the best three-point threat on the roster. There is plenty of value in that kind of player in a reserve, offensive-minded role.
The roster rounds out with Nic Brussino and Tyler Dorsey, neither of whom project to be members of the rotation in the early going. The Hawks invested in Brussino as a potential Hawks University project with the ability to stretch defenses, but he is (quite) raw and will likely spend some modicum of time in Erie. As for Dorsey, the 2017 second round pick has high-end shooting ability but he is something of a tweener and defense will be a challenge in his rookie season if asked to play real minutes on an NBA floor.
Ersan Ilyasova, Dewayne Dedmon, Mike Muscala, John Collins, Miles Plumlee
This will be interesting. There will, without question, be plenty time for Ilyasova, Dedmon and Muscala. Beyond that, question marks arrive.
Ilyasova provides very solid play at the power forward position, with high-end shooting ability and above-average creation capability on the offensive end. Defensively, he isn’t a plus player by any means but Ilyasova is a solid positional defender that won’t kill you and he can approximate fringe starter performance as a result.
Dedmon arrives as the presumptive starter at center, though it should be noted that he has never averaged 20 minutes per game. The former Spurs big man will be the team’s central rim protector while providing athleticism and the ability to function in pick-and-roll. Dedmon is a defense-first player but there is growth potential and the minutes he provides will be of a certain quality.
Muscala returns on a one-plus-one contract and the Hawks know what he is at this point. In 2016-2017, Muscala took a massive step forward as a shooter, knocking down more than 40 percent of his threes, and his defense has been perpetually underrated. The former Bucknell star will never be a dominant player on either end, but his floor-spacing provides utility and Muscala can reasonably play both frontcourt spots with a lean toward the center position.
After that, John Collins is, quite easily, the most intriguing piece. Will Mike Budenholzer let him loose? Can he defend at a reasonable level as a rookie? What position will be his best? These are all reasonable questions but, if Collins doesn’t play a lot in the early going, a safe bet would be to focus on his defensive issues and the tendency for rookies to be ineffective. On the bright side, the future is sunny based on his Summer League performance and a highly intriguing skill set.
Collins will obviously be a point of focus throughout the season but the rest of the big men are interesting for different reasons. Miles Plumlee is owed $37.5 million over the next three seasons and, in the past, he has been quite adequate in a backup center role elsewhere. With that said, he was brutal a season ago and it remains to be seen if the Hawks will treat him as a useful on-court piece or that of a sunk cost from a contract perspective. Atlanta could try to recoup some of his value should Budenholzer be able to mask his weaknesses and highlight his strengths, but that is an open question.