With a mass exodus of talent the past two years, Atlanta has entered a rebuild for the first time in a decade.
In Atlanta, two birds of prey seem to be growing farther apart in the heights that they can climb. The Falcons, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance and arguably the best team early in the 2018 NFL season, soar above their exquisite new arena and into a gleaming present. The Hawks, two seasons removed from having the best record in the Eastern Conference and best season in franchise history, appear to have clipped a wing in their descent. Their days in the sun are either in the past or future, but certainly not now.
The mainstays of the Hawks’ 60-win team have all departed, leaving inexperienced players with big-time roles. Last year, the Hawks went 43-39, good for fifth in the East and second in the Southeast division behind the second-half machine that was the Washington Wizards. For the 2017-18 season, only the Chicago Bulls have been predicted to win less games than the Hawks.
If Atlanta were to accumulate the 25.5 wins predicted by Westgate, it would be the franchise’s worst season in a decade (the team won 26 games in 2005-06). All signs point to it being that kind of year for Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks.
First and foremost, the team did not re-sign All-Star forward Paul Millsap, who left for the Denver Nuggets this offseason. Millsap was the final piece of that 60-win Hawks team that featured a player of the week award going to its entire starting five (an unprecedented event) to depart the ATL. DeMarre Carroll signed with the Toronto Raptors two offseason ago, precipitating the fall of the Hawks. Al Horford left in free agency last year and Atlanta dealt point guard Jeff Teague to Indiana in that same offseason. Midseason, Atlanta traded Kyle Korver to Cleveland, but were unable to flip Millsap.
Credit: The Hoop Doctors
In addition, the Charlotte Hornets acquired Dwight Howard from Atlanta during the 2017 draft. Howard’s homecoming in Atlanta was short-lived, though not unfulfilled. He averaged a double double with 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per contest, prompting Michael Jordan to take a chance on him. Kris Humphries, another big, also left, signing with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Wingmen Thabo Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. both left in the offseason as well. Sefolosha signed a multi-year deal with the Utah Jazz while Hardaway returned to the Big Apple for big money, inking a four-year $70 million contract with the New York Knicks.
All in all, four of those those five (Millsap, Howard, Sefolosha, and Hardaway Jr.) represent 22.8 win shares between them. For reference, only six players have ever recorded 20 or more win shares in an entire season, so that’s to say that a lot of positive impact walked out the door of Phillips Arena this summer.
The Howard trade was not for naught. The team netted top-tier shooter Marco Belinelli and center Miles Plumlee from the Hornets. Additionally, Atlanta added former San Antonio Spur Dewayne Dedmon as well as another shooter in Luke Babbitt.
In addition to upgrading their perimeter shooting, the Hawks also added an excellent defensive rebounder for his size in Dedmon as well as a big body with the potential to clean up the glass in Plumlee.
Atlanta’s draft was viewed favorably as well. The franchise selected John Collins out of Wake Forest with the 19th pick, then took Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey with the 41st pick (from the Charlotte trade) and Alpha Kaba of KK Mega Leks (Serbia) with the final pick in the draft.
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Collins showed some outstanding athleticism and length — two qualities that project well — in summer league. Dorsey effectively carried a very talented Ducks team to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament where they lost to the eventual champion UNC Tar Heels. His outside shooting was vital during Pac-12 Player of the Year Dillon Brooks’ noticeable slump. Kaba likely will be a draft and stash.
The ceiling — and I can’t believe this is a legitimate possibility — is just outside the playoffs. That’s how bad the East is this year. If a team like Charlotte again refuses to reach its potential or if Philadelphia — or any team for that matter — continues to be plagued by injuries, that opens the door for one of the East’s truly bad teams to sneak in.
Atlanta is not completely devoid of talent either. Dennis Schroder proved he was a capable starter and Kent Bazemore is a solid two-way player too. Throw in the continued development of Taurean Prince, whom the team liked in his rookie season last year, and there’s a budding core around which to build.
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But more likely is that Atlanta hits its floor which would be having the worst record in the league. There’s no star talent in A-Town and a lot of fresh, young faces who will have to get playing time for a team which has made the playoffs ten years in a row.
It is more than reasonable to think that this team will end that streak this year, and though it should probably win more than 25 games games this year, Atlanta will be among one of the teams vying for the 2018 number one overall pick.
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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