New GM Travis Schlenk’s immediate responsibility is to jump-start the retooling phase the organization has tried avoiding over the last two years. Now with the possibility of losing two cornerstone players in Al Horford and Paul Millsap to free agency consecutively, they will need to address the following areas in order to have the slightest chance at continuing their 10 straight playoff appearance streak.

Firepower

SF Danilo Gallinari
 There is no secret, Schroder needed adequate spacing last season and Gallinari can provide just that. Last year, the Hawks were just 22nd in PPG (points per game) and 27th in offensive rating. Meanwhile, Gallinari was busy posting 18 PPG on 44 percent shooting from the field for a top-5 rated offensive juggernaut. His ability to move without the ball , score from the post and shoot the three ball in Atlanta’s motion offense will help create the necessary overreaction from defenses the Hawks thrive off of.

His history of injuries(back, ACL) should be alarming, but he played 63 games last year — the most since 2012–13.

SG Ian Clark
 He may have been placed in the doghouse by playoffs end, but Clark has plenty of upside at 26 years old and a knack for getting hot. His numbers will not blow you away at all, but when examining Clark you have to look at the moments when the opportunity was given. He broke his career high three times this season — 22 and 23 points versus the Blazers within the first two meetings of the season and then 36 points versus the Spurs reserves in March.

His minutes fluctuated much of this postseason, which may deem this as a huge risk. However, bringing a winner’s mindset to a young hawks squad in a bench role with a more minutes is an asset.

Low-post Scoring/Size/Rebounding

C Dewayne Dedmon
Dedmon is a hustler. He earned every single minute played last year for the Spurs and would find ease transitioning to Atlanta. Listed at 7 feet, he plays the game with a such ferocity and versatility. His 4.8 defensive rebounds per game(17.5 minutes per game) rank 26th among centers with the majority of individuals finishing ahead of him receiving 20+ minutes a game. Atlanta struggled with limiting opponent offensive rebounds (long rebounds especially) last season as the effort and scheme failed them far too often. Dedmon’s length and energy will help limit those issues.
C Willie Reed
There will always be interest in skilled young big men no matter what trend has taken over the league. Reed is just that. One year with the Heat under Pat Riley’s high standards of physical fitness will do that to you. In three of the five games Reed started last year, he logged in a 22-point, 18-rebound game versus Phoenix, a 22-point, 12-rebound game against the Clippers and a 20-point, five rebound game in Chicago. Reed has plenty of ability finishing around the rim using an array of shots in the post or off pikc-and-rolls. He is not an elite defender by any stretch, but solid and has grown in terms of how to use his body(6–10, 220) defending in the post.

Versatility

PG/SG Tyreke Evans
By the conclusion of the first round series against Washington, Atlanta’s lack of ballhandler’s and shot creators eventually came back to bite them. Washington has John Wall and Bradley Beal, two individuals that can get the shot they want at any given time. Atlanta had just Dennis Schroder as Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined for 26 out of 40 turnovers from the entire Hawks backcourt. However, Evans can handle the ball and handle it well. At 6’’6 and still possessing one of the sickest handles in the league, Evans has the ability to get into the lane and create any shot he pleases without relying on help from others — music to Schroder’s ears. We all took notice and marveled at his playmaking ability starting at the University of Memphis playing point guard for John Calapari. His years in the league haven’t changed that one bit — whether its from a guard or forward position.
SF/PF James Johnson
 James Johnson will garner much attention this off-season coming off a career high in points, rebounds and assist. He’s strong, athletic and can get his own if need be. Too strong for small forwards — too quick for power forward’s — too much for both at times. Atlanta has targeted size and versatility in the past two drafts — obviously highlighting a need. Johnson meets those qualifications and starting to trend upwards heading into his 9th year at age 30.

