Atlanta Hawks: A Season Of Intrigue— October 18th 2017
By: Joshua Broom
Following a decade of cameo playoff runs and second-tier Eastern Conference status, incoming General Manager Travis Schlenk boldly reset the 17-18 Atlanta Hawks. Schlenk, a former Golden State front office riser, opened in Atlanta by parting with Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Dwight Howard.
Schlenk’s late-June trade of Howard for the flotsam return of Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee catalyzed the Hawks’ long-rumored rebuild –Hardaway Jr. (Knicks) and Millsap (Nuggets) soon left via free agency.
This teardown saw 44% of the team’s offensive firepower evaporate.
Now, as a new era in Hawks basketball begins, incumbent starters Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore will lead their overhauled unit through a diluted Eastern Conference.
Still, however, the 43-39 Hawks project among the East’s bottom tier while contending for the dubious distinction of worst previous season win-loss differential.
That stated, for Atlanta, the only direction to move is up. Schlenk, a noted talent-evaluator, though, can help expedite the process.
Here is a look at five opening-week Hawks trends:
1) Will Dennis Schroder’s off-court issues affect his play this season?
On September 29, the Hawks’ top returning scorer (17.9 points per game) and playmaker (6.2 assists per game) Dennis Schroder incurred misdemeanor battery charges during a scuffle outside an Atlanta-area establishment.
As of publication, no trial date is set for the fourth-year guard, though, following the incident Hawks GM Travis Schlenk announced Schroder received undisclosed internal punishment from the Atlanta Hawks organization.
Schlenk, via ESPN:
“These actions will not be tolerated by the Hawks organization.”
“Dennis has accepted responsibility for his actions… He looks forward to learning from this incident and focusing on the season.”
While Schroder could face trial after surveillance footage showed the 6’1 guard pushing an alleged victim, this situation likely will not hinder his on-court production.
Schroder, now the centerpiece of Atlanta’s future, possesses a green light to validate his recently-signed four-year $70 million extension.
And with his newfound status as on-court leader, expect Schroder to do as he said, and learn from his indiscretion while carrying the Hawks forward.
2) Can Taurean Prince become a star this season?
Selected 12th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, the versatile 6’8 Prince showed a budding skill-set during Atlanta’s first-round setback vs. Washington.
In six playoff starts, while filling in for now-departed small-forward Thabo Sefolosha, Prince averaged 11.2 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and shot 55.8% from the field.
However, Prince’s performance against a quality Wizards squad wasn’t a one-off scenario: During his final 17 contests of the 16-17 season, the 23-year-old averaged 10.8 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, and at or around one assist, block, and steal per game.
Further, Prince stretched defenses in Mike Budenholzer’s equal-opportunity offense by making nearly 35% of his three-point attempts.
These numbers and the amount of playing time Prince will receive almost confirm he will take a major step forward this year. Though when one considers the efficacy of Atlanta’s development staff: i.e., Kyle Korver’s late-career surge, DeMarre Carroll’s rise, Kent Bazemore’s progress, it is near inevitable Taurean Prince will become an impact player during the 17-18 campaign.
3) With the draft lottery reform set for 2019, will Atlanta tank for a higher draft pick?
Such a question is unavoidable when assessing the limited strategic options of those unfortunate lower-rung lottery teams, which Atlanta indeed is on paper. This humble scribe cannot definitively say the Hawks will tank, but in the last season where packing it in for a higher pick is allowed, it is a strong possibility.
Moreso, Atlanta owns its 2018 draft selections, and perhaps two others, Minnesota’s top-14 protected pick, and Houston’s top-3 protected pick. These fortunes, and the keen-eye of Schlenk give Hawks fans reason to herald next June’s draft class.
4) Is Mike Budenholzer’s job safe after the hiring of Travis Schlenk?
Mumblings persist Budenholzer, the 2015 NBA Coach of The Year, may not be part of GM Travis Schlenk’s long-term franchise plans.
These innuendos have little to do with Budenholzer’s body of work, and more to do with an upper-management shift in Atlanta.
If Coach Bud and Atlanta separate, again, it won’t be on account of sideline miscues: Budenholzer has amassed a solid 189-139 record during his four-seasons as Hawks sideline general. Atlanta has also made the playoffs, and one Eastern Conference Finals appearance, during Budenholzer’s tenure.
Should the former longtime Spurs assistant find himself on the outs from Schlenk’s regime, his leaguewide reputation and potential job opportunities won’t diminish.
Nonetheless, it will be intriguing to see what course the Budenholzer/Schlenk dynamic takes.
5) What prevailing sentiment surrounds this Atlanta Hawks team ahead of the 17-18 season?
Future possibilities and entertainment. After losing each starter from the 60-win 2015 group, along with reclamation projects Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dwight Howard, Atlanta has a long climb toward relevancy.
But every rebuild begins with a vision, a mirage of what can be. While this Hawks squad should struggle for wins, they still offer uptempo play and intriguing players. When possibilities and entertainment merge, often a viable product is born.
This season, Hawks fans can enjoy the ball-sharing offensive schemes of Mike Budenholzer
while tracking the development of young, athletic perimeter performers Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry, and Malcolm Delaney.
Though the proven stars are gone, plenty of excitement remains in the ATL.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Dallas Mavericks Projected Starting Lineups
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kent Bazemore
SF: Taurean Prince
PF: Ersan Ilyasova
C: Dewayne Dedmon
PG: Dennis Smith JR.
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Josh McRoberts
C: Dirk Nowitzki