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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.

Game 4 Recap

Eric Yeboah —  April 25, 2017

What didn’t go well

For the second game in a row, Atlanta beat Washington in several categories, which may leave little to nit pick. However, Dennis Schroder and Jose Calderón did fall into foul trouble with three apiece before the first half ended. John Wall and Brandon Jennings attacked and had their aggressiveness used against them the same way Paul Millsap has done with Markieff Morris over the last three games. Budenholzer opted to stick with Calderon rather than going to Malcolm Delaney, but the amount of ball pressure they are instructed to heap on the Wizard’s backcourt is necessary yet dangerous. However, tonight Jose’s impact was far greater than normal.

“Jose most nights will probably not play enough minutes to foul out,” said Coach Budenholzer. “With Dennis with three fouls it may have been a little risky, but I just thought the way he and the team were playing I wanted to roll with that group.”

What went well

Dwight Howard made his proverbial entrance into this series in the 2nd quarter, scoring 10 of his 16 points. The first three games, the Wizards were exceptional at denying any lob opportunities, and Budenholzer was forced to limit Howard’s minutes in search of more shooting in small ball lineups. But the offense moved the ball well in game 4, shifting the Wizards’ defense off of Howard and allowing him to run much more freely to the basket without bodies draped all over him. Kent Bazemore connected with Howard for a couple highlight reel lob sequences that ignited the team and encompassed the do it all game his box score showed.

“I’ve continued to work, watch film and pick my spots,” Kent Bazemore said. “The pace was amazing tonight, the ball was moving and when you get touches your comfort level goes up a little bit. When you got guys on your team that really believe in you everyday is a new day. This is just another product of believing and staying the course.”

The team answered Coach Budenholzer’s transition defense demands to limit John Wall and his ability to find trailing shooters by allowing just 12 points, as opposed to the 21 points the Wizards averaged throughout the first three games. They struggled with controlling the pace and turnovers in the first two games, but on Monday they cleaned up both areas giving them a shot to slow Washington’s fast-break opportunities.

Suggested change for next game in series for the Hawks

The Wizards will be looking to force the Hawks backcourt into committing turnovers, as they did so successfully in games 1 and 2. There will need to be a continued emphasis on setting solid screens and moving the ball with a certain level of speed to counteract the Wizards length. Budenholzer should also stick to keeping at least one ball-handler on the floor at all times to help keep the turnover totals to a minimum, as they accomplished in games 3 and 4.

From a 9–2 start to out of playoff contention, from a streaking team to now stumbling into the postseason, the Hawks have seemingly endured it all this season. Sunday afternoon’s loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets completed their second seven-game losing streak of the season. Thabo Sefolosha was a late game scratch and, with the Hawks already without Kent Bazemore, Tauren Prince was tapped for his first career start. And, if you’ve noticed the flashes that he’s shown throughout the year, the start went exactly as expected.

 

“He did what he normally does,” DeAndre Bembry said. “He was aggressive offensively, got a few steals, created fast-breaks and of course the good defense. That’s what Coach likes about us as rookies — we play on both sides of the ball.”

 

Tim Hardaway Jr. has been the surprise spark for the Hawks this, but Taurean is giving him a run for his money. Taurean has accomplished what very few rookies under Head Coach Mike Budenholzer have ever done — gain his undeniable trust. At the wing, where the Hawks have a logjam of veterans, Prince has emerged post-all star break shooting 40 percent from three while showcasing his ability to guard all positions except centers all while also playing with a spirit this team desperately needed.

 

“I’ve just come into the second half of the season with a different mindset of how I approach things, how I approach practice and different preparation,” Prince said. “It’s helped me out this far and I think it’s helped the team out as well and I plan to keep doing what I’m doing, but turn it up a little more. Especially since it’s coming to the end of the season.”

 

Currently, he sits as the team’s fifth-best defensive player according to defensive Box Plus/Minus. Especially given the troubles that Dwight Howard has faced in this particular defensive scheme during pick and roll situations and given Bazemore’s increased role as a ball handler throughout this season, there was an opportunity for Prince to earn his keep.