Just a week ago new GM Travis Schlenk stated his draft philosophy is taking the most talented player available rather than addressing a positional need. But a lot has changed now with Dwight Howard’s departure and free agent Paul Millsap’s possible exit hanging in the balance —  the Hawks decided it would be in their best interest to select Wake Forest’s John Collins Thursday night. A pleasant surprise for the Hawks front office as they were not able to host Collins for a work out due to his lottery projections.

“We thought he would go a little bit higher for sure,” said Schlenk. “The whole process with the agents sending guys where they think is the best slot for their guys to go in the short period of time they have. His agent sent him to places higher than us. But, he’s a kid we scouted a lot during the pro-day out in LA. I saw him play three times this year, probably four or five times last year. We are comfortable with him.”

Atlanta saw Collins’ multifaceted approach of impacting the game and felt he would add value to a frontline they are presently restructuring. Despite finishing a solid ninth as a team in rebounding this past season, that wasn’t the case in Budenholzer’s first three seasons; they finished no better than 24th, with rebounding often being pointed out as the team’s biggest weakness.

With Howard gone, Collins may be able to help the Hawks from falling back down so quickly. On average, Collins snagged down nearly 10 rebounds a game last year for Wake Forest. Collins could be able to contribute on offense as well, as he averaged 19 points per game last season, mostly due to his knack for finishing around the basket. Despite having Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap, Atlanta finished just 19th in points in the paint during the 2016-17 season.

“First off, his athleticism and ability to run the floor,” said Schlenk. “He’s a great rebounder, which obviously we know we’ve struggled a little bit in the past here. He can also score in the post, so that gives us another option inside.”

“I think its great,” said Collins on his style of play in Coach Budenholzer’s system. “My ability to be as versatile as possible, but just as a flat liner, I think my game can fit with any coaching style. I think the way I play the game is flexible enough to mesh with any coaching style. Me and coach will obviously have to talk about what my role will be coming in as a young guy. I am definitely confident in our ability to build a relationship on and off the court.”

Collins, just 19, brings an abundance of talents to Atlanta and a ton of potential — to reach that ceiling he will need to expand his range.

“The first thing we are going to work on him with is his jump shot,” said, Schlenk. “As you guys watched him in college all his scoring came in the post. He’s got a good post game, we just need to extend his range out especially the way we play and the way the league is going.”

Stretching his game coincides with an Atlanta team looking to space the floor in order to create more room for Dennis Schroder to operate. Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry were drafted last year with the intent on reinvigorating more athletic playmakers along the wing. Collins’ selection continues that theme, but he understands what he first needs to improve on offensively and overall to help this team.

“I’m definitely looking to expand outwards away from the basket,” said Collins. “I think I have proven to a lot of people that I’m a proven scorer in and around the basket. But I want to be able to be as versatile as possible, shooting 3s, guarding multiple positions, make plays.”

Collins repeated what appears to be a growing theme under Coach Budenholzer.

“Be as versatile as possible.”

Collins continues not just the recent theme for Atlanta’s needs on the court, but also adds on to a list of former Demon Deacons that have worn a Hawks jersey. Jeff Teague was drafted by the Hawks in 2009 and his former coach Danny Manning averaged 15 points and six rebounds for a Lenny Wilkens’ coached squad in the 1993-94 season. However, the most recognizable Deacon outside of Tim Duncan has taken on a mentor role for Collins.

“CP [Chris Paul] has helped me out a lot along the way,” Collins said. “I had the opportunity to train with him in Los Angeles. He’s helped me and guided me every step of the way. He tells me to grip everything, know what’s in front of you, know what’s going on with your career because it’s your career. You got to have fun, that’s the biggest thing. You see a lot of guys get caught up in the lifestyle, trying to have fun, but obviously, try and continue to improve on your game.”

The Hawks are amidst a roster change with big decisions on the horizon. Collins’s selection might have come as a shock given the pre-Draft prognosis, but nevertheless a step in the right direction.

