The Atlanta Hawks were one of the worst teams in the NBA last year. Can they turn things around in 2018?
To say the least, the Atlanta Hawks are coming off a disappointing season. But with a new head coach, franchise player, and overall team identity, they are looking for a fresh start in 2018. Will they be able to establish themselves from the get go, or will their woes carry over from last year?
2017-18 Season Recap
While Atlanta hip-hop group Migos may have produced one of the best songs of the year with “Bad and Boujee” in 2017, the Hawks were just bad that same year. The team finished with 24 wins, which was the fewest in the Eastern Conference.
To make matters worse, they have little to build off from last year, as they finished with both a bottom-five offense and a bottom-ten defense. However, they did manage to push the ball quickly, ending the season with the tenth fastest paced offense.
One notable player for the Hawks last season was second-year guard Taurean Prince. Not only did he increase his scoring average from his rookie year by about eight points per game, but he also finished the season on a strong note, reaching the 20-point mark 15 times during the second half of the season.
Additionally, Prince showed a strong ability to make three pointers at a high rate, hitting about 39% of his shots from deep last year.
Another player who shined for Atlanta last year was rookie forward John Collins. As a tremendous athlete, Collins had no shortage of thunderous dunks last year, and these high-percentage jams contributed to his unreal 58% field goal percentage. Also, he proved to be an effective rebounder and rim protector, as he averaged about eight rebounds and one block per game last year. These impressive rookie statistics, including a double-digit scoring average, contributed to his selection for the All-Rookie Second Team.
The Hawks made the future their first priority this offseason by selecting three players within the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, the most notable of these being Oklahoma guard Trae Young with the fifth overall pick.
Young, whom the Hawks traded for by giving the Mavericks European rookie Luka Doncic, certainly had concerns heading into the draft, especially his small frame and high turnover rate (he averaged five per game in college). However, Young’s offensive skill set was too enticing for the Hawks to pass up, considering he led all of Division I in points and assists per game last year, along with finishing fourth in three-point field goals made.
While Young was a risky selection for a Hawks team that desperately needs consistent production, his upside is nothing short of a superstar playmaker with unlimited shooting range who does a terrific job involving his teammates.
With their other first round picks, the Hawks selected Maryland guard Kevin Huerter 19th overall and Villanova forward Omari Spellman with the 30th pick. Huerter projects to be an efficient shooter with solid passing ability, as he shot 50% overall last year, including almost 42% from three, and averaged 3.5 assists per game.
Spellman will serve as another versatile forward in the Hawks’ system, considering he can shoot threes at a high rate (43% last year) and is a solid rim protector for his size.
Look for Huerter and Spellman to fill contributing roles off the bench this year behind Collins and veteran guard Kent Bazemore.
The Hawks also replaced former Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer with longtime NBA assistant Lloyd Pierce. While Pierce has no previous head coaching experience, he does have a plan to revitalize the Hawks this year. He said he is hoping to “get on the same page as early and often as we can” with his new squad. Forward John Collins said Pierce’s basketball philosophy involves a very fast-paced offense with “good-to-great” passing.
Also, Pierce wants the team to shoot from behind the arc often, which is a trend across the NBA as a whole right now.
The team also added two veterans for mentorship and to help them stay somewhat competitive in guard Jeremy Lin and forward Vince Carter, along with former Suns center Alex Len. Lin should serve as a spark plug playmaker off the bench as long as he stays healthy, as he’s been a double-digit scorer with solid passing ability in his healthiest seasons. Carter will serve as a mentor for the young Atlanta squad, considering he’s one of the oldest active NBA players. As for Len, he should contribute to the center rotation, headlined by last year’s starter Dewayne Dedmon, by providing a solid rebounding presence.
2018-19 Season Preview
Despite a new coach, franchise player, and some contributing veterans, the Hawks still don’t project to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference this season.
Even with some promising young players in Prince and Collins on the roster, they lack a player who will consistently lead them in scoring or provide some star power, which is something almost every playoff-bound team has.
Additionally, they don’t have proven depth in their rotation, which will make it difficult for them to be at their best for all 48 minutes on the floor. That said, it’d be foolish not to expect the Hawks to improve in 2018, as the electrifying Young should elevate the team’s play to some extent.
Speaking of which, the most interesting development for the Hawks this year will be how Young’s tendency to run an offense through him at Oklahoma will lessen, or remain the same, once he reaches the NBA.
Young was by far the biggest contributor to his offense at Oklahoma, as he averaged more than 2.5 times more points and five times more assists per game than anyone else on his team. But at the professional level, Young will have to realize that he shouldn’t dominate the ball on every possession because of the presence of multiple quality scorers and playmakers on the floor at all times.
In addition, it will be compelling to see how the Hawks’ young nucleus of talent in Prince, Collins, and Young divide their looks in the upcoming season. Besides Dennis Schroder, who was traded during the offseason, Prince was the highest scorer for the Hawks last year. Collins shot extremely efficiently as a rookie and is currently developing his three-point range, making him a scarily versatile forward. And as previously stated, Young dominated the ball in his sole season at Oklahoma.
However, it shouldn’t be too difficult considering the Hawks’ lack of scoring options besides these three and veterans Lin and Bazemore as long as Young doesn’t completely take over possessions like he did in college.
The most vital key to the Hawks’ growth will be their commitment to, and success implementing, new head coach Lloyd Pierce’s contemporary system. Pierce’s desire to jack up threes shouldn’t be too difficult to carry out because of Young’s high three-point attempt rate, along with most of their rotation being skilled at shooting from deep. Also, the Hawks had the eighth-most assists per game in 2017, meaning they’ll be willing to spread the ball even more this year under Pierce’s pass-happy philosophy.
The Hawks are not in a position to contend for the playoffs next year, and they’re probably aware of this. While the team is looking at a losing season once again, they should learn Pierce’s coaching style, adapt to that, and make improvements throughout the year under a united mentality.
This team’s potential with Young in the spotlight is exciting, and it will be fun to see their growth under a new regime in the upcoming season and beyond.
Edited by Jazmyn Brown.
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