The 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks had yet another season of mediocre success in what turned out to be the final year of the Larry Drew era. The team that hails from a transient city often suffering from a sports fan identity crisis—opposing large market teams have a large fan presence in Atlanta—is now undergoing an identity overhaul.
General manager Danny Ferry has imprinted his stamp on the team, reconstructing both the roster and the coaching staff, all in one summer. After adding a new head coach (Mike Budenholzer), a staff of five new assistants, a new strength and conditioning coach and seven new players (not including the two in Spain), the Hawks might as well be considered a new team.
The goal, however, is to break the team of its perpetual mediocrity and build a winning culture that will permeate through the coaches and players and bring more fans back into the arena.
Atlanta's 2012-13 Results
- 44-38 regular season record
- Second in the Southeast Division
- Sixth in the Eastern Conference
- The Hawks lost (4-2) in the first round of the NBA Playoffs to No. 3 seed Indiana Pacers.
Important Stats to Know
Last season, the Atlanta Hawks were especially good at getting the ball into the hands of the open man. They finished the season averaging 24.5 assists per game, good for second in the league.
That is a trend that should easily continue, especially considering that they will be adopting a system similar to the San Antonio Spurs—who finished first in the league with 25.1 APG last season. Atlanta’s roster is full of unselfish, team-first players, all of whom are relatively good passers.
Conversely, it will be imperative that the Hawks improve their ability to track down missed shots. Last season, they were ninth in rebounds per game, and they had the fifth-worst rebounding differential. That GM Ferry brought in four new players to fill out the frontcourt surely demonstrates that rebounding is one of the major concerns the team is trying to address.
Biggest Stories Entering Training Camp
The biggest storyline facing Atlanta as they enter training camp has everything to do with the roster.
Team basketball is all about chemistry. With all of the new players, new coaches and the new offensive system, how soon will it all come together—or will it at all?
The prevailing narrative that will follow the Hawks for much of the season might be as simple as: “How good is this team, really?” Is Atlanta a legitimate playoff contender? Are the Hawks bound for another mediocre finish, complete with a first-round exit from the playoffs? Or, will this team take too long to piece the puzzle together and fall just short of the postseason?
On paper this team looks good and fits together seemingly well, albeit with glaring weaknesses.
Key Additions & Losses
The Atlanta Hawks have overhauled their entire staff and roster this offseason.
First, here is a look at their key additions for the 2013-14 NBA season: Mike Budenholzer, Head Coach; Darvin Ham, Assistant Coach; Taylor Jenkins, Assistant Coach; Quin Snyder, Assistant Coach; Jim Thomas, Assistant Coach; Paul Millsap, PF (two years, $19 million); Elton Brand, PF-C (one year, $4 million); DeMarre Carroll, SF (two year, $5 million); Dennis Schroder, PG (four years, $7.51 million); Gustavo Ayon, PF-C (one year, $1.5 million); Pero Antic, PF-C (two years, $2.45 million); Jared Cunningham, SG (three years, $3.66 million).
Additionally, Atlanta has invited Royal Ivey (PG), David Lighty (SG), Damien Wilkins (G-F), James Johnson (F) and Eric Dawson (PF-C) to participate in training camp.
In contrast, the Hawks key losses seem just as vast in number: Larry Drew, Head Coach (MIL); Bob Bender, Assistant Coach (MIL); Nick Van Exel, Player Development Instructor (MIL); Bob Weiss, Assistant Coach (CHA); Lester Conner, Assistant Coach; Josh Smith, F (four years, $54 million with DET); Zaza Pachulia, C (three years, $15.6 million with MIL); Devin Harris, G (one year, $884,000 with DAL); Anthony Tolliver, PF (one year, $884,000 with CHA); Ivan Johnson, PF (China); Johan Petro, C (China); Dahntay Jones, SF (free agent); DeShawn Stevenson, G-F (free agent)
Biggest Addition: Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap joins the Hawks as a free agent from the Utah Jazz. He is tasked with the difficult job of filling Josh Smith’s shoes. He will help the team the most offensively, where he is a versatile player with good range. His ability to spread the floor will create more space for Al Horford to work down low and function as a reliable threat in the pick-and-roll game.
