After failing to do anything in the playoffs for the last three seasons, the Hawks cut ties with head coach Larry Drew who led Atlanta to the playoffs in each of his three years as head coach. Looking to build a contender, not just a perennial first-round loser, General Manager Danny Ferry is in the midst of a full rebuild, starting with new head coach Mike Budenholzer.
The Hawks no longer have Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, or Devin Harris on the roster and only have three players under contract after this season. With close to $40 million in cap room after 2013-14, this is something of a bridge year for the Hawks. They have a lot of raw talent on the bench and plenty of depth. Really, a lot of their bench players look like they’ll be much better starters than their current ones. The Hawks hope Budenholzer can develop some of the young talent on the team before the Hawks can really spend in the next off-season but that also means they have a good chance to fall short of their 44 wins last season. Let’s take a look at how the 2013-14 squad is shaping up.
Points Per Game: 14th
Points Allowed Per Game: 13th
Rebounds Per Game: 23rd
Although his field-goal percentage fell off from .476 to .451, Teague improved significantly in every part of his game last season. He averaged a strong 14.6 PPG, 7.2 APG, and 1.5 SPG. His turnover rate of 2.9 is higher than you’d like to see from a point guard but, at 25, he finally seems to be developing into the first-round talent the Hawks thought they landed in 2009.
While Teague looks solid, the Hawks used one of their first-round picks this year to land German guard Dennis Schroeder. He’s just 19-years-old and is very raw, with a low 44 percent field goal rate and too many turnovers but his abilities as a passing point guard and a long-range shooter are undeniable. He’s impressed more than a few people at the Summer League and in the early games of the preseason and could be a serious sleeper if he can prove to be reliable right off the bat. Certainly, he looks like a good pick for the future and could become a top point guard relatively quickly.
Mack is a serviceable backup who can play about 12-15 MPG and nail a couple long shots and dish a few passes. With Teague and Schroeder ahead of him, it’s hard to see Mack getting a lot of court time.
With so many bodies in the backcourt, it’s also hard to see Ivey figuring in at all. His low field goal percentages and lack of production in any category have remained constant throughout his career and his three-point abilities (42 percent from three-point range last season) are the only positive in his game.
Williams is coming off of ACL surgery and will likely be out until the All-Star break, leaving Kyle Korver as the likely starter at guard. That’s probably the better option since Williams, despite averaging 14.1 PPG, shot just 42 percent from the field and didn’t add much elsewhere. He can dish the ball on occasion, can grab a steal, and can nail threes at a decent rate but nothing about his game screams “starter”. He only started nine games last season and 47 over seven years so the rest of the NBA agrees.
Jenkins doesn’t do much except shoot long jumpers, nailing 38.4 percent from downtown but only 44.6 percent from the field. He didn’t get too many opportunities as a rookie but Williams’ injury could give him some more court time to allow him to develop.
Cunningham was a first-round pick by the Cavs last season and was quickly flipped to the Mavs on draft day. He only appeared in eight games last season after being sent down to the D-League and hasn’t flashed any first-round talent, leading to his second trade in a year to the Hawks. He flashed some solid shooting and ball stealing ability at Oregon State and is only 22, so it’s possible that he could flash some promise if given the chance.
Small Forwards: Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll – B-
Korver will likely start at shooting guard until Louis Williams returns and is a good option as one of the best long-range shooters in the league. He shot 46 percent from the floor and an impressive 46 percent from deep last season, averaging 11 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and one steal per game while starting 60 of his 74 games. He’s been a bench player for almost his entire career and is probably better suited to a three-point specialist bench role but you could do worse than a guy who nails well over 40 percent of his three-point attempts.
Carroll doesn’t possess any of the three-point skills that Korver has, nor too many others. He started just 12 games for the Jazz last season, averaging just 4.8 PPG and 3.1 RPG over 20 MPG. There’s a chance he starts at small forward while Korver plays the two-guard but that just seems like a liability. He’s been around since 2009 and hasn’t shown anything except some decent defense.
Power Forwards: Paul Millsap, Pero Antic, Elton Brand, Mike Scott – Grade: B
The Hawks brought Millsap over from the Jazz to replace Josh Smith but he’s not quite the same level of player. He averaged a solid 14.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, and 1.0 BPG while shooting 49 percent. All of that is solid but hardly elite. He’s a very reliable player but not particularly amazing.
Antic is a 31-year-old rookie after leaving the Euroleague for the Hawks. He’s a terrific defender with great size and a physical rebounder but not the greatest offensive threat. That’s not to say he can’t score, like many European big men, he has a jump shot that American big men rarely have and good passing ability. He’s a sleeper and could be a key part of the Hawks if he can translate to the American game. With Gustavo Ayon out, he’ll likely get time at center as well.
Brand is obviously a far cry from the All-Star he once was but proved to be a solid bench threat for the Mavs last season. He averaged 7.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 1.3 BPG over just 21 MPG last season and still has the ability to contribute at 34-years-old.
Scott impressed in his rookie season, shooting a solid 47.6 percent and averaging 4.6 PPG and 2.8 RPG while playing under 10 minutes per game. That’s 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per 36 minutes. He improved steadily as the season went along, shooting 50 percent and averaging 6.6 PPG and 3.6 RPG while playing just 11 minutes per game after the All-Star break. There’s definitely talent there but, with so many big bodies, it’s hard to see him getting enough playing time to show off those skills.
Centers: Al Horford, Gustavo Ayon – Grade: A
Horford is the best player remaining on the Hawks after putting up 17.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG, and shooting 54 percent from the floor. He’s really blossomed into an elite NBA center and finished in the top-10 in field goal percentage last season.
Ayon is expected to miss one to two months after injuring his shoulder in the preseason which will likely allow some of the guys listed as power forward to play some center, particularly Antic. Despite getting very limited opportunities over his first two seasons, he averaged a strong 3.7 PPG and 3.6 RPG while playing just 13 MPG – 10 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes. He also shot a strong 55 percent from the floor and is an excellent choice to spell Horford, although he could lose his backup job while he’s out with the injury.
Coach: Mike Budenholzer – Grade: C+ until proven otherwise
Budenholzer has spent 18 years as part of Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff and will get his first head coaching opportunity this season. The Hawks are looking for him to use that experience on a championship team to build a team in Atlanta but only time will tell if enough of Popovich rubbed off on him.
Team Grade: B-