It’s no secret that that this is a transitional period for Atlanta.
Travis Schlenk steps in as the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, replacing the reassigned Wesley Wilcox and Mike Budenholzer stepped down from his role as president to solely coach the team.
While it’s not quite a full-fledged youth movement, the young guns will certainly be featured.
Team success will take a backseat to individual player improvement so let’s look at one aspect of every Hawk’s game that they need to take to another level to have the franchise trending up by next summer.
Dennis Schröder: Be a leader
The speedy German has trekked a long path to arrive as de facto face of the franchise. A first round pick in 2013, he was buried on the bench as a rookie, but slowly became a more integral part of the team over the years. His minutes per game has risen every season, topping out at 31.5 in 2016-17, his first season as a starter.
Still, it hasn’t always been a smooth ascent. Dennis has been involved in a few on-court squabbles like a recent one with John Wall. In addition, he was arrested outside a hookah bar this offseason for his involvement in a fight. He has subsequently been disciplined for those actions.
Dennis has a flair for being flashy on and off the court, but on this youth-filled roster, he needs to be a cool-headed veteran and provide steady leadership. He’ll have plenty of rope to work through slumps on the court, unlike in season’s past, but after butting heads with Dwight Howard helping to lead to his unceremonious departure, Schröder will need to help others on the team break out of funks.
Kent Bazemore: Forget last year
Like Dennis, Kent came from modest beginnings. Atlanta was his first real chance at consistent minutes and he has produced some big moments in his short time here. He graduated from Hawks University, a moniker used to describe the process of molding raw athletic wings into 3-and-defense contributors.
After signing a 4-year, $70 million contract in the summer of 2016, expectations were high. Unfortunately, the season that followed was a disappointment as his shooting from 2-point range, 3-point range and free throw all fell significantly from the previous season.
In preseason action, he seems to have his usual bounce again. With the departures of Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr., Baze is now thrusted into a role as a primary scorer and facilitator. He’ll have to step up in a major way to keep the Hawks in dogfights.
Taurean Prince: 3-and-defense
Taurean Prince has already proved a dogged competitor, willing to defend the other team’s best wing player. Listed at 6’8”, 220 lbs. and a 6’11 ½” wingspan per DraftExpress, the second year player from Baylor certainly has an NBA body and an NBA level of athleticism.
Prince was chosen by ESPN’s Mike Schmitz as a second-year breakout candidate because of that hard-nosed defense.
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) October 13, 2017
He will, however, need to up his 32.4 3PG% from last season to truly be a two-way player but as a fully enrolled sophomore in Hawks University, I imagine he’ll pass that exam with flying colors.
Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, and Luke Babbitt: Flaunt trade value
I’m lumping these three together as all three are unlikely to end the season with the rebuilding retooling Atlanta Hawks.
Upon stepping on the court Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks, Ilyasova, Babbitt and Belinelli will have accrued a combined 29 years of service in the NBA, firmly entrenching them in veteran status. Ersan is the only returning player from last year’s team, however. Given that he started the final preseason game, there’s a strong chance he begins the regular season as the starter at the power forward spot.
Babbitt has shot 40.6% from three-point land in his career on 2.5 attempts per game and he’ll be a valuable stretch-4 in the short team just like Ilyasova. Belinelli is a secondary ball-handler and, yes you guessed it, spot-up shooter.
Coach Bud will feature them in roles whereby they space the floor, move without the ball and unselfishly swing the ball when needed. Still, don’t get too attached to them, fans. Their names will probably be floated in trade rumors as contenders may come calling near the trade deadline next calendar year.
The Hawks brass has had a priority on stockpiling future draft picks in any way possible. Ersan, Marco and Luke have all been packaged in trades before and know how to handle them as consummate professionals. I can’t imagine they would take rumors personally or let it affect their business on and off the court.
In the meanwhile, they’ll all provide valuable #veteranpresents in the locker room.
Dewayne Dedmon: Spacing out the offense
I have to admit, Dewayne Dedmon having no hesitation shooting threes was a development I did not see coming. He’s known more as a bruiser down low and an occasional rim runner, but stretch 5? From a player with one three-point attempt in his 224 game career? This is an experimental season for the Hawks so I’m all for thinking outside the box.
— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) October 4, 2017
Ultimately this will allow the Hawks to play 5-out basketball with Muscala or Dedmon at center if his shooting is not merely a mirage. Threewayne Dedmon indeed.
Malcolm Delaney: Shooting
After starring at Virginia Tech, Delaney was passed over by the entire NBA in 2011 and chose to go to Europe to further his basketball career. His ultimate dream, however, was to be an NBA player and in 2016 he got that chance.