 Friday morning the Atlanta Hawks formally introduced Travis Schlenk as both their general manager and head of basketball operations. Schlenk, the 41-year old from Selden, Kansas is the 17th general manager in Hawks history and arrives after playing a key role as assistant general manager over the last five years in shaping what is now the most dominant team in the NBA — the Golden State Warriors.
 “Where Golden State is right now taking seven years, said Schlenk. “It is not a quick process and it takes time. The way you get there is by maintaining your flexibility, accumulating assets and developing your own talent. We have, in Coach Bud and his staff, a great group of coaches who’ve have done a great job historically of developing talents. So we are in great shape there. We have 11 draft picks coming up in the future, so we have flexibility and assets there. We are actually in a better place right now than Golden State was when I started there.”

With just eight players under contract set to return next season, there is either optimism or pessimism permeating down Peachtree Street and all throughout Atlanta. The decision to keep Paul Millsap during this past season sparked déjà vu for some after the front office tandem of Mike Budenholzer and GM Wes Wilcox elected to take a gamble and hold on to Al Horford after the trade deadline last year. Ultimately it cost Atlanta as they lost him to eastern conference rivals the Boston Celtics.

Fast-forward to now and Atlanta has yet again another big offseason decision to make. Their top scoring leader over the past three seasons and one of the most versatile forwards the league has to offer is set for free agency.

“Paul is a 4-time All-star and arguably the best player on this team, probably is the best player on this team, so that is going to be a priority, said Schlenk. For me right now I’ve got to get with Coach Budenholzer and his staff and my front office staff. Over the next three weeks, we have to hammer out a plan for the future. Paul is certainly going to be a priority.”

 

Millsap arrived in Atlanta along with Mike Budenholzer four years ago. The pair has successfully made the playoffs each season. During this time frame, they notched a #1 Eastern Conference seed in 2015 as well as a top-six defensive rating over the last three seasons. All this, and yet sustained success without a trophy to show for it doesn’t mean anything in the end.

Schlenk on the other hand values the consistency the organization has maintained over the years and space they now have to make possibilities a reality.

“For 10 years in a row, this franchise has been in the playoffs. Most of the time when guys take a job at my level their inheriting a bad team. I am inheriting a good team with a nice foundation that has some flexibility and that’s what we will look to maintain. As we get to a position where a trade or acquisition comes available for a superstar we will be in position to do that.”


“Superstar” — the response hastily and repeatedly heard with regards to what it will take for the Hawks to finally sip champagne. It is a rhetorical question to ask in all honesty. Aside from Dennis Schroder, and the developing Taurean Prince there aren’t many hybrid roster assets. Moreover, Atlanta’s draft choices have not panned out over the years — and without the ability to attract big free agents the team struggles to become a legitimate threat to the King from Akron.

In order for a drastic shift in expectations and trajectory, Atlanta will have to become much more aggressive making moves to acquire big talent. They have done well-shedding contracts over the past two seasons despite signing the hometown kid Dwight Howard to a three-year $70 million deal last summer. They currently have just $62,399,872 in team payrolls on their books — fifth lowest in the league.

Schlenk enters into an organization that has stayed clear of paying the NBA’s tax luxury since the 2002–2003 season — Jason Terry was just a third-year player. Yes, different ownership at the time, but nothing has changed in their efforts when it comes to watching the bottom line. Maybe it has cost them championships, maybe it hasn’t — even though the 2004 Pistons did win a title with just the 17th highest payroll — times have changed and biting the bullet may not seem so bad as the Cleveland Cavaliers did for their 2016 championship that cost them $54 million in luxury taxes.

Championships cost money.

“I don’t think it makes sense for a franchise to go into the tax unless you are competing for a championship, said Schlenk. “Being fiscally responsible with these gentleman’s money that’s not right. But if we are where we make a move its going to put us in tax by a few million dollars, but give us a better chance to win a championship. That’s when I will go to bat and knock on Tony’s door and say this is something we need to do because it will get us to where we want to go.”

