The 2019-20 NBA season isn’t “over” but, with the coronavirus pandemic placing the season in a suspended mode, there is a distinct chance that the Atlanta Hawks won’t be playing again this season. With that as the backdrop, the Peachtree Hoops crew will look back at the players still on the roster and how they performed in the team’s first 67 games.
The eighth edition focuses on veteran center Dewayne Dedmon.
It was a weird 2019-2020 NBA season for Dewayne Dedmon. With that said, the campaign had a nice start and, perhaps, an ending that may be encouraging for his next NBA season.
After bouncing around quite a bit in his first five seasons in the league, Dedmon used his emergence as a versatile big man to secure the best payday of his career. He was one of only ten centers in the league to attempt 200 three pointers in the 2018-19 season. Of the ten, only Karl-Anthony Towns (40%) converted his long-distance attempts at a better rate than Dedmon (38%). In addition, he made 70% of his shots at the rim, making him a legitimate dual-threat in a potent pick-and-roll combo with then rookie Trae Young.
Likewise, when the Hawks had stretches of defensive effectiveness during the 2018-19 season, it was most likely to be when Dedmon who was anchoring the unit. His versatility on that end of the court stood out when compared to players, namely Alex Len and Miles Plumlee, with whom he was then sharing the center position.
In short, the Hawks and Dedmon seemed like a marriage made in heaven, especially when taking into account his frontcourt fit with a high-end rim-runner like John Collins. Dedmon could work with Young in any way a given match-up might require on the offensive end and, in 52 starts, he could at least make sure there was some communication and presence on the defensive end of the court.
But during the summer of 2019, the Hawks were not ready to spend the money required to keep Dedmon in Atlanta. Meanwhile, a seemingly on-the-rise Sacramento Kings organization stepped forward and offered Dedmon a three-year deal that guaranteed him more than $27 million dollars.
Sacramento needed help at the center position given the present-day match-ups in the Western Conference. In a crowded, competitive field, the Kings needed a big man that would not be shy when they had to face the likes of Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert. In strange fashion, it was consecutive games against Utah and Denver that seemed to permanently derail Dedmon’s season and, in time, his tenure with his new team.
In Sacramento’s third and fourth games of the season (both losses), Dedmon went 5-of-14 from the field to go along with eight turnovers and seven personal fouls. He was a collective -42 in the box score in 35 minutes of action. He wouldn’t start for Sacramento after those games until late in January, when it seemed he was being showcased for a trade.
Dedmon was never able to find his perimeter shot in Sacramento, and that was one of the bigger issues during his short stint with the Kings. He was never able to find a rhythm with his teammates and his playing time eventually disappeared. Both parties, player and team, were fairly vocal about how things had just not worked out.
Meanwhile in Atlanta, the Hawks struggled to defend, especially at the rim, and struggled even more so to rebound the basketball. At least part of those issues could be attributed to well below-average play at the center position.
So, despite having added Clint Capela from Houston just prior to the trade deadline, Travis Schlenk, when presented with the opportunity, pulled the trigger and brought Dedmon back to the Hawks. He would not be a savior, but that was never the plan. Capela was notably rehabbing to return from injury, and the Hawks still needed a starting center to finish the season.
When Dedmon arrived, the season was all but over in terms of any realistic playoff hopes, even if the Hawks were mathematically alive in the race. After a feel-good 2018-2019 season the Hawks were, at least according to rumors, not particularly enjoying playing together, not communicating enough, nor well enough, and so forth.
Capela never got healthy enough to suit up for his new team, so into the starting lineup went Dedmon. He started eight games in Atlanta, surrounding an injury of his own, and the Hawks went a respectable 3-5, including wins over Dallas and Miami, during that period.
Dedmon’s shot never reverted to 2018-19 form, but he was not shy about launching them, which is perhaps even more important when dictating spacing. He also worked as hard as he ever had in setting screens for Atlanta ball handlers.
The Hawks were quite a bit better on defense when Dedmon anchored the unit, and they were significantly better on the defensive glass. It was a little messy at the start but, with Dedmon involved, head coach Lloyd Pierce had options defensively in terms of the coverage he could choose to deploy.
Len, sent to Sacramento in the deal to acquire Dedmon, was not mobile enough to frequently get out on the perimeter to help defend ball screens. While he was by far Atlanta’s best option before February, he lacked the mobility to recover to the paint after venturing too far from the rim.
From there, Damian Jones was, conceptually, supposed to be able to handle the coverages that Dedmon eventually resumed. Still, he never played consistently with confidence and presence.
In short order, Dedmon was near or beyond the three-point line making an impact defensively at the level of the ball screen. The communication was non-stop and the effort and sense of urgency, even when it did not produce the best results, stood in contrast to what Hawks fans were seeing at the position too often across the season.
So what? Some Hawks fans may still be asking themselves. He will be a $13 million back-up center next season. Why did the deal need to be made? Were things so bad in the Atlanta locker room this season that they needed to spend that much of their 2020-2021 cap space to address the issue?
These are fair questions.
The answer probably lies most in the defensive development of the team’s rookie wings, De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish. Prior to the arrival of Dedmon, when, inevitably, mistakes would be made on the perimeter, there was no help behind the young defenders. Especially in a rookie season, it can be hard to reinforce work and effort when the results are so demoralizing.
Presumably, Dedmon restored some form of sanity. There was probably a bit of that for the coaching staff and a bit for the players.
Next season, Dedmon’s presence could have value in the form of his willingness to speak up and provide what the Hawks have presented as a coveted voice in the locker room. Capela brings a lot to the table — and he is a better overall player than Dedmon — but he’s never been widely known for his chattiness.
Offensively, assuming he remembers how to shoot, Dedmon will offer some lineup versatility that Capela does not. That is especially true with what is a very strong theoretical partnership with Collins and Young, and Dedmon performed at a starting-caliber level during his previous time in Atlanta.
Perhaps important given the youthful makeup of the current Hawks roster, Dedmon does not have to be motivated to play hard. He brings consistent effort, and that is a thing that, for whatever reason, was lacking all too often for too much of the past season in Atlanta.