With less than one month until Media Day and the start of training camp, the 2018-2019 season is rapidly approaching for the Atlanta Hawks. In this space, there has been plenty of discussion concerning the roster, from the moves executed by Travis Schlenk during the NBA Draft to the wheeling and dealing with veteran players in July.
With that as the backdrop, today’s agenda is to sift through the depth chart as a handy tool to decipher where players might fit and, frankly, to remember who is available for Lloyd Pierce as September approaches.
It should be noted that things are very fluid in the actual playing rotation, with only seven players (Collins, Dedmon, Len, Prince, Bazemore, Young, Lin) absolutely assured of playing time when healthy. That should be make for a very interesting pre-season but, until then, here is a glance at the players on the roster at this very moment.
John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, Alex Len, Omari Spellman, Miles Plumlee, Thomas Robinson*
It would be absolutely stunning if the opening night frontcourt did not include both Collins and Dedmon. Collins enjoyed a fantastic rookie season, averaging 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game with strong efficiency, and is poised for a potential breakout in year two.
If NBA Summer League is any indication, Collins will be taking his talents to the perimeter on a regular basis and his shooting stroke appears improved. That should open up the floor considerably and he appears to be the fully entrenched power forward with the ability to flash over to center when prompted to do so.
Dedmon returns as the veteran starting center and he famously enjoyed a perimeter renaissance a season ago. After attempting only one three-pointer in his career prior to 2017-18, Dedmon launched more than 150 attempts and made 35.5 percent of them, making him a legitimate weapon from beyond the arc. More importantly, Dedmon is a solid two-way player that can protect the rim and, with Collins and Dedmon set to play together on a regular basis, rebounding issues from the past may be mitigated by the presence of two big men with quality size.
Elsewhere, Len is head and shoulders above the other options in terms of a backup and the Hawks acquired him at a bargain cost in the off-season. The former top-five pick likely will never live up to that billing but he has the makings of a two-way threat and Len has displayed borderline elite potential as a rim protector and rebounder in the past.
The Hawks made a significant investment in Spellman, tabbing him with the No. 30 overall pick, but Summer League was a reminder that he isn’t quite NBA-ready at this juncture. It will be interesting, as a rule, to see how the Hawks handle their young players, but Spellman could spend time in Erie in order to maximize his development and, by season’s end, could join Atlanta’s rotation if he shows flashes.
Plumlee is owed $25 million over the next two seasons and that, unfortunately, is how he is often gauged. Obviously, the contract is ugly and Plumlee doesn’t appear to be in the team’s rotation plan this season. However, the veteran performed admirably when inserted into the lineup a season ago and, if injuries strike, Plumlee can eat minutes without taking too much off the table for the Hawks.
Lastly, Robinson was added to the training camp roster in late August and, at least for now, he is the only player set to participate that doesn’t have a guaranteed contract. The former No. 5 overall pick has an intriguing skill set, headlined by his elite rebounding ability, but Robinson has bounced around with six NBA teams in his short career and he should be seen as a long-shot to begin the regular season on the roster.
For the first time in a while, the Hawks have a lot of wing options and some of them even have the size and strength to defend opposing small forwards. Atlanta couples all of their wing-sized players together for deployment purposes but, for our purposes, we’ll try to group them into “traditional” positions, knowing full well that most guys will operate at both spots somewhere along the way.
Kent Bazemore, Kevin Huerter, Tyler Dorsey, DeAndre’ Bembry, Daniel Hamilton
Bazemore enjoyed something of a renaissance last season, zooming to career bests in scoring (12.9 points per game) and three-point accuracy (39.4 percent), among other things. For my money, he was the best player on the roster last season and, while some of that is faint praise considering the warts of others, Bazemore is a legitimate, starting-caliber wing in the NBA who performed quite well last season.
Behind Bazemore, there is a lot of uncertainty. Huerter is absolutely the biggest priority for the future but the 20-year-old missed Summer League with injury and it is difficult to judge just how ready he’ll be to join an NBA rotation from the opening minute of the season. There is a scenario in which the sharp-shooting wing players early and often but, on the flip side, Huerter could conceivably spend time in the G League as his development continues.
Dorsey and Bembry are at interesting points in their careers, with one entering restricted free agency after the 2018-19 season (Dorsey) and one with an intriguing team option decision on the horizon (Bembry). Dorsey played a larger role last season and was prominently involved in Summer League, but pegs as a shooting guard-only player with drawbacks in terms of defensive versatility and offensive play-making. He does bring a ton of shooting potential to the table, though, and that would fit with Travis Schlenk’s overall plan to provide a spaced floor, particularly if takes the jump to near-elite status in that area.