 

He’s done so in so many ways, displaying his ability to chase-down blocks, rotate over from the weak side, contest shots at the rim, anticipate steals and utilize his length in passing lanes. Prince has brought another dimension to this Hawks team that they desperately needed.

 

The bravado that Prince carries onto the floor isn’t always prevalent within many rookies, but it’s something Bazemore noticed earlier in the season. He spoke about it with me in November following Prince’s 19 minutes outing in a 107–100 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

 

“Just another testament to the Atlanta Hawks player development system,” Bazemore said. “A guy works hard every day and when he gets his name called he’s ready. That’s one of his [Taurean’s] greatest attributes — he’s fearless, he’s out there chirping, hitting people, finishing above the rim and that’s his game. It’s good when you can get a young fella this early in his career and be that confident.”

 

The confidence was always there, but every rookie needs that breakout game or two to reassure themselves they belong. Just a few weeks ago, following a 16 point performance — his career high is 17 — against the Memphis Grizzlies, he acknowledged that that moment had arrived. In addition, his five points, five rebounds, three steals game against Portland on February 13th and again his eight points, 12 rebounds and two steals in Boston on February 27th  were a testament to his work ethic and another indication that he belonged, according to Prince.

 

“I’m a firm believer in if you put in the work then everything will take care of itself,” Prince said. “This summer Deandre and I were here, so credit to him and the coaching staff for putting us in the best position. Just being in the gym — especially at the beginning of the season when I wasn’t playing much — I was in the gym a lot more just trying to get reps. I just always had that confidence because I put in the work and believe in myself.”

 

Who would have guessed that? As a young player, especially a first round pick, the images of walking in and being a bonafide stud play through your head on several occasions. However, understanding the importance of how to be the best at what your role is on the team takes some time. Once that hill is climbed and embraced there is more room for growth, and Prince has acknowledged that truth.

 

Now, with the regular season coming to a close, Prince has caught on at the right time. The core players are fully aware of his value to this team and believe he will be a difference maker when they need it the most.

 

“It means a lot when you have guys like Paul Millsap, Dennis [Schroder] and Dwight [Howard] have that type of confidence in me and it’s another reason why I continue to play with confidence,” Prince said. “For me, it starts on the defensive end. I feel like in the beginning of the season I had a different mindset, but I’ve learned to focus on what’s more important. I just want to continue to get better and that’s the great thing about it is I have a lot of room to improve.”

 

President Trump’s first term has brought forth one of the most divisive times in both our country’s history and our personal relationships. Professional basketball players, like the rest of us, have been affected no differently. Back in November, Kent Bazemore expressed his “excitement” for Trump in the aftermath of his election and later, in February, Sporting News reported that Bazemore believed that Trump was an “asset” for this country. His close friend and Under Armour colleague Stephen Curry disagrees, but was pragmatic when asked about his and Bazemore’s relationship after Monday’s 119–111 Warrior victory over the Hawks.

“I don’t think you need to keep [politics] out of a friendship,” Curry said. “You accept people for what they believe in whether if you believe it or not.”

Head coach Steve Kerr can also relate with Bazemore and Curry on having close buddies that don’t completely concur with their political point of view. Kerr hasn’t been shy this season when it comes to expressing his disdain for the president. But, he feels that people should be open to contrasting opinions because freedom of expression is essential to our democracy.

“I got lots of friends that disagree with me politically and I have no problem with that,” Kerr said. “it’s part of our democracy and everybody can take their stance. That is their opinion, we respect it, we debate and we hash things out. That’s the way it should be.”

Back in November, Bazemore spoke with me, post-election, about the importance of supporting the new commander-in-chief.

“I am excited man,” Bazemore said. “Something new, obviously the rest of society hasn’t taken it well with all of the protest and riots. “But I think people all across the country are sick and tired of how things have always been and that’s why you get a guy like him in office to shake things up a bit. Make America great again is his slogan and as a President, we should stand behind him. I am all for change, never been afraid of change — Barack Obama said he has a shifting confidence in Trump. Like Oprah said, I think everybody can take a deep breathe now.