A successful style of basketball arrived in Atlanta along with Mike Budenhozer in 2013. However, taking on the president of basketball operations position after Danny Ferry’s departure in 2015 appeared to be one job too many for Budenholzer. The team has taken a step back the last two seasons (eliminated in the semi-finals in 2016 and the first round this season) and ownership ultimately felt an individual with Schlenk’s team building knowledge and vigor was needed.

“We have tried to win every year, said Owner Tony Ressler. “There is no doubt that over the past two years what we’ve seen, and what I’ve said, is the goal is how do we make better decisions and how do we have more firepower in the front office. With a comfort level that we can get to the next level. We feel that Travis absolutely has that understanding and has seen it firsthand. As we learned in our reference checks, Travis understands every part and does the work. Understanding players, recruiting players and understanding what makes a franchise player-friendly. All of these are critically important for us.”

Friday marked the beginning of a new era in Atlanta Hawks basketball with hopes Schlenk can provide an innovative process towards becoming a powerhouse for a organization that has not reached an NBA Finals since 1961. Not only a powerhouse, but an attractive destination for years to come in a city desperately waiting for prosperity. Not an easy task, but he’s seen this before and played a pivotal role in the turnaround.

What a year it was covering this year’s Atlanta Hawks team. The acquisition of Dwight Howard jump started the summer with a jolt of excitement. The Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy alum came aboard with hopes to bring a championship to his hometown.

Instead, he ended the season sitting on the bench as his teammates clawed back from a 19 point deficit, only to come up short in game 6 versus the Wizards. That wasn’t the first time this season he sat during a crucial run, and the first year of the Howard experiment can be deemed a failure.

“ It doesn’t matter about matchups, said Howard in his exit interview. “ I want to play. I don’t care who is out there. I want to give the best for my team and the city. That is why I came here. So it is upsetting when you want to get out there and play. You work hard for something and you watch it being taken from you, not the coach taking it — but Washington taking the opportunity of us moving to the next round.”

First-year starter Dennis Schroder took advantage of his opening round matchup against All-NBA point guard John Wall — as he did against several elite point guards throughout the year — validating that the organization made the right decision when they handed him the keys over Jeff Teague. Paul Millsap’s free agency talk dominated and overshadowed much of his big-time all-star performances, as if his game needed further neglect on the national stage. However, to the credit of head coach and team president Mike Budenholzer, it never seemed to become a distraction.

Whether it was Millsap’s free agency, Schroder and Howard’s argument in the third quarter versus the Warriors during a live possession or Schroder’s late arrival from All-Star break due visa issues — the team remained positive and focused.

In the last four seasons under Budenholzer none of his teams were more inconsistent, erratic and perplexing than this 2016–2017 ballclub. The hot 9–2 start occurred so early it now qualifies as a mirage. By the end of December they were a more realistic 16–16. At that time they had a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers (and would later win the season series 3–1), but suffered losses against the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.

The month of January was very telling in terms of just how unsettled they were. Starting on the 13th until March 6th they never notched a winning streak more than two games. Win one, lose the next, win another, lose the next, identity crises at its finest.

Kent Bazemore expressed the same sentiment to me after asking him about the team’s issues following a 131–120 loss in December to the Orlando Magic that dropped their record to 12–13.

“This is a very deep team and we have a lot of guys who can play so it’s all about finding that rhythm as a unit”, Bazemore said. “We’ve had glimpses of both units doing well. The bench started off the season doing well, then the starters got going, so it’s a lot going on and not enough consistency. But we are not going to get it back all at once and we are still trying to figure out who we are.”

The lows were pretty damn low and can be summed up in a moment I personally witnessed covering the Brooklyn Nets routing on March 26th that handed the Hawks their seventh loss in a row. A fan casually strolled down from his seat into the credentialed media seating, nachos and soda in hand, and took a seat with the rest of us. Clearly he’d come to the conclusion at that time that the Hawks didn’t care, so why should he? Security never approached the gentleman or redirected him back to his original seating. He just sat there, apathetic, disinterested, scarfing down some nachos.