As for Bembry, injuries have plagued him for the bulk of his two NBA seasons and his jump shot is still a work in progress. Unlike Dorsey, he does bring defensive versatility and the potential for play-making offensively but, quite obviously, Bembry must stay healthy and provide some modicum of hope that his shooting can play up at the NBA level.
Lastly, Hamilton arrives in an intriguing situation. If anything, he might serve as the third/emergency point guard when Jaylen Adams isn’t available and Hamilton does have the ability to create for others. In the G League, he was an impressive stat-stuffer but he struggled mightily as a shooter last season and that projects as his swing skill moving forward. It is also worth noting that he is operating on a one-year minimum contract, providing an inherently short leash.
Taurean Prince, Justin Anderson, Vince Carter, Alex Poythress (two-way)
Prince is in a category by himself when compared to the other small forwards on the roster, as only he and Bazemore are absolutely assured of playing time on the wing. Of course, there are players that are more likely to see regular run than others but Prince is the starting small forward for a reason.
He took an impressive step forward on the offensive end last season, becoming a knock-down three-point shooter and displaying intriguing on-ball creation ability during the second half of the campaign. Prince is still better suited for a supporting role offensively but his emergence as an offensive threat is vital and, if his defense can revert to rookie-year levels from an effort and execution standpoint, there is no reason to think Prince can’t be an entrenched starter long-term.
Anderson arrives in the deal involving Dennis Schröder and Mike Muscala, and this is a big season for the former first round pick. He brings a strong, defensive-minded package to the table but, as is the case for many players of Anderson’s size, long-distance shooting is pivotal. If he can make a reasonable amount of open threes, Anderson projects as a rotation player. If he can’t, there may not be a role for him long-term. It’s honestly that simple.
Carter is a one-of-a-kind player on this particular roster, as he is the only player born before 1988. As a 41-year-old, it is tough to gauge just how often the Hawks plan to deploy Carter but, in the same breath, an argument could be made that he could be the team’s best combo forward behind Prince. If nothing else, Carter will provide steady veteran leadership and the ability to space the floor when deployed.
Poythress may not see much time in Atlanta, particularly early in the season. There is something of a log-jam (as you can see) of players on the wing and, even with full knowledge that Poythress may be more of a power forward at this stage, it would take an injury/trade/release in order to pave the way to consistent playing time. He is a fun talent, though, and this is a good use of a two-way spot that could come in handy in March.
Trae Young, Jeremy Lin, Jaylen Adams (two-way)
Very little can be said about Trae Young that hasn’t already been said in this space, particularly until the No. 5 overall pick puts more film on tape in an NBA setting. In short, he is an extremely talented offensive player with elite-level passing ability and the potential to provide high-end gravity as a long-distance shooter. That package of skills is enough to justify the sizable investment in his talent, even if the deal consummated to bring him to Atlanta will be litigated for a long time.
There are potential warts with Young, ranging from his lack of size to a defensive profile that isn’t exactly encouraging. Still, the Hawks have provided him with what appears to be a nice foundation for early-career success and, if Young can avoid some of the pitfalls that often plague rookie point guards, he should bring some entertainment to the table alongside flashes of brilliance toward the future.
In contrast, Lin is a steady veteran that, when healthy, has played at a starter level for quite some time. It has to be noted that the 30-year-old missed virtually all of the 2017-2018 season but Lin is seemingly on track for training camp and that is a positive sign.
When Young is off the floor, Lin provides a steady hand at the point guard spot. He is capable of scoring for himself and creating for others, with enough size and defensive acumen to hold up on that end. In addition, Lin and Young should see plenty of time together, with Lin provided an off-ball option given his three-point shooting and the ability to passably defend shooting guards.
It will be interesting to see how the minutes shake out, particularly when it comes to the opening weeks of the season. Still, the Hawks have only two full-time point guards on the active roster, and that means there is little margin for error from an injury standpoint.
Atlanta did invest a two-way spot in Adams, though, and the former St. Bonaventure star should see some time in the NBA at some point. His bankable skill comes as a shooter, especially off the dribble, and the Hawks like his package of offensive skills. Defense will absolutely be a challenge early in Adams’ career but, if something were to happen to Young or Lin, Adams would get the call from Erie for potentially extended duty.
As noted (multiple times) above, Atlanta’s rotation could be fluid throughout the season but, with 17 players under contract (plus Thomas Robinson), there will be plenty of angles to cover throughout the campaign.