With the 2018-19 NBA season fast approaching, SB Nation is unveiling a preview from all 30 teams and there are plenty of story lines to monitor from across the league. The Atlanta Hawks are no different, as the front office infused the roster with intriguing talent in the offseason to the point where the on-court product should be both interesting and future-facing.
In this space, we’ll take a glance at a few themes for the 2018-19 season, taking into account that the Hawks are not exactly expected to make a run to the playoffs. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyable to follow the squad, though, and here are a few things to keep in mind.
The Hawks finished the 2017-18 season with 24 victories, though that total was hampered by late-season injuries to both Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder. Atlanta performed with the peripherals of a 27-win team over the course of their first rebuilding season in more than a decade and, as a result, the Hawks landed a top-three pick to go along with two first-round selections via Minnesota and Houston.
In the offseason, the roster changed quite a bit. As noted above, the draft was the biggest infusion, with the Hawks adding Trae Young (after a deal with Dallas), Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman with first-round selections. Elsewhere, Atlanta invested in a few quality free agents like Vince Carter, Alex Len and Daniel Hamilton, with trade activity that netted Justin Anderson and Jeremy Lin.
The change at point guard is perhaps the most significant, with Schroder giving way to the combination of Young and Lin. Last season, Schroder was the focal point of the offense when on the floor and, while he struggled mightily on the defensive end, that usage must go elsewhere now.
Beyond that, the Hawks must replace the long-time contributions of Mike Muscala, who was traded to Philadelphia in the deal that brought Anderson to Atlanta. The addition of Len and Spellman will help to off-set but both Muscala and Schroder were long-time contributors to the organization and it is always a change when transactions like that are executed.
Full-blown strengths are hard to come by, at least when compared to upper-echelon NBA teams. The Hawks will be able to deploy lineups that feature five shooters, and that is a plus. Both John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon have displayed the ability to knock down three-point attempts while operating at big man positions, with Alex Len flashing the ability (and green light) to do so in his new home.
Elsewhere, this is a unit that now has multiple creators, with Taurean Prince taking a sizable step forward last season and Kent Bazemore becoming more comfortable with the ball in his hands. It will be interesting to see how the combination of Young and Lin works out at the point of attack but the Hawks now have wing depth that they haven’t enjoyed in a long time as well, with Carter, Anderson, Huerter, DeAndre’ Bembry and others set to take on roles.
Things might be a little bit rough on the floor this season, particularly on the defensive end. Travis Schlenk’s long-term plan absolutely involves floor-spacing and ball movement on the offensive end but, at the moment, there aren’t a lot of high-level defenders on the roster.
Collins is poised for a step up on that end of the floor and Bazemore was the team’s best two-way player last season. Prince is capable of more but that wasn’t on full display last season and, while Dedmon is solid, he isn’t a spectacular defender at the rim. Throw in the fact that the point guard spot might be rough as Young transitions to NBA life and, if you look up and down the roster, it is void of a legitimate stopper at every level of the defense.
Offensively, there is talent in the mix and the ability to space the floor and play with pace. With that tempo might come sloppiness early on, though, and the Hawks finished 29th in the NBA in offensive turnover rate last season. That number might be replicated with the ball in Young’s hands often, especially given the break-neck pace requested by new head coach Lloyd Pierce.
Goals for the season
Everything is future-facing in Atlanta and that needs to be a central talking point throughout the 2018-19 campaign. The Hawks likely will finish at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference but, considering their trajectory, that isn’t a problem.
Moreover, the most important thing is that the team’s young assets — Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince, John Collins, Omari Spellman and others — improve and gain solid footing in the league. For Prince and Collins, it is no longer a question of whether they are able to stick in an NBA rotation but taking the next step to full-blown building blocks would be excellent for the Hawks. As for the rookies, Young possesses star upside that would be encouraging if put on display and the Hawks will be hoping for signs of future viability from their other young players, including more experienced figures like Bembry, Len and Tyler Dorsey.
Story lines to monitor
What happens at point guard?
Both Trae Young and Jeremy Lin will play considerable minutes this season and that isn’t up for debate if healthy. Still, there is some question as to who will take the bulk of the minutes, particularly early in the season, and the ultimate decision could reveal what Atlanta’s goals are in terms of development.
The battle for wing minutes
There are seven players — Dedmon, Len, Collins, Prince, Bazemore, Lin, Young — that are virtually guaranteed to be a part of the rotation when healthy. After that, things get a little more interesting, with players like Carter, Bembry, Anderson, Huerter, Spellman, Dorsey and even two-way forward Alex Poythress jockeying for position. In the early going, Pierce may default to veterans like Carter and Anderson but, by the end of the campaign, more time for the youngsters (and particularly the rookies) may be in the cards.
Breaking in a new voice
Lloyd Pierce checks every box that the Hawks wanted in a new head coach when replacing Mike Budenholzer. He is young, skilled in player development, personable and defensive-minded. In fact, he even looks the part of a high-end NBA head coach and carries himself in an impressive way. Until he actually under fire, though, questions have to be asked as to how he’ll adjust to life in the No. 1 spot on the bench and that includes rotational decisions, schematic deployment and much more.
Our staff weighed in with win-loss predictions in late August and, while things could certainly change, they are worth a read. Ultimately, the team will be seeking a balance between player development and enough losses to secure another high draft pick, leading to a a win total somewhere in the 20’s.
Let’s roll with 25-57 and a mark that is not the worst in the league, or even in the Eastern Conference.