Their identity never seemed to take shape and why a large portion of the season Budenholzer experimented with several lineups during games looking for a spark on a team ranked in the bottom half of the league in scoring. Millsap spent plenty time at the five, Bazemore took over point guard duties at times and even Kyle Korver played power forward occasionally. Compound that with a defense that poorly defended the three-point line in today’s NBA and well you’ve put yourself in a tough spot.

Those spots ranged from out of playoff contention momentarily midway through the season to losing 9 out of 11 games (with Millsap and Bazemore missing games due to injury) down the stretch that put their playoff hopes in jeopardy and having to wait until the 79th game to breath a sigh of relief.

Schroder struggled limiting turnovers, Howard hurt the defense by staying in the paint during pick-and-roll situations and Bazemore’s $70 million contract seemed to cause him to press. The list goes on and on, but nuzzled in it all were some of the most thrilling moments in Hawks history. The 26 point deficient at the start of the fourth quarter comeback victory versus Cleveland on April 9th, the overtime upset over the San Antonio Spurs and of course who can forget what took place on January 29th — the quadruple overtime victory over the New York Knicks — just the 11th time in NBA history.

The game lasted four hours as people stood by the exit doors with one foot in the arena one foot out not able to tear themselves away from what was taken place.

Rookie Taurean Prince and pending restricted free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. also provided optimism and excitement throughout a treacherous seven months. Prince took advantage of Bazemore and Sefolosha’s injuries by showcasing his versatility and therefore cementing his spot in the starting lineup. Hardaway deserved Most Improved Player consideration after turning his 2015–2016 woes into a distant memory by becoming the team’s scoring spark they severely needed especially after Kyle Korver was dealt.

In the end this team surpassed many preseason predictions that slotted them for a low seeding at best. Another franchise-alternating free agency awaits them in the coming months, but as far as 2016–2017 went they were willing to fight no matter how steep the odds — despite being ill-equipped with the necessary firepower.

“This group was a fighting group,” said Paul Millsap after game 6 loss. “With the ups and downs we had, we found a way to fight and compete. We shut down a lot of naysayers. We had a lot of people that said we weren’t going to make the playoffs. We just ran into a team that was hot, the Wizards were hot. I like this team and the fight in this team.”

All stats courtesy of NBA.com

The Atlanta Hawks’ roller coaster season ended on Friday after the Washington Wizards won Game 6 in Atlanta after blowing the game open in the fourth quarter, squashing any hopes of a Hawks comeback — having trailed by as many as 22 points — and a possible Game 7. The Wizards won the series 4-2 and will advance to the second round where they’ll play the Boston Celtics.

On the night, turnovers killed the Hawks (especially in the first half) but the Hawks lost this series for plenty of other reasons than the turnovers they committed in Game 6.

Why, ultimately, were the Hawks bested by the Wizards in 6 games?

Too much Wall and Beal

The Hawks didn’t do a good enough job of limiting John Wall and Bradley Beal, who were probably the best two players in this entire series, certainly two of the best three players in this series (Paul Millsap being the other one). Wall averaged 29.5 PPG on 52.5% shooting from the field, 47.4% from three and 10.3 assists per game. Beal, meanwhile, averaged 25.8 PPG on 46.2% shooting from the field and 26.4% from behind the arc.

John Wall

Wall was easily the best player in this series and has been one of the best players in the entire first round of these playoffs. Period. You could tell right from Game 1 that this was a revenge series for the Wizards and John Wall who, of course, lost to the Hawks in second round in 2015 but felt they should’ve advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals if Wall hadn’t injured his hand in Game 1.

Even in Game 1, Wall was keen to show Schröder who was boss, rekindling some beef from the 2015 playoffs where Schröder, supposedly, told his teammates to hit Wall’s injured hand (something Schröder denies).

Continue Reading…

Howdy!

Just a quick recap of the Hawks’ Game 5 (including the officiating, Dwight and Bazemore, the bench, Dennis and Paul) loss before setting the table for Game 6 in Atlanta

That, and in-arena “cuisine”.

Thanks for listening!