Many pundits and experts are predicting the Atlanta Hawks to take a step back in the 2016-2017 NBA season. Majority of the opinions of a Hawks decline is due to the loss of fan favorites and former All-Stars Al Horford and Jeff Teague. As we remember, Horford was signed by the Boston Celtics during the Summer and Jeff Teague was traded to the Indiana Pacers prior to the 2016 NBA Draft. Also, many are unsure of the free agent signing of Dwight Howard.
Although the production of Dwight Howard have dwindled over the last few years, others are concerned with the lack of presence in the guard position, in particular, with the production of Kyle Korver declining after his injury during the 2015 Playoffs. Since the unfortunate injury, the veteran shooting guard’s game was ineffective for most of last season.
Although those are very valid points to have concerns with the Hawks, I feel with the changes throughout Free Agency & the NBA Draft, the 2016-17 roster could be one of the best teams in the Mike Budenholzer era. In Coach Bud’s first season in Atlanta, the roster didn’t have depth hand was a makeshift team after the loss of Al Horford due to an injury in December 2013. After a resilient second half of the season, the Hawks made the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference and took the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Indiana Pacers, to seven games in the First Round.
At the moment, many would pick the team in Budenholzer’s second season as not only one of his best coached rosters, but as the best team in Atlanta Hawks history. During the 2014-2015 season, Atlanta won 60 games for the first time and went on to earn the top seed in the East and advanced to their first Eastern Conference Finals before losing to Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While that Hawks had four players represent the Eastern Conference All Star team and established many records along the way; there are several reasons why this year’s Hawks roster could be immensely better.
Moving along, the biggest reason I feel the current Atlanta Hawks roster will have the best production since Budenholzer’s arrival is the Free Agent acquisition of All-Star center Dwight Howard. Howard provides more to the Hawks than his career averages of 14 Points Per Game and 12 Rebounds Per Game to Atlanta. Howard’s presence in the paint as a true big man is exactly what the Hawks were looking for over the last decade; however, that’s one of the spots that Atlanta has struggled to produce at times, especially in the Playoffs. The Hawks sustained a large amount of success in the regular season without the presence of a big man because of the team’s high level of play, which has led to nine consecutive Eastern Conference Playoff appearances, most in the conference.
A prime example of Bud’s system benefiting players on the roster starts with veteran Kyle Korver, Korver, who was well known for being a three point specialist in his previous NBA teams saw success as a starting shooting guard. Korver led the NBA in three point percentage in 2014 (47.2%) and 2015 (49.2%), Korver set the NBA record for most consecutive games with a made three-pointer (90) originally set by Dana Barros (89); however, the record ended at (124) games. Also, Korver earned his first All-Star appearance in the 2014-15 NBA season as a reserve. For a player well known as a three point specialist, his production in Atlanta is one of the key reasons the Hawks have successfully maintained a winning roster.
Another player that benefited in the system is Power Forward Paul Millsap. Millsap, who was signed by the Hawks during the 2013 Free Agency Period. Millsap has made three consecutive All-Star appearances since his arrival in Atlanta, set a career high in points (17.9: 2013-14), Rebounds (9.0: 2015-16), Steals (1.8: 2014-15, 2015-16), and Blocks Per Game (1.7: 2015-16). However, in the past two playoff appearances for the Hawks, their opposing match-up has caused issues with the scheme with Atlanta’s lack of presence in the paint.
In particular, the last two seasons, the Hawks biggest flaw in their post-season series is the lack of a presence in the paint. Despite winning the series, the Hawks struggled to eliminate the Brooklyn Nets due to the presence of Brook Lopez. Last season, the Boston Celtics were able to cause issues in the paint with Amir Johnson as well. However, the Hawks biggest problem was facing the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland was 8-0 against the Hawks during the last two playoff series and a key contributor to their dominance is Tristan Thompson. Thompson absolutely has destroyed Atlanta on the boards and a big part of that was the undersized front court of the Hawks. With the addition of Howard, if the Hawks had a potential playoff match-up with the Cavs again, the series would have a different feel because the Hawks have addressed their biggest flaw against the defending champs.
Also, expect for the spacing on the floor while the Hawks are on offense to improve due to the presence of Howard. The Hawks, who are one of the above average three-point shooting teams around the league wasn’t efficient compared to the 60-win campaign during the 2014-15 season. Notably, the player that Hawks fans refer to as “threezus” Kyle Korver. Korver, who was coming off multiple surgeries during the off-season after suffering an ankle injury during the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals.Last season, Korver was ineffective due to his lack of production and teams limited his spacing as well. Outside of Paul Millsap; Atlanta did not have a consistent inside presence that could help spread the court for their three point game to succeed. The Hawks shot 35% from three-point range last year which was only good enough for 15thin the NBA. Compared to the Franchise Record 60-win season when they under 40%, which was second in the NBA. With the addition to Howard, a healthy Korver along with a few key additions added via free agency and the draft; the Hawks additional spacing will elevate this team back to one of the elite shooting teams next season.
In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Hawks added depth with Taurean Prince and Deandre Bembry, who should provide an immediate impact to the roster this year. With the addition of Dwight Howard, as I mentioned above, space should open up offensively for the wing players on the roster. Atlanta’s key additions will make the Hawks a very tough match in the Eastern Conference this season. The Hawks have added depth and athleticism in multiple positions in order to improve a roster that was a solid defensive team since Mike Budenholzer arrival. Although last season was filled with highs and lows, these key components are adding up to be one of the most talented rosters we’ve seen in recent franchise history. In conclusion, Hawks fans, you will be very surprised at how well this team will play early and I expect a top two seed in this year’s playoffs.