May 16, 2018, 2:45 am
The Atlanta Hawks and their fans knew that the team was in for dramatic turnaround in 2017-18. There were no expectations of the Hawks remaining a playoff team. There were no misguided delusions that they would repeat their 43-39 finish to the 2016-17 season. In 2017-18, the name of the game for the Hawks was “rebuild.” With that in mind, they brought in Travis Schlenk, who was an assistant general manager for the Warriors, to be their new general manager. And boy did he ever shake things up.
So how did the new-look Hawks do in 2017-18? Well, it wasn’t a pretty sight. How did the Hawks go from “Hotlanta” to “Notlanta” in just one season? In this post-mortem we’re going to take a closer look.
2016-17 record: 43-39 (5th in East), 2017-18 record: 24-58 (last in East)
Entering 2017-18, the Hawks were in full rebuild mode. They traded away Dwight Howard (Hornets), allowed Paul Millsap to find a new home in Denver, and didn’t bother matching the Knicks’ (large) offer to restricted free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. These were part of the house-cleaning efforts of the newly hired Schlenk. The moves were drastic but on some level he probably felt that if the organization was on board with starting out with a clean slate, then it was probably best to just rip off the band-aid and secure cap space for the future. On that point at least, they managed to be successful. The Hawks are entering 2018-19 with $70.4 million on the books, giving them that much-needed financial flexibility to head in the right direction.
With so much talent and firepower on its way out, the pressure weighed heavily on the shoulders of 24-year-old Dennis Schroder to step up as a leader on and off the court and show that he’s a centerpiece that the team could build around. Schroder would not end up having to carry the burden on his own. Taurean Prince ended 2016-17 with an impressive post-All-Star performance and came into 2017-18 as a popular sleeper pick. Also, the season was a shot at redemption for Kent Bazemore, who was a huge disappointment in the previous season.
The franchise would get a hefty boost after landing a solid big man in John Collins with the 19th pick of the 2017 draft. The Hawks also added some backcourt depth with Tyler Dorsey, who they selected 41st overall.
The Hawks had youth and inexperience and actually benefited more from losing games than winning them. They fell flat on both ends of the court. They were 21st in defensive rating and ranked 23rd in shots blocked. They turned the ball over far too often. They were a mess. An ugly one on most nights. It’s never a pretty sight to watch a team tank their way through an 82-game season.
After all was said and done, the Hawks met expectations and trekked down a yellow brick road of losses to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference. While they did not get many wins, the organization has a shot at a high draft pick as well as comfortable cap space to make bigger and more impactful moves in 2018-19.
Just a season removed from receiving accolades for taking the Hawks to their best finish, Mike Budenholzer had a paradigm shift on his hands. He had to guide a team that had 11 consecutive playoff appearances through a tanking season without making it look blatantly obvious.
One of his top priorities, aside from the aforementioned tanking plan, was to groom Schroder and Prince into what should be, could be, the team’s core for the future.
It was a Herculean task to squeeze out as much development as possible of this ragtag foundation of what the organization hopes will be a contender further down the road. He did what he could and worked with what he had as his players missed considerable time due to various injuries here and there. One major criticism you could lay on Budenholzer was his choice to provide Ersan Ilyasova, who was then the starting power forward, too many minutes at the expense of the potential development of rookie John Collins. The hindsight view was made even clearer when Collins began to show flashes of bright future when Ilyasova was eventually waived in February.
The rebuilding team simply did not have the same nor enough tools for it to play like it did a season or two ago. And when Budenholzer tried to get his youngsters in on the program, they failed to execute.
The new-look team probably needs a fresh perspective at its helm and the Hawks eventually decided to part ways with Budenholzer at the end of 2017-18. Lloyd Pierce, a Sixers assistant who drew solid praise for his development work in Philly, will take over next season.
ADP: 50/53 (ESPN/Yahoo). Total Value: 69/103 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 64/92 (8/9 cat), Games played: 67
Schroder was under a microscope in 2017-18. He was basically handed the keys to the team and was in line to take it to its next chapter. Schroder was more aggressive on offense and it translated to an increase of two points per game to 19.4. With him as the primary, and at times only, scoring option, it was easy for opposing teams to focus their attention on Schroder. The extra attention had an impact on his shooting efficiency. He shot 43.7 percent from the field in 2017-18, compared to 45.1 percent in 2016-17. That was the bad news.
The good news is that despite his now larger role, Schroder managed to reduce his turnovers per game to 2.7. There was some clear growth in that department.
It was probably a case of too much, too soon for Schroder to handle the pressure of carrying a team on his shoulders.
At the end of the day, he was still a guard who was good for points in the high teens and six or so dimes, with not much to add in terms of commonly preferred guard stats such as 3-point shooting or steals (both 1.1 per game). As far as real-life is concerned, the jury is still out on whether he can develop the leadership skills necessary to be a core player for the Hawks. It must be noted that his expected leap forward in 2017-18 was stifled by injuries, with Schroder playing 67 games. Nothing too serious, ankle sprains and whatnot. However, his season came to a halt as he was shut down due to a medial bone bruise in his right ankle.
He does have some more room for improvement but his ceiling as a player has become more concrete after his 2017-18 campaign.
ADP: 107/119 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 75/99 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 66/82 (8/9 cat), Games played: 65
After coming off a terrible 2016-17 season, Bazemore redeemed himself, at least to some degree, in 2017-18. He managed to outperform his ADP and saw improvements in the areas of 3-point shooting, rebounding, passing, and steals. Bazemore still isn’t an efficient shooter. It’s just not something that’s part of his kit. He’s really more of a defender, coming from a similar mold as Josh Smith, just on the wing. To his credit, Bazemore did play to his strengths better in 2017-18 and was more aggressive in attacking the basket and settled less on low-percentage jump shots.
Despite finishing the season as a top-100 player, Bazemore hurt his owners when it came to games played. Bazemore was repeatedly bothered by a sore knee, which never quite healed to a hundred percent. His season was ended by a knee bone bruise right as the tank revved into high gear. It’s time to make a mental note that Bazemore has dealt with knee soreness in each of his last three seasons, making him a shaky pick if you’re after totals.
On a positive note, Bazemore does bring a diverse line when it comes to counting stats. He’s a decent passer and pretty active on the defensive end with his steals. He already has a good base with 12.8 PPG 1.6 3PG 3.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, and 0.6 BPG so even if he pulls his shooting efficiency (field goal and free throw) needles in the right direction by small margins, Bazemore is capable of being a solid late-round value pick in fantasy.
ADP NA/136 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 130/119 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 94/86 (8/9 cat), Games played: 62
Dedmon was one of the new faces on the roster this season. He came over from the Spurs and had promising per-36 minute numbers as a reserve there. The Hawks needed a big man to occupy the space in the paint once filled by Dwight Howard. Dedmon was a blue-collar player who you could count on to box-out opposing big men, go for rebounds and had enough length to block some shots.
Dedmon was not a great shot-blocker at 0.8 blocks per game but he did chip in 0.6 steals per game on defense. His low-key line of 10.0 PPG and 7.9 RPG had the highlight of him being able to hit free throws 77.9 percent of the time, a more than respectable rate compared to most big men in the league. He ended up being one of the more pleasantly surprising flier picks in fantasy drafts as Dedmon managