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 edition broke down the team’s biggest strength for the upcoming season and that was followed up by the flip side in evaluating Atlanta’s biggest weakness. Today, we pivot a bit in looking at the rotation/position battles that are worth monitoring.
Brad Rowland: For better or worse, I think it is the battle for playing time as the fourth big man. It would be a surprise to everyone if Dewayne Dedmon, Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Muscala weren’t in the rotation immediately but the fourth spot is up for grabs between John Collins, Luke Babbitt and Miles Plumlee. Collins is, by far, the most intriguing player and he is absolutely the guy that most of the fan base would like to see in the role, especially on a rebuilding team. However, Mike Budenholzer has not always embraced rookies early in their first season and he has two options that bring different skill sets to the table. Babbitt would absolutely help the offense while Plumlee, coming off a (very) ugly season, has been an extremely capable backup center in the past that happens to be making quite a bit of money. We can all cross our fingers for Collins but I’m not so sure.
RedRev: The Hawks have five players who all have varying skills to play in the post. Any of the five may start a game for various reasons over the course of a season but which pair will emerge as the front line for closing games? I would place odds on Ilyasova and Moose as the most likely combination due to their versatility but it could be either of them paired with Dedmon or Plumlee could be rejuvenated with a fresh start. If John Collins grows quickly as a defender, he could be dynamics with any of the other 4 holding down the 5. Prince may play small-ball minutes at the 4 and certainly Babbitt will play a stretch role but any of these 5 could pair to be the top 2 bigs by the time 2018 begins.
Jeff Siegel: The wing rotation behind projected starters Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince will be most interesting to me. After Prince firmly took hold of the second starter spot down the stretch last season and in the playoffs, it seems likely that he’ll begin the season alongside Bazemore in the starting lineup, but how things shake out below them in the depth chart will say a lot about how the Hawks feel about their young guys and how much Budenholzer and his staff have bought into this rebuilding phase of the franchise. Will it be veteran Marco Belinelli as the first wing off the bench or will those minutes go to a combination of DeAndre’ Bembry, Nicolas Brussino, and Tyler Dorsey? The former would indicate a lack of trust in the latter to produce at an NBA level, but this season isn’t about that level of production anyway, so if the entire organization is on the same page with the rebuild, I expect the lion’s share of those minutes to go to the youngsters. This time next year, the Hawks will need to know who of that trio can play and who needs replacing, whereas playing Belinelli bigger minutes in the final year of his contract doesn’t bring the team much added value this season (since Atlanta doesn’t figure to be a playoff contender) nor in future seasons (since Belinelli is already 31 and won’t be on the next Hawks team to make the playoffs). Will Budenholzer play the kids, even if he’s pulling his hair out on the sidelines watching their mistakes?
Graham Chapple: For me, it has to be the battle for the backup point guard spot that literally just emerged with Malcolm Delaney and Quinn Cook. They’re both similarly skilled players and you could argue they’re as good as each other. If Delaney struggles again this season, the competition for his spot will be there but maybe that kind of pressure can help elevate his game. It’s going to be fascinating, and with a position like point guard it’s going to be one we’re going to talk about a lot. There’s going to be a lot of “Quinn Cook is the backup point guard tonight” kind of tweets. Bring it on because it should be fun.
Glen Willis: For me, it would be watching to see if Malcolm Delaney and and Quinn Cook can both play well enough to earn minutes. Coach Budenholzer has not been afraid to play line-ups with two point guards in the past. It would be fun to see them find a lineup that could play at a very fast pace at time that would probably include two point guard, Bazemore, Prince and Collins.
Thomas Jenkins: I want to see how much time Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry can get. Prince is a near-lock to play significant minutes, but Bembry still hasn’t reached that status. If he can become a solid rotation piece, or even something more, the Hawks’ famed player development may be able to cash another chip in. The reason that I list both players is that I’d like to see them play together. I’ve mentioned the importance of youth in multiple answers so far, and I think that’s important to note again here. This team is young and exciting, and I’d like to see the rotation reflect some of that intriguing talent. The more lineups that have rookies and second-year players in them, the better.
Greg Willis: The center position. Mike Muscala and Dewayne Dedmon bring two completely different styles. Muscala is a terrific perimeter shooter who can space the floor allowing Dennis Schroeder and others more room to operate. Meanwhile, 75% of Dedmon’s shot attempts last season were either a layup or a dunk. Muscala fits the style the Coach Mike Budenholzer likes to play on the offensive end while Dedmon brings toughness, rim protection and rebounding. It will be very interesting to see who opens the season as the starter and to see how Coach Bud allocates minutes at the center position.