“You know I was reading a post the other day, talking about how Trump is what America is. I think that we should all come together during a time like this. Some people are scared of change, but I am not, let’s do it, let’s see what he’s got because that’s all you can do is stand behind him. For a man like him to be talked about as negatively as he has all his life and still assumes the position of power says a lot about him and his resilience and as a leader that’s what you want.”

Following the Bazemore’s and Curry’s sixth matchup of their careers — Curry the winner of five of them — the former chatted with Dell and Sonya Curry outside the visitor locker room as other family and friends waited for Steph to finish up his postgame media obligations. Once completed, the two greeted one another with smiles and laughter. The pleasantries exchanged reflected their relationship — devoid of the political divide that has soiled so many relationships since that fateful Nov. 8 day.

“Our friendship goes way beyond basketball or politics,” Bazemore said. “We have a very special bond, but we aren’t siamese twins or anything. We both have a way of living life.”

Curry has no fundamental issue with having a close friend that takes an opposing side in the political arena, as long as that individual can articulate his or her thoughts logically and within reason.

“As long as you stand by it and have a reason for it or what not,” Curry said. “That doesn’t change my perspective on who a person is.”

Bazemore, too, was coy, yet candid about the potential divisiveness politics have taken on his life, but concurred with Curry’s perspective of acceptance, regardless of beliefs.

“Circumstance or whatever you want to throw out there may shape our opinions on certain things,” Bazemore said. “But it doesn’t change the state of our friendship or anything. It’s life, you are not going to be on the same page with all of your friends, but what’s understood doesn’t have to be said — that’s my guy all the way until the end”.

 

Avery Yang Contributed Reporting

The Atlanta Hawks took another step back in their six game home stand losing to the Indiana Pacers 97-96 on a last second shot by Glen Robinson III. For more information on this game and total analysis, please check out Graham Chapple’s article on HawksHoop.com. It is as always a detailed and informative read.

Going into this game, it seemed the Atlanta Hawks was already stuck behind the eight ball. The Hawks were without the services of their Head Coach Mike Budenholzer against the Pacers after getting hit with a one game suspension for making contact with official Brian Forte during Friday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Assistant coach Darvin Ham assumed the coaching duties in Budenholzer’s absence.

The situation occurred around the 2:42 mark of the third quarter when the officials missed (or ignored based on how Budenholzer reacted) a LeBron James push off to get space to shoot a 3-pointer. Budenholzer lost his cool and made slight contact with an official and was assessed a technical foul.

Here’s what Mike Budenholzer had to say when he found out about the suspension courtesy of ESPN and the Associated Press…

“I fully understand and respect the decision of the NBA. I plan to reach out to Brian as soon as possible and intend to apologize for the contact that I made during last night’s game. The referees have the most difficult job on the court and do an outstanding job of managing the needs of the game, players and coaches. I accept the suspension, will learn from it and lok forward to getting beyond this.”

This is a classy move Head Coach Mike Budenholzer. I mean can you expect anything less? The guy comes from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree in San Antonio. But the call was missed by the officials. In the NBA most every player uses their off arm to create space to get their shots off. The problem in this situation was that LeBron James allowed his off arm to get away from him which for the most part gets an easy call.

There is no excuse for what happened and Budenholzer probably deserved the suspension. However, the technical foul did light a spark under the Hawks. Atlanta came out listless and without energy early and the defense was a joke. It seemed that the Cavs got everything they wanted and more. A lot more. Cleveland set a NBA record hitting 25 3-pointers in the game. What was worse, a lot of the shots were considered “comfortable”, meaning that the Cavs were getting clean looks at the basket. Giving up 77 points in the first half is not where you need to be defensively when you are fighting for playoff position with about a month and half left in the season. Before the technical foul, it looked like a Cavaliers blowout. After the incident, the Hawks mounted a furious comeback behind the strong play of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Paul Millsap.

Hopefully, for the Hawks sake, the players notice that Mike Budenholzer is trying to show a sense of urgency going forward into a tough schedule ahead. With this loss the Indiana Pacers pick up a full game on the Hawks in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Right now every game is critical, Budenholzer knows this, the Atlanta Hawk players better know it as well.