In advance of the 2019-2020 season, the Peachtree Hoops staff will take a glance at each member of the roster in “player preview” fashion. The first installment arrives with a look at the team’s non-roster invitees to training camp.
Training camp brings with it some real competition at the bottom of the Atlanta Hawks roster. There are certainly minutes to win further up the pecking order, but Atlanta carrying just 14 full-time NBA players into training camp and preseason means one of their three training camp invites (Ray Spalding, Marcus Derrickson, and Armoni Brooks) will have a real shot at making the final team, while the other two will either sign with College Park for significantly less money or go overseas and try to ply their trade in Europe or Asia.
Of the three, Spalding appears to have the best chance of breaking into the team’s final 15-man roster. He’s the best player of the trio and plays a position of need — Atlanta has enough guards and power forwards to easily go without Derrickson or Brooks on the bench, but Spalding could be useful as a fourth center. Nobody knows what the Hawks will get from Bruno Fernando in his rookie year, but it’s very, very rare that a second-round pick is immediately able to step in and contribute positively in the NBA. Damian Jones may begin the year as the primary backup to Alex Len, but Jones has had significant injury issues throughout his career. Jones has torn his pectoral twice, including missing most of this past season with the second tear in three years, and sprained his MCL last year to prematurely end his 2018 Summer League run.
Spalding is just 22 years old and spent most of his rookie year with the Texas Legends in the G League. His numbers weren’t especially gaudy in the NBA’s minor league and he doesn’t pop off the screen offensively, but if the Hawks are looking for a defensive option at backup center, he can do that job. His +6 wingspan was put to good use with the Legends last season as he blocked 6.4 percent of opponent shots when he was on the floor, the tenth-best mark in the G League last season. Sometimes, his propensity to chase blocks ends up with him giving up offensive rebounds, but that exact decision point is one with which nearly every big man struggles, from the G League to the top of the NBA.
Derrickson came into the league with Spalding, plying his trade on a two-way contract with the Golden State Warriors. Standing 6’7 and strong at nearly 250 pounds, Derrickson would likely have trouble guarding 3s in the NBA, but he’ll have no problem banging down low with big men. Defense isn’t his calling card, though – offensively, he’s a lethal three-point shooter at the power forward position after shooting 42 percent from distance on six attempts per 36 minutes with Santa Cruz in the G League last year. The volume isn’t necessarily at an elite level when compared across all positions, but for a power forward, that’s quite a lot of shots to get up there.
The downside with Derrickson is that he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. He brings very little else to the table other than his shooting, which can be notoriously fickle for players outside of the near-elite guys. He’s not a very good ball handler or passer, and his height makes it a struggle for him to finish around the rim against bigger opposition. Even his shooting is limited to a standstill – he doesn’t have the footwork to consistently hit pick-and-pop jumpers at this point. There’s a lot of value in a standstill shooter at the power forward position who can hit 40 percent from distance, but given the rest of his weaknesses, it may not be enough to keep him on the Hawks’ roster. As the league moves toward homogeneity, particularly at the wing and forward positions, Derrickson’s lack of well-roundedness may put him on the outside looking in for the majority of his career.
Armoni Brooks finished up his three-year career at the University of Houston with a close Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky, in which he showed off his primary skill – shooting the basketball. His shot is more versatile than Derrickson’s, which makes sense given that he’s more perimeter-oriented at the shooting guard position. He was an elite shooter off the catch with the Cougars last season, both at a standstill and off movement, which could bode well for his NBA career. Plenty of players have carved out a strong career by being able to take and make shots on the move, though he’s going to have to be able to do that at an elite level to make this Hawks team.
Like Spalding, Brooks may benefit from the structure of the Hawks’ roster. They come into camp with just four full-time guards on the 15-man roster in Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Allen Crabbe, and DeAndre’ Bembry, which could open up the final spot for Brooks if he flashes in camp and preseason. Atlanta’s decision to play either Evan Turner or Jabari Parker as their offensive hub on the second unit gives them more opportunities to play guys like Brooks, who doesn’t need the ball to be successful and can play off Turner or Parker’s playmaking as an elite shooter.
It’s not overly likely that any of the Hawks’ three camp invites will make the roster, as is normal throughout the league. Atlanta does have an extra roster spot, but filling that spot would cost them nearly $900,000 in cap space. They currently have $5.3 million in cap space, which will be useful around the trade deadline to take on extra money in a trade, should they choose to use it in that way. Cutting $900,000 out of that wouldn’t be the end of the world, particularly if that amount isn’t fully guaranteed and that roster spot could be reacquired before the league-wide cut-down date in early January if Atlanta wants to take on extra players in a trade before February’s deadline. Between now and then, however, Spalding and Brooks have legitimate chances to make the roster, with Derrickson seemingly lagging behind due to the deluge of power forwards already on the team.