NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Atlanta Hawks
Coach: Mike Budenholzer (fifth season)
Last Season: 43-39 (fifth place in the Eastern Conference)
Notable Additions: John Collins (draft), Dewayne Dedmon (free agency), um, Marco Belinelli (trade)?
Notable Subtractions: Paul Millsap (free agency), Dwight Howard (trade), Tim Hardaway Jr. (free agency)
Vegas Over/Under: 25.5 wins
Best-Case Scenario: The Hawks are even worse than Vegas thinks they are.
I hope Budenholzer has Sixers coach Brett Brown on speed dial, because I anticipate there being many late-night counseling sessions over the phone between the two former Spurs assistants about how to rally the troops when your team is tanking. After a full decade of postseason appearances, the Hawks are poised to plumb the depths of despair at the bottom of the league standings. Atlanta abandoned the last vestiges of 2014-15’s inspiring fluke of a 60-win season this summer when it didn’t even bother to offer Paul Millsap a new deal. It’s all gone. Almost none of what’s left is recognizable. Now, the Hawks hold their nose and take the plunge.
What remains of the roster is a handful of young talent—and arguably only one above-average NBA-caliber starting player in Dennis Schröder, who may face suspension time during the season after being arrested for misdemeanor battery in late September. John Collins set summer league on fire, but it’s another thing entirely to put up numbers against star players who are not only much larger than he is, but can also match his explosiveness. DeAndre’ Bembry, who was almost nonexistent last season, figures to have a bigger role this year; he’s one of those amorphous, do-it-all players who should take advantage of his new opportunities, but he alone can’t move the needle. Taurean Prince showed off his defensive chops last postseason, and figures to play a big part in possibly anchoring what should be a competent, athletic defense. In other words, this team will resemble Brown’s Sixers of the past three seasons: a collection of solid role players thrust into untenable positions in the team’s hierarchy. They will work hard, and they will lose. It’s all you can ask for on a squad like this.
It’ll be rough, but luckily, no one will notice; the Hawks had some of the worst attendance numbers in the league even when they were a reliable playoff team.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Hawks are somehow better than Vegas thinks they are.
Schröder was EuroBasket’s second-leading scorer, but it’s not a great sign that he’ll likely have the same responsibilities as he did in Europe on this Hawks team. Still, there’s a nonzero percent chance that the Schröder we saw against the Wizards in the first round of last season’s playoffs is the real him, and that he has another gear yet. There’s a nonzero chance that John Collins is the next Amar’e Stoudemire. The Hawks have shooters at all positions, even up front with Ilyasova and the beloved, recently re-signed Mike Muscala. There may not be any top-flight talent on the roster, but they have the framework for a fluid, competent offense. Luke Babbitt was a part of a Miami Heat team that looked completely sunk 30 games into the season before making a miraculous turnaround, only narrowly missing the playoffs. What magic has he brought with him to Atlanta?
Anything is possible, especially in the Eastern Conference. But this isn’t the year to shock the world, nor is it the year to prove the haters wrong. Please, just let it happen. Land that top-four selection. This team needs a Michael Porter Jr. or a Marvin Bagley III or a Luka Doncic. Over the past decade, the Hawks were notorious for treading water; even winning felt like losing. Break the cycle. Flip the script. Let’s make losing feel like winning before Adam Silver takes away that opportunity for good.
TL;DR: EMBRACE THE TANK.