The Atlanta Hawks will play their first of five preseason games on Monday when they host the New Orleans Pelicans. There is a significant amount of mystery as to what to expect given the significantly revamped roster and the arrival of Lloyd Pierce who will begin his career as a head coach this season.
Although all roster spots are accounted for with 15 players having a guaranteed contract and Jaylen Adams and Alex Poythress occupying the two 2-way spots, competition will intense as a host of young players look to establish themselves as legitimate NBA players. Likewise, the rotation that Pierce will deploy when the regular season begins on October 17 is far from determined.
Here is what I will be watching closely during preseason play.
Will John Collins play at the center position?
The Hawks Summer League roster was built with a host of players that could man the center position and Collins played exclusively at the power forward position before he was shut down after two games of play in Las Vegas. With both Dewayne Dedmon and Omari Spellman dealing with injuries it should not take long to find out if Pierce will experiment with using Collins at center in a small-ball lineup.
Collins demonstrated significantly advanced perimeter shooting and playmaking skills during Summer League play and the offensive scheme being implemented could dictate whether or not he will be used exclusively at the power forward position this season.
Will Taurean Prince play at the power forward position?
The injuries at the center position should also mean it should not take very long to discover whether or not Prince will be asked to slide up to the power forward position at times. Last season when injuries or matchup situations forced the Hawks to use lineups with three wings, it was usually Kent Bazemore who was asked to play at the power forward position on the offensive end of the court.
If the Hawks incorporate a lot of dribble hand off (DHO) action, we will be able to observe whether Prince is ever the player handing the ball off to a ball handler or not.
If the Hawks deploy any offensive sets that calls for a player operating with his back to the basket in the mid-post, we will be able to see whether or not Prince is ever the player doing that.
If the Hawks run any “Horns” sets we will be able to identify whether or not Prince is setting up with another big man at the top of the formation near the point guard.
And if Prince does play some at the power forward position it will be interesting to see how well those lineups rebound the ball, especially on the defensive end of the court.
It will also be intriguing to see if Prince has as much of a green light that he had as a shooter over the final month or so of last season.
Will Trae Young and Jeremy Lin play together?
Jeremy Lin was traded for in July for a number of reasons, the least of which being to help with the growth and development of the Hawks’ top draft pick, Trae Young. Lin has offered the most value to his team in recent seasons when he could be deployed as part of a two-point guard lineup. Especially when the other point guard, often the starter, is undersized… as Young is.
Playing with purpose off of the basketball will be an important focus for Young as he navigates his first professional season, but that could be facilitated when he is deployed in the preseason with Kent Bazemore, DeAndre’ Bembry, Daniel Hamilton or R.J. Hunter.
This could also provide some insight as to whether or not anyone on the current roster will function as a third point guard.
Who will Tyler Dorsey play with in the back court?
Dorsey, who will be a restricted free agent after this season, played a lot with Trae Young during Summer League action. But the pairing could be problematic in a number of ways in a real NBA setting. If the duo struggles together, it could suggest that Dorsey might not have much long-term value to the organization.
But if Dorsey is deployed in a way that he can be given an opportunity to help with a significant amount of offensive production with second unit lineups it could indicate that there very well might be a longer-term role with Atlanta.
When he is playing while Young is on the bench we will be able to notice if the Hawks are running offensive actions (floppy sets, hammer sets, pin down screens, etc.) with the primary goal of getting Dorsey good looks as a scorer. If yes, it will be interesting to see how successful he can perform in that role.
What will we see from Alex Len offensively?
The Hawks gave Len a fully guaranteed two-year contract this summer. There should not be much intrigue regarding what is expected of him defensively. But on offense it will be interesting to see whether he is doing anything more than setting screens, rolling toward the rim and hitting the offensive glass.
He has taken just 25 three point attempts in his career but that is 24 more than Dewayne Dedmon had taken prior to joining the Hawks last year. And Dedmon connected on 35.5 percent of his 141 attempts last season from the three-point line.
And the shots don’t necessarily have to come from the three-point line to be fundamentally important. If opposing centers are dropping deep in pick and roll coverage will Len be a threat to knock down a completely uncontested mid-range jump shot? He has always looked like a big man that could develop a functional jump shot. It will be interesting to see if the change of scenery will impact that part of Len’s offensive game.
What positions will Daniel Hamilton and Alex Poythress play?
Hamilton profiles physically as a wing but he was a successful secondary playmaker in the G League last season. He also functioned at times as a point guard in the half court offense. Will he, for example, be given a chance to earn the third point guard spot? Or will he function exclusively as a traditional wing.
Poythress entered his NBA career being viewed as a combo forward. But he looks to have added quite a bit of bulk since last season. And he played a lot of minutes at the center position during his Summer League action with the Pacers. It will be especially interesting to see how roles are filled when and if he and Collins are deployed in a lineup as the two big men.
How will the competition for rotation spots among reserve wings end up?
As long as Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince are both healthy and on the roster (e.g. no Bazemore trade) it should be expected they will respectively start at the shooting guard and small forward positions all season. But there will be more competition for playing time off of the bench at the wing positions than at any other spot on the roster.
There are a number of key things to track in this area.
Can Bembry stay healthy and be unquestionably the best defender among the group? Can he attack successfully in dribble penetration and/or demonstrate a functional perimeter jumper?
How NBA ready is Kevin Huerter? Can he consistently do anything more than make perimeter jump shots? How much defensive versatility can he project as a prospect?
Has Tyler Dorsey improved as a defender? Last season he was impressive in how mentally prepared he was for his defensive assignments as a rookie. But his physical limitations still reduced his overall value to the team at times.
Can Daniel Hamilton help the Hawks push the pace when he is on the court? He was excellent initiating transition possessions during his play in the G League last season. Also, can he improve as a team defender?
Will the tenure Justin Anderson has playing under Coach Pierce’s guidance in Philadelphia move him ahead of others in the rotation once he is cleared to play?
The season is approaching. And while expectations are low as the Hawks begin their 2018-19 season, there are many interesting things to pay attention to even during preseason action.