The Atlanta Hawks have enjoyed a 10-season run of making the Eastern Conference Playoffs. This is truly a great achievement for a non-elite market team in the NBA, and even more impressive is the fact that the team has accomplished this feat without ever having a certified “superstar” at the center of it all.
Only the San Antonio Spurs currently sport a longer stretch of NBA Playoff appearances with an outrageous 20 consecutive years with their 21st straight in sight. However, with the Hawks seemingly all but eliminated from Playoff contention in 2018, it appears Atlanta’s great streak will finally end. So, what’s next?
While Travis Schlenk took over the reigns of the General Manager position just last summer, it hasn’t taken long to figure out that he values payroll flexibility, keeping the team well-stocked in future NBA Draft picks, and that he has an eye for talent with the great success the Hawks had in the 2017 Draft. It also hasn’t taken long to find out that he’s been through this before with Golden State.
Yes, before the Warriors became the unbeatable team that posted the greatest regular season record in NBA history, Schlenk was there. Schlenk joined Golden State in 2004 as a video scout and moved up the ranks quickly to the role of assistant coach before moving into the Warriors front office as an assistant GM to Bob Meyers from 2012 to 2017. Schlenk has seen it all and knows firsthand that this isn’t a one season type of rebuild.
The Hawks don’t really possess a cornerstone player, and this is something Schlenk has noted in the past. John Collins is a great young talent who possibly could develop into that, but what the Hawks are really searching for is a player who controls the game. This means controlling the tempo, getting the rest of his teammates involved on the offensive end and being a leader on defense which is something the Hawks currently don’t have.
Fans can look at someone like Dennis Schroder, who is averaging 19 points and 6 assists per game, and say that he’s controlling the offense and tempo but, upon further investigation, it’s important to note that while he may be averaging 19 points, he’s taking 17 shots a night to get there. It’s also a possibility that this is as good as Schroder will ever get with him about to turn 25 in September. The Hawks desperately need a leader who can be the face of the franchise and can help build the culture that Atlanta has tried to establish since Coach Budenholzer arrived in 2013.
This search for a cornerstone player will put a ton of pressure on making sure to pick the right player and more importantly to pick the best player available in the 2018 Draft. It is also important to understand that hitting on a player in the draft who can become the team’s go-to player won’t signal the end of the rebuilding effort.
Schlenk has witnessed it first hand with the Warriors that drafting a single star player like Stephen Curry alone won’t bring home NBA titles, but by adding Klay Thompson and a player like Draymond Green to the mix you can line up pretty much any group of players with them and have a playoff contender. This works beautifully with Atlanta’s noted knack for player development that is already in place and has really brought the best out of guys who have played for the Hawks in the past and the present.
Atlanta is headed down the right path. It is not easy to watch the team lose on a nightly basis, but it comes with the territory. For Hawks fans, the most helpful thing to do is to look at how Golden State has rebuilt in the past because Schlenk is most likely to follow that recipe for success.
It is certainly possible the Hawks have hit on their version of a Draymond Green (albeit with a different skill set) in drafting John Collins and it also remains possible that the Hawks will head in a completely different direction. By having payroll flexibility in the future, Atlanta has already gotten ahead of the game and should be able to control the way they choose to go.
Hawks fans can take solace in the fact that, while Atlanta may not be a playoff team for the next couple of seasons, the team is trying to build towards contention instead of playoff mediocrity. Fasten your seat belts because rebuilds don’t happen overnight and the Hawks are just getting started.