During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we’ll analyze the Atlanta Hawks.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Atlanta Hawks Season
First Key: Maintain the team-first philosophy
In most cases, NBA teams assume the identity of their best player. The Warriors are masters of the three-point shot with Stephen Curry leading the team. The Spurs have a choking defense through Kawhi Leonard. Al Horford‘s Hawks were no different. In recent years, the Hawks have played unselfish basketball to utilize the Dominican center’s passing ability and overall versatility. They have been a consistently successful team, making the playoffs every year since Horford was drafted.
However, the off-season brought much change to Atlanta, with the Hawks losing Horford but gaining Dwight Howard in free agency. Howard will be glad to leave the Houston Rockets isolation offense behind to join the pass-happy Hawks, but the relationship is two-way. The man nicknamed ‘Superman’ will have to be content with being a sidekick in the Hawks offense. Howard will get plenty of touches, but he will also need to keep the ball moving quickly and kick the ball out to perimeter shooters regularly.
That being said, Howard’s aptitude for the pick and roll will compliment Dennis Schroder‘s promotion to starting point guard. The young German used the pick and roll for 54.4% of his possessions last season, which is second-most frequent in the league. Howard has always been more at home in a two-man game than isolated in the post. If he is content to kick out from the post at times, his unselfishness will be reciprocated with pick and roll plays for him – something that the Rockets did all too rarely.
With the injuries and age catching up with the Howard, he will never be as prolific as he was in his late-00’s Orlando Magic days. Athletic ability is so crucial to his game, but as that inevitably declines, he needs to play unselfish basketball to maintain his contribution. If he buys into the Hawks’ system, it could be a happy return to his hometown Atlanta for Dwight Howard.
Second Key: Schroder needs to score heavily
The other major offseason move by the Hawks was trading away Jeff Teague. This move allows them to promote the promising Dennis Schroder to start at point guard. Schroder had been one of the most productive bench players in the NBA, and Atlanta now believe he is ready to lead the offense in his fourth season.
While the Hawks had the second-best defensive rating last season, offense was a different story – they were 21st in the league. They got reliable offense from Paul Millsap, but lacked a go-to scorer when other components of their passing game failed. Schroder has an aggressive mentality when attacking the rim and could be the Hawks’ best scoring option with Horford and Teague gone. If he can take on this role, it will take the pressure off Millsap to provide points.
Schroder averaged 11 points in 20 minutes from the bench to provide a bright spark in a tough year for the Hawks’ offense. In a starting role, playing more than 30 minutes, Schroder can easily average 15 points per game. Atlanta need more than that. Kyle Korver‘s 3-point efficiency is waning and swapping Howard for Horford means the Hawks won’t space the floor as much now either.
Schroder can take encouragement from the season that C.J. McCollum just had in Portland. The Blazers guard boosted his scoring numbers beyond 20 per game, in a newfound starting role. Generally as shooting volume increases efficiency decreases, but McCollum bucked this trend. If Schroder can provide something similar for the Hawks and average 20-plus, the Hawks will improve on their 48-34 record and challenge in the Eastern Conference.