The 2017-2018 NBA season is rapidly approaching, even if it feels far away at this juncture. The Atlanta Hawks may not be a title contender but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any intrigue surrounding the team and, before training camp gets underway, our Peachtree Hoops staff came together to address ten topics about the squad.
The first question to be answered revolves around what the biggest strength is for the 2017-2018 squad and here is how our writers answered it:
Brad Rowland: The head coach is probably the answer but that feels like cheating. It is, admittedly, tough to pinpoint an area of real strength but I do think Atlanta’s defense could be fairly strong. The loss of Paul Millsap is brutal on both ends but not having a top-10 defender in the league certainly hurts. With that said, the presumptive starting five doesn’t have any real defensive weaknesses and Dewayne Dedmon could be a revelation as a rim protector.
Graham Chapple: I’ll go with fun and no expectations. I think this is going to be a fun team to watch this year, even if they’re awful. Seeing the young guys like Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry giving it everything every night is going to be fun, seeing Bembry make some plays... that’s going to be fun. John Collins is going to be a ton of fun to watch as you’d imagine he’s going to see a lot of minutes in his rookie season and provide dunks, on dunks, on dunks. This team seems like it’s going to run a bit more and that’s always fun too, we should see some great John Collins dunks in transition. The shooting lineups could also be fun because the Hawks have some pretty good shooters on this team with the likes of Marco Belinelli, Luke Babbitt and Ersan Ilyasova. Most of the isolation players from last year like Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. are gone, and with this being a young team, I think you’ll see a lot more ball movement and assists per game this year -- more ‘Bud-ball’. Everyone expects this team to be awful and there really isn’t any pressure so the team can really go out and express itself every night. I’m excited, this is going to be a fun team.
Greg Willis: Style of play. I expect to see the Hawks return to the style of basketball they played during their first three seasons under Mike Budenholzer. Last season, the Hawks could never get the spacing right on offense, especially when Dwight was on the floor. This year, the spacing and pace will be much more suited to their offensive weapons. Dennis Schroeder and Kent Bazemore should both be more comfortable. If you want to see a glimpse of how different the style might look, recall the handful of games last season when a unit of Paul Millsap and four bench players forged impressive second half comebacks. One common denominator in those comebacks was the old pace and space game the Hawks played in prior seasons. It looked like a unit that was suddenly unshackled on the offensive end of the floor. Of course, no Paul Millsap this season and the overall roster is much less experienced. But it will be exciting to see the Hawks return to style of play that was their trademark from 2013 to 2016.
Glen Willis: I think the current strength is that they are 11 players deep in legitimate NBA players. When you look at the other teams currently projected to have win totals in low 30s or less, you see rosters that after about the 6th or 7th best players you see players with outstanding questions regarding whether or not they are legitimate NBA players. The Hawks certainly lack the top end talent that their teams of recent seasons have had. But when the season gets underway Coach Budenholzer should be able to consistently deploy 5-man lineups that include credible NBA players across the board. They are also currently positioned to sustain a credible level of play even when injuries may cause a rotation player or two to not be available. They should have little chance to win games against the best 10 teams in the league or so. But against the rest of the league they should be competitive in games unless they just intentionally choose not to be.
Jeff Siegel: The draft pick they’re gonna get at the end of it. But seriously, the defense Brad mentioned above is the only chance Atlanta will have in a majority of their games this season. Schröder, for all his foibles, is an above-average defender at the point of attack, and while the Hawks do have some bad defenders further down the bench, the projected starting lineup of Schröder, Bazemore, Prince, Ilyasova, and Dedmon should provide the Hawks with some decent production on the defensive end. Throw in a bench guy and things get a little dicier, but Budenholzer should be able to throw out his starters often enough to cobble together a decent defense.
RedRev: From the moment Budenholzer was hired, he has been the star of the franchise. He has made mid-career veterans a lot of money--probably more than any other coach in the league during his tenure with Atlanta. The strength of the team will be 3-4 mid-career veterans enjoying the best seasons of their careers... before moving along to other situations. I only hope this strength also remains after this season.
Thomas Jenkins: The youth of the team is one strength that I feel deserves mentioning. All the answers here rightly point out the strength of the coaching staff and the defense, but I think it’s noteworthy that the Hawks’ most important players are all now young. This is a marked change from the last few veteran teams. Obviously, this team will suffer from inexperience and I’m sure that Paul Millsap will be missed in the locker room. That said, it’s exciting to watch a team that will be considerably more youthful (and most likely more energetic) than the last few iterations of this Atlanta franchise. If enough of these young players develop in the right ways, we could see the payoff from having a young roster in a few years.
Harry Lyles Jr.: I think the team’s biggest strength is going to be their low expectations. It’s a young group, and they’re rebuilding. They’ll be able to go out there, play basketball, and learn from coach Bud, which will hopefully serve them well down the line when the rebuild reaches its final stages. If you want to go with something tangible, I would say defense is going to be their biggest strength, though it may not exactly be dominant by any means. It’s going to be a long season, but we know what to expect coming out of it.