Biggest Loss: Josh Smith
Josh Smith is clearly the biggest loss for the Atlanta Hawks. No single player can account for the many ways in which Smith contributed to the team, as he is a legitimate stat-stuffer. He can score (both in the post and from midrange), and he is also a good passer, a great shot-blocker, an elite defender and a solid rebounder. Though often maligned for his poor shot selection, he is a world-class athlete and a Jack-of-all-trades on the basketball court.
2013-14 Depth Chat
|PG||Jeff Teague||Dennis Schroder||Shelvin Mack+||Royal Ivey+|
|SG||Lou Williams*||John Jenkins||Jared Cunningham||David Lighty+|
|SF||Kyle Korver (G/F)||DeMarre Carroll||Damien Wilkins (G/F)+||James Johnson+|
|PF||Paul Millsap||Gustavo Ayon (F/C)||Mike Scott (F)+||Eric Dawson+|
|C||Al Horford||Elton Brand (F/C)||Pero Antic (F/C)|
*Lou Williams has not yet been cleared by medical personnel for training camp.
+Depth Chart includes players with non-guaranteed contracts or training camp invites.
The point guard, power forward and center positions are locked up, as Teague, Millsap and Horford are certifiable starters. The only positions that still have question marks are the wing positions—shooting guard and small forward, both of which may hinge on one man.
With a four-year, $24 million salary—the fourth highest on the roster—and being the second best three-point shooter in the league last year, Kyle Korver should be expected to start.
The question remains, however, at which position?
Last year, under Larry Drew, Korver played small forward for the Hawks. However, from 2009-2012, he played shooting guard for the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls. With Lou Williams’ return still uncertain, look for Korver to begin the season at the 2—unless John Jenkins, who looked woefully inefficient in the summer league, steals the show in training camp. Such an arrangement could last (at least) until Williams' health permits him to take on a more significant role.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: John Jenkins vs. Jared Cunningham
Jenkins—whom many thought after last season would develop into the sharpshooter best suited to compliment Korver on the wing—had a terrible showing this summer. Entering the summer league, he was expected to be the team's leader and top scorer. Instead, he proved to be largely inefficient while finishing second on the team in scoring.
He was more of a volume shooter, forcing a lot of shots that would otherwise be frowned upon, finishing with a .376 field goal percentage and a three-point percentage of .289. He did turn out a solid performance in the final game against the Clippers, though, scoring 24 points on 47.8 percent shooting (2-of-5 from three) while grabbing six rebounds and three assists.
Cunningham, on the other hand, was much less impressive. He managed a meager 6.5 points on 23.3 percent shooting, missing all of his three-point attempts.
With David Lighty and Damien Wilkins both having been invited to camp, it's clear that the Hawks coaching staff is still looking for better options on the wing. If either Jenkins or Cunningham hope to get significant minutes—let alone challenge for the starting spot in lieu of Lou Williams' rehabilitation—they'll both need to step up their efforts in camp.
Battling For A Roster Spot: Mack vs. Ivey vs. Lighty vs. Wilkins vs. Johnson vs. Dawson
The Atlanta Hawks already have 14 players (including Shelvin Mack) signed to the roster. GM Danny Ferry typically likes to keep a spot open on the roster for the flexibility that it affords the team should they need to make a roster move later.
Of the two players with non-guaranteed contracts already on the roster, Mack is the most vulnerable. He is not a terrible player, nor did he have a bad summer; he just simply did not perform better than Dennis Schroder.
With Teague secured as the starting point guard, Schroder taking backup duties and the ability of a healthy Williams to play both guard positions as needed, Mack's roster spot could be up for grabs if any of the camp invitees exhibit value. This may be especially true of the players who are capable of playing the 2 or 3, such as David Lighty, James Johnson and Damien Wilkins.
Wilkins at age 33 with subpar career averages, is less likely to win a spot on the roster. Lighty, a 6'6" guard that played at Ohio State before heading overseas, and Johnson, a 6'9" former first-round pick, both stand a good chance of competing for and potentially making the roster.