Sadly, he struggled to acclimate to the environment, shooting a poor 37.4% from the field and 23.6% from three. This comes from a guy who shot 40.8% from three overseas per RealGM (albeit behind an arc with different dimensions).
For the 28-year-old second year player, this is a new chance at a fresh start. There’s nothing to give me pause about his shot mechanics or shot selection from last season so hopefully the offseason will give Delaney renewed confidence to keep gunning.
Deandre’ Bembry: Cut down turnovers
Bembry is the swiss army knife that the Hawks have been missing since Josh Smith was throwing down windmill dunks in the Highlight Factory. His length clouds passing lanes and harasses shooters on defense and he is an adept ball handler and slasher on offense.
Unfortunately, Bembry has a tendency to try to make too many risky plays, which has meant a high turnover rate. While he only averaged 1.6 turnovers per 36 minutes last regular season in 371 minutes of play, that was when he shared the court with higher usage players.
For comparison, he had 42 turnovers in 415 minutes in combined summer league and preseason action the past two years per RealGM. That is a rate of 3.6 turnovers per 36 minutes, indicative of his play when he’s a focal point of the offense. If Mike Budenholzer can control the chaos, Deandre could take a major step forward this season with regular minutes.
John Collins: Defense
John Collins has already become something of a cult favorite in the Hawks fan communities. His dunking prowess has spawned nicknames such as John the Baptist, to which he has taken to favorably.
(As part of Wake Forest’s basketball lineage, I’m personally partial to the nickname of “Tim Dunkin”. Alas). Still, at 6’10” and 225 lbs., Collins is fairly slight of frame and could struggle facing off against polished big men in the NBA. At times during summer league and preseason, he looked lost defending pick-and-rolls or one-on-one post-ups.
Collins will certainly bring some excitement to Philips Arena when he rises to throw down. But it’s the little things that improve a team like rolling and switching in-sync with your teammates. With more experience on the court, he will certainly gain that awareness. But for now, enjoy the dunking montages.
— NBA (@NBA) July 12, 2017
Mike Muscala: Top 20 minutes a game
Believe it or not, Moose is now the most tenured Hawk behind Dennis Schröder. At this juncture in his career he is who he is. He will come off the bench and provide energy on the boards and some outside shooting like he’s done for the last four seasons in Atlanta. Muscala has shot well from the field in his career (55.3 eFG%) on low volume and has averaged 7.5 rebounds per 36 minutes but has never topped 18 minutes a game. It’s time to see what he can do with big minutes.
Tyler Dorsey: Physicality and attacking rim
Tyler Dorsey had a knack for hitting big shots at the collegiate level playing for the Oregon Ducks. He was at his best during the latest NCAA tournament that saw him shoot an eye-popping 78% TS%. A second rounder in the 2017 draft, he’ll have to show he has a complete arsenal of moves against tougher competition. He measured in at 6’4″ and 180 lbs. per DraftExpress, so it will be important for him to fill his frame out and become more than just a long-range bomber.
Nicolás Brussino: Ball handling, passing and play making
Brussino is a skilled 6’8″ guard who can finish at the rim as well as shoot from the outside. He showed just as much in la Liga Nacional de Básquet, the top basketball league in Argentina, as well as with the Dallas Mavericks last season. But the NBA is trending more and more toward taller ball handlers. He has some ability and vision to make difficult passes, but it’s just a matter of increasing his confidence with live NBA action.
Still, he only had 3.2 assists per 36 minutes with Dallas last season and largely looked shaky when asked to create off the dribble. He’ll be asked to come off the bench and provide energy with spot play this year, and being aggressive will go a long way toward his development.
Miles Plumlee: Improved health
Miles has had quite a tumultuous offseason. First he was included in a trade that sent Dwight Howard to Charlotte. Then he was arrested for possession of marijuana in New York. Finally, it was announced that he would miss the start of the season with a strained right quad. Plumlee struggled with injuries a year ago as well, playing in only 45 games between the Bucks and Hornets.
At his best, he’s a capable bench big man with touch around the basket. But he’s three seasons removed from his best year as a professional, and his current contract is too much of an albatross to move without including assets. This first few weeks of the season will be used as rehab to get him back into playing condition, but hopes are that the Hawks can also rehabilitate his value on the court.
Isaiah Taylor: Slash, slash and slash some more
Just within the last 24 hours, the Hawks signed a recently waived Isaiah Taylor to a partially guaranteed contract. He’ll likely step in as the third-string point guard, but in time he may see the court. Taylor is a speed demon for sure, and the Hawks have had a poor time the last two seasons creating offense off their slashing and kicking. Taylor probably is not be the answer to that woe but there’s little risk in seeing if he is.