Atlanta Hawks 2015-2016 Preview

Atlanta Hawks 2016

Atlanta Hawks 2015-2016 Preview

Coming off their best season in franchise history, the Atlanta Hawks are looking to rebound from an embarrassing downfall in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks were pretty active this off season; after losing a key piece in DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta re-signed Paul Millsap, retained the rest of their core, and acquired a few rotation players that this front office believes can turn into something, along with proven rotation players in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tiago Splitter.

Splitter was a good get for this team.  Atlanta got killed on the glass last year, especially in the postseason, so bringing in the 6’11’’ Splitter and 7’3’’ behemoth Edy Tavares should help them on the boards and protect the rim. (Tavares looks like he could be a solid piece in the future, but right now he has literally no NBA experience and his only real strengths are his length and lateral movement.) Splitter won’t stretch defenses like Al Horford and Paul Millsap, but he’s a clever finisher around the rim and a smart, skilled passer with Spurs experience, so he’ll come in with an understanding of what the Hawks want to do and how to execute in Mike Budenholzer’s Spurs-ian system.  He’ll also allow Horford to move to the four spot when Millsap goes to the bench without a drop-off in play around the rim.  He also prevents Atlanta from having to throw Tavares into the fire right away.

DeMarre Carroll was a huge loss for multiple reasons, the most important of which is that he was one of the best 3-and-D guys in the league. At 6’8’’, Carroll provided above-average shooting, top-notch defense, and outstanding instincts (he was a fantastic cutter). Now the Hawks don’t have a clear option to fill that void, so it might have to be done by committee.  Kyle Korver, the best catch-and-shoot shooter in the NBA and possibly the most important piece in Atlanta’s offense, is coming off of two offseason surgeries and getting older, losing athleticism (a trait he didn’t necessarily have to begin with).  Korver is a solid help side defender and an underrated on-ball defender, but not the lock down defender a championship team needs.

Thabo Sefolosha is the most logical choice to fill the hole at small forward left by Carroll, but there are questions about his health after sustaining a (controversial) season-ending injury back in April. Sefolosha is only 30, and can still provide top-shelf wing defense and acceptable spot-up shooting. If he can remain healthy (that’s a big if), Sefolosha should be that lockdown wing defender Atlanta needs.

Justin Holiday, one of the newest Hawks, has the potential to be a really solid athlete on the wing, but with fewer than 800 NBA minutes under his belt, I wouldn’t expect to see heavy minutes from him just yet.  (Still, he had a defensive rating of 101 last season– not bad for a guy who only played 11 minutes per game.)  Kent Bazemore gives up some size when it comes to guarding bigger small forwards, but he is a perfect matchup against scoring 2-guards: 6’5’’ and athletic, he plays with a ton of energy and is a great option against teams with two perimeter scoring threats.  Holiday and Bazemore two could be key contributors off the bench when the Hawks need to put a defensive lineup on the floor.

The biggest mystery to me will be Tim Hardaway Jr.  I didn’t initially love the Hardaway trade, but seemingly underwhelming roster moves like this one have paid off big for the Hawks in the past (Carroll, Korver, Bazemore, Sefolosha, to name a few), so I’m willing to give this one some time before I make my final judgment.  With the right amount of looks in the right offense, he could at the very least be a spot-up specialist off the bench.

Another really intriguing storyline on this team is the development of Dennis Schröder.  The lanky German point guard has crazy potential and has made huge strides over the last year and a half, and will be ready to be a difference maker this season. Budenholzer will have to find a way to get Schröder on the court while still keeping Jeff Teague happy, which means we could see a lot of Teague and Schroder on the court together for extended periods of time, a look that worked well in limited minutes last season.

Here’s the bottom line: I don’t expect another 60-win season out of this team, but I do think that most people outside of Atlanta are overlooking these Hawks.  Many are predicting a 45 to 50-win team, but I think this team will overachieve the unjustifiably low expectations.  I think they secure at least the 2-seed, but the real test will come in the playoffs.  Atlanta will need to show more toughness and sharpness in the playoffs; as great as it was to be a part of the run to the Conference Finals last year, the Hawks lacked that ability to really step on opposing teams’ throats and put them away in the playoffs, and that came back to bite them when they were swept by Cleveland in the Conference Finals.   As bad as a lot of the East is, you still have to go through LeBron to get to the Finals, and that will be the next step for these Hawks.

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  1. Pingback: How Kent Bazemore and Lamar Patterson Have Been the Keys to the Hawks' Early Success - Global Basketball - Global Basketball

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