What are the next steps for the Atlanta Hawks?
Atlanta Hawks president Travis Schlenk is trying to quickly bring the team back to the status of perennial playoff contenders following the model he learned during his time with the Golden State Warriors.
Coming in with the plan to reset the team after the Mike Budenholzer era clearly reached its ceiling, Schlenk has amassed an excellent core of young talent. He started his time with the team by getting a draft steal with young forward John Collins in 2017. He followed up by adding Trae Young and Kevin Huerter in 2018, before finally adding DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish in the 2019 draft.
With a smart trade to bring in big man Clint Capela too, the Hawks now have a core of six players on their roster that are all under-30 with the modern-day skillsets the NBA lusts for the most now: shooting and athleticism.
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Schlenk also oversaw the hiring of young head-coach Llyod Pierce, who was viewed as a coach that had a reputation for defensive scheming and developing young players into successful NBA guys.
The hope was that this season with Trae Young making the leap to All-Star level, that Hawks too would make a leap into the beginning of long-term success. The main goal was to be competitive and in the mix for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks didn’t reach that goal this year though, and that was mainly due to two glaring problems with the team as currently constructed. Those weaknesses are the Hawks’ 28th ranked defense and their poor bench production. If the team can fix those two poor qualities however, they can be right back on the path to success. Here’s how the can do that.
Atlanta Hawks’ defensive solution: Internal growth and frontcourt depth
The Hawks’ abysmal defense is where the team must improve. Ranked 28th in defensive rating, the Hawks give up the most points in the league and that simply cannot continue to be the case.
The problem with the Hawks defense is two-fold. They are middle of the pack when it comes to defending against the 3-point shot, while their defense in the paint has been among the worst in the league.
Luckily for the Hawks, the solutions to their defense may already be on the roster. After playing John Collins as a small-ball 5 for stretches of the season and then having average centers like Alex Len the team added Clint Capela at the deadline.
With Capela still working back from injury before the season stopped, it has yet to be seen how much a John Collins-Clint Capela can improve Atlanta’s terrible defense.
All the advanced metrics indicate that Clint Capela is one of the best interior defenders in the league, so if he can learn to play with Collins on offense, then the athleticism the duo gives the Hawks will make for a scary frontcourt for years to come.
When it comes to defending the 3, everyone knows there’s not much Trae Young is going to do on defense, but getting him to be at least serviceable while surrounding him with good perimeter defenders will help the Hawks make a jump. The biggest step for the team’s perimeter defense will come from the young duo of DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish.
Hunter was an excellent defender in college who projected to be a versatile defender in the NBA and he has shown flashes so far. He has quick feet and a high motor and was often asked to guard elite wings.
Reddish while having a rough rookie year offensively has shown great flashes defensively, sometimes being the best defender on the team. Strong awareness and consistent minutes for Reddish could be one of the x-factors to improving the Hawks’ defense.
With the duo of Hunter and Reddish on the wings terrorizing the perimeter followed on the back end by Collins and Capela, hopefully, Llyod Pierce will then be able to draw up some excellent defensive scheme as he did during his time as an assistant in Philadelphia.
Atlanta Hawks bench solution: Free agency and the draft
The bench production from the Hawks this year has been terrible. The Atlanta Hawks are going to need to build a better bench to truly contend.
A big piece to fixing the bench could come from Kevin Huerter. Huerter has shown great ability as a secondary playmaker when starting, and the best thing for the Hawks might be for Huerter to become a super sixth man for the team.
Having Huerter playing as a facilitator with the bench unit and coming to the starting lineup occasionally to provide shooting might be a smart move for the team that would give them better scoring when the starting lineup is resting.
From there Schlenk’s plans should be to add 3-and-D players and a backup point guard to flesh out the rest of the bench unit with Huerter. Players like Joe Harris, Jerami Grant are just a couple examples of good veteran shooters who could in and boost scoring while playing solid defense.
Adding a veteran point guard to facilitate when Trae Young is on the bench would be a piece to truly tie things together. A player like veteran Goran Dragic would be the ideal target for that role, a good playmaker who can find shooters and play pick-and-roll to a high level whose also a veteran that can foster team growth.
Of course, the biggest solution to all of the team’s problems could come from their top 10 pick in this year’s draft. Atlanta could look to add a starting 3-and-D wing in the draft like an Anthony Edwards or a Devin Vassell to complete a defense and add even more shooters around Trae Young.
They could also look to find a point guard that could play in multiple roles for the team like Killian Hayes. A player like Hayes could play run the point but also operate as an off-guard scorer that can feed off of Trae Young. Whatever the Sclenk and the Hawks decide to do it will leave them open to fill other roles in free agency.
With more emphasis on defense and scheming and then a revived bench unit, the Hawks can finally begin to start fighting for a playoff spot and contention in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.