Biggest X-Factor: Mike Scott
Expect a breakout season from second-year forward Mike Scott. He played sparingly in his first season, amassing just 376 total minutes played in a 40-game span. His numbers from last season—4.6 points and 2.8 rebounds—look pretty meager until you extrapolate them out over a per-36 minute average, translating into 17.5 points and 10.5 boards.
The team is very big on the 6'8", 240 pound forward taken in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Virginia. He has a very versatile game, as he is capable of playing inside-out offensively. He has a reliable midrange jumper and has been working hard to improve his ability to shoot from beyond-the-arc.
His work to improve his game and increase his shooting range showed in the summer league. He led all Hawks players with 18.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He took shots within the framework of the offense, and shot an efficient 46.2 percent, including 25 percent from three—which is improved when consideringthat he shot and missed all of one three-pointer between summer league and regular season play last year.
He looked to be in much better shape and defended the perimeter much better than he has in the past. He also proved capable of getting to the free throw line with regularity, attempting a total of 31 free throws in the three games in which he played 30-plus minutes. He made all but one of them, amounting to an incredible 96.7 percent free-throw average over that stretch.
All-Star center Al Horford recently had some glowing things to say about Scott heading into training camp, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
We can’t forget about Mike Scott. He is the one who has made the most improvement that I have seen. By far he is in better shape than anyone. He is doing great. He is going to be somebody that people are going to sleep on but he’s going to be really good.
All told, his offseason improvements could net him more minutes this season, including some at the small forward position.
Best-case Scenario: Scott, who plays the pick-and-roll well, flourishes in the new offensive system and becomes a featured rotation player, getting minutes at both forward positions. His well-rounded game and overall improvements garner attention for the NBA's Most Improved Player award.
Worst-case Scenario: He fails to demonstrate any of the improvements that he made in the offseason and gets lost in the shuffle amidst a roster that is now full of frontcourt players. His minutes remain minimal at best, and his non-guaranteed contract becomes expendable.
Team Best-Case Scenario
The coaching staff is able to implement their scheme in a short period of time, as the players are able to assimilate the concepts with relative ease. The roster is finalized by the end of training camp with each player having well-defined roles, knowing exactly how they fit into the new system, thus enabling the players to develop chemistry much quicker.
Lou Williams returns to the roster at 100 percent by the start of the season, and the team is able to hit the ground running.
At optimal health and with well-developed chemistry, this team could finish with 41-45 wins and be a first-round only playoff team, continuing the trend of previous Hawks squads.
Team Worst-Case Scenario
The team takes longer than they had hoped to fully grasp the concepts of the new offense. Chemistry is hard to come by, as players struggle to figure out how they fit into the system.
Lou Williams' return is delayed, and when he is finally cleared to play, it takes him much longer than hoped to get into normal game shape, thus further crippling the team's ability to build solid chemistry.
The difficulty of the schedule, having more than 20 back-to-back games—most of which involve one away game—proves too difficult, resulting in more losses. Factor in the increased difficulty of playing in the Eastern Conference, and winning increasingly becomes much harder.
Worst case, this team takes a while to come together and struggles with the difficult schedule, resulting in a season with anywhere between 33 and 38 wins, causing the Hawks to miss the playoffs.
38-44, No. 9 in the Eastern Conference, miss playoffs.
The intricacies and subtleties of a Budenholzer offensive system will likely take time to fully integrate. Additionally, trying to meld together a roster that has so many new parts will not be easy. It will take time for the coaches to figure out the best lineups and rotations and to clearly define roles for all of the players not named Horford, Millsap, Korver, Teague and Schroder.
Lou Williams, once cleared, will likely take a couple months to play himself into game shape, which will have its own effects on the team's ability to gel. As soon as he is capable of assuming a prominent role in the rotation, the chemistry will likely be thrown off, even if only slightly, and will require further readjusting.
The schedule doesn't help the Hawks' cause either.
All told, unless Atlanta gets an unexpected breakout season from both Jenkins and Scott, expect the aforementioned issues to limit the success.
The thing for Hawks fans to remember is that this is the first year in what appears to be a very promising (and quick) rebuild. Missing the playoffs for one season won't be the end of the world.
If the team pulls it all together, sooner than later, while remaining relatively healthy, the 2013-14 season could still end with Atlanta in the playoffs. However, such transitions usually take time and require patience.