Atlanta Hawks: The Prey of the NBA

A wild offseason kept teams like the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder basking under the media spotlight, but some other teams didn’t make it into many conversations around the water cooler. While Boston point guard Kyrie Irving’s and Oklahoma small forward Carmelo Anthony’s trades made headlines, the Hawks gutted their roster quietly.

The Hawks elected to move on from three of their four leading scorers, waving goodbye to four-time all-star power forward Paul Millsap (signed with Denver), shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (signed with New York), starting center Dwight Howard (traded to Charlotte) and their best wing defender, small forward Thabo Sefolosha (signed with Utah).

To plug those holes, the Hawks signed center Dewayne Dedmon and power forward Ersan Ilyasova, as well as acquired center Miles Plumlee, shooting guard Marco Belinelli and rookie shooting guard Tyler Dorsey in the Dwight Howard trade. Dedmon is young and unproven, having yet to average more than five points per game. However, he did flash potential in limited game time with the Spurs. Ersan Ilyasova is a floor-spacing, 10th-year power forward who averaged 13 ppg on 43 percent shooting and 5.9 rpg in his best season last year. He will be tasked with filling the all-star sized void Millsap left at power forward. Second-year small forward, Taurean Prince, who started all six of the Hawks’ playoff games last year, will also be new to the starting lineup.

Those players will be joined by returning starters shooting guard Kent Bazemore, looking to prove he is worthy of the four-year, $70-million contract he signed last season, and 24-year-old point guard Dennis Schroder, who will begin his fifth season with Atlanta.

The offseason moves made by new General Manager Travis Schlenk leave the team with arguably the least-talented roster in the NBA, indicating the birth of a rebuilding period for the Hawks. Despite having one of the best coaches in the NBA, Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks simply don’t have the player personnel needed to contend for a playoff spot, even in an Eastern Conference weakened by the departure of all-star wings Paul George and Jimmy Butler for the West this summer. That should spell the end of a stretch of 10 straight postseason appearances. For this reason, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has put the over/under of wins for the Hawks at 25.5, the second lowest in the NBA, while ESPN’s RPM projects them to win an NBA-low 27 games.

Thus, the success of this season should not be measured by wins and losses but by fulfilling the following benchmarks: Schroder needs to take another step forward and prove himself to be the cornerstone of the Hawks’ rebuild. Second-year wings Prince and Deandre Bembry must prove that they should be a part of the Hawks long-term plans. Most importantly, the Hawks need to turn this losing season into their next franchise player in the 2018 draft. With forwards Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III or Michael Porter Jr. set to enter the draft, the talent pool is promising. If the Hawks achieve these modest goals, as I think they will, then they will be able to cash in on the expected five first-round picks they possess over the next two seasons. Within those five picks lies the foreseeable future of this Hawks franchise and redemption for an otherwise forgettable season.

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