For the 10th straight year, the Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs during the 2016-17 season, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference. However, the Hawks are far from the squad that had four All-Stars and took the NBA by storm just three seasons ago. Actually, all four of their 2015 All-Stars are now gone. The Dwight Howard experiment has officially ended after just one fairly unremarkable season. Now, Atlanta will be betting big on its young point guard, Dennis Schroder. Will the gamble pay off? Here is the 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Atlanta Hawks Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
The Hawks will rely heavily on Schroder in the upcoming season. And why not? The promising young point guard had what can only be described as a breakout season last year, posting career-highs in shot attempts, two-point percentage, three-point percentage, effective field goal percentage, points, rebounds, and assists while averaging 11 more minutes (31.5) than he did the previous campaign. Through his first four seasons, Schroder has shown consistent improvement as his role has expanded in coach Mike Budenholzer‘s system. But despite the fact that he led the team in total minutes, points, and assists, we’ve yet to see Schroder as the undisputed focal point of the team.
Defense, especially interior defense, was a huge bright spot for Atlanta last season. Due to their lackluster offensive performances, the Hawks often leaned on their defense to win games. They were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, finishing with the fourth best defensive rating in the league. The Hawks held their opponents to 44 percent shooting (fifth) and an effective field goal percentage of 50.7 percent (eighth), while also forcing the second most turnovers per game. However, Atlanta’s defensive success was almost exclusively inside the three-point line. With the departures of Howard and Paul Millsap, it’s going to be hard for the Hawks to recreate what they did last year on the defensive end.
What Needs Improvement
Even though Atlanta finished the season with a top-five defense, its three-point defense was atrocious. Among playoff teams, no one gave up more three-point attempts and makes than the Hawks. In fact, the Charlotte Hornets were the only team in the entire NBA to allow more three-point attempts and makes than the Hawks did.
Offensively, Atlanta wasn’t much better behind the arc. The Hawks shot 34.1 percent from three last season, 23rd in the league and a whole 1.5 percent below league average. 19 teams averaged more made three-pointers per game than the Hawks last season. Even though the Hawks played at a pretty fast pace (10th in the league), they only averaged 103.2 points per game (22nd). The Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls were the only two playoff teams to score fewer points per game than the Hawks. Even worse, the only teams to post a lower offensive rating than the Hawks were the Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, and Philadelphia 76ers – all of whom won fewer than 30 games and missed the playoffs last season.
When this year’s Hawks team takes the floor on opening night, it will look much different than just a year ago. Gone are last year’s opening day starters Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, and Kyle Korver. Additionally, Tim Hardaway Jr. is now a Knick – a very rich Knick, but still a Knick. Of the four five-man rotations that logged more than 100 minutes for the Hawks last season, none of them include more than two players currently on the team’s roster.
The loss of those four players alone represents 55.6 points and 26 rebounds per game. And it’s hard to see what the Hawks have done to address those losses. Atlanta received Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli as part of the trade that sent Howard to Charlotte this past summer. Plumlee can hardly fill the void down low that Howard will leave, and neither will free agent acquisition Dewayne Dedmon. Belinelli might average double-digit points, but he can’t provide the firepower that the Hawks lack. After 26 decent games for the team last season, Ersan Ilyasova will need to give Atlanta a whole lot more. However, it seems like the Hawks have officially transitioned into a rebuilding phase and will hand things over to their two highest paid players, Schroder and Kent Bazemore.
Expect Schroder to continue to show flashes. However, this Hawks team simply lacks the playmakers on both sides of the floor to compete at a high level, even if the East does seem to be up for grabs. Atlanta simply lost too much since last season’s opening tip. In 2017-18, the Hawks won’t send anyone to the All-Star game and will miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.