Lloyd Pierce, Kevin Huerter, Trae Young, Omari Spellman (Bleacher Report)
As basketball junkies across the globe try and survive these dry months of August and September, it’s never too early to look forward to the upcoming season. After a hectic off-season filled with new front office members, coaches, rookies and veterans, the Atlanta Hawks will enter the 2018-19 season looking drastically different from the year before. Here are the five most fascinating storylines for Atlanta’s team as we approach the end of August.
5: Early Trade Candidates
Although it’s still the summer and fans haven’t even seen the new-look Hawks play a single pre-season game, it’s never too early to start thinking about potential trades down the line. After moving Dennis Schroder to scoop up a potential 2022 first round pick, I believe Travis Schlenk will look to do the same with other veterans on cap-friendly deals who can contribute to an playoff contender.
The two Hawks that come to mind as trade bait are Jeremy Lin and Kent Bazemore. Being on the last year of his deal, Lin is entering this season on a mission to prove he can still play at a high level following last season’s devastating injury. The good news is that Lin will be given every opportunity to succeed, as most believe he will begin the season in the starting lineup. Throughout his career Lin has shown a consistent scoring and playmaking ability, and if he can get back to his pre-injury form Atlanta will be fielding calls for him at the deadline. In return, Atlanta will be able to get an asset or two that they can add to their young core.
Kent Bazemore finds himself in a similar situation to Lin but with two more years left on his deal. Bazemore presents the physical prototype for a 3-D player in the league and is coming off the best three-point shooting season of his career in which he put up almost five 3 point attempts per game at a 39.4% clip. Reports have leaked that teams like Houston have shown interest in Bazemore, and in a new system without the ball-dominant presence of Dennis Schroder there should be more ball movement and opportunity for Bazemore to put up career numbers. Every team in the league can use a guy off the bench like Bazemore and Travis Schlenk will leverage that come the February trade deadline.
4: Draft Pick Watch: Cleveland & Dallas
While Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman headline the Hawks youth movement, there’s a strong possibility that Atlanta will add three more young prospects in the 2019 draft. In addition to their own first round pick in the upcoming draft, Atlanta also owns Cleveland’s top 10 protected pick from the Kyle Korver trade and Dallas’ top 5 protected pick from the Trae Young for Luka Doncic swap. It seems inevitable that Atlanta will get the Dallas pick as most pundits project Dallas to win around 40 games. It is the Cleveland selection, however, where things become interesting. If Cleveland finishes in the bottom 10 of the league this year, Atlanta will then receive two future second round picks, but if Cleveland finishes outside the bottom 10 then the pick goes to the Hawks. How Cleveland will do this season is a big question mark as the East is left wide open after Lebron’s departure. However, if Kevin Love can return to Timberwolves-form for the Cavs, then ruling them out already for a shot at the 8 spot could be a bit unreasonable.
3: Young Wing Play
Another intriguing development for Atlanta will be the improvement of their young wing play. It all starts with third year man Taurean Prince. The Baylor product hasn’t looked back since his coming out party in the 2017 playoffs in which he doubled his playing time and improved his stat line across the board. Prince brings defensive intensity every single night which is the main reason why Mike Budenholzer was so obsessed with him in the 2016 draft. However, his offensive consistency is what holds him back from becoming a reliable go-to wing in the league. Prince has shown glimpses of what he can become, including five thirty-point games this past season, and 14.1 PPG on 43% shooting.
Justin Anderson and Deandre Bembry are the unknowns that close out this short list. Anderson, still only 24 years old, enters his fourth season with his third different team. JA was a very productive two-way player at UVA and has shown flashes of relevancy when given a chance. In reality, Anderson hasn’t been given a real opportunity, averaging over 20 MPG just once in his career and Atlanta might be the place where he can prove his worth. Anderson has always been a high energy, productive defensive player but the test is the offensive side of the ball where we’ll see if Anderson can put himself in the conversation as a real rotation player.
Similar to Anderson, Bembry is a wildcard player for the Hawks this season. Following his injury plagued sophomore year, the former first round pick will have to prove he’s worthy of taking minutes from Prince, Bazemore, Anderson and others. Bembry’s athleticism is what stands out, but if he can’t provide shooting on the offensive end then the third year man out of Saint Joseph’s could find himself on the trade block.
2: The Development of John Collins
One of last season’s few bright spots, John Collins is a guy that has Hawks fans on the egde of their seats. The second year man out of Wake Forest provided efficient play last season with a 15.7-10.9 points per game to rebounds per game ratio per 36 minutes. Additionally, basketball junkies who followed Summer League in Vegas a couple of months ago saw how advanced he is in comparison to rookies at his position. Collins was effortlessly raining threes, crashing the offensive glass, throwing down put-back slams and demonstrating everything else you could want from a potential small-ball center.
Collins still has room to grow. He still has to get more comfortable with his shot and his perimeter defense must improve but the jump he’s made in the months following his rookie campaign should have Atlanta fans drooling. Collins should find himself as the starting power forward next to Dewayne Dedmon next season, but he also presents the physical tools and long-term potential to become a crunch-time center who can defend all positions and wreck-havoc from all spots on the offensive side.
1: Trae Young’s Play
The key to Travis Schlenk’s success, the Peach State eyes will be on Trae Young this season. While many were critical of the decision to trade the rights to Luka Doncic, Schlenk is reportedly attempting to build the ‘Warriors of the East”; Young as Steph Curry, Kevin Huerter as Klay Thompson and Omari Spellman harnessing the Draymond role. While all three rookies will require patience and time to develop, the pressure will be higher on Young from the get-go as fans around the league will want to see results immediately. Young’s talent and feel for the game is undeniable, but the questions mark is his physical strength and lack of experience that is needed to be an effective floor general in this league. I don’t think Young will put himself in any serious conversation for rookie of the year or an all-rookie team, but if he does, Hotlanta will find itself in a frenzy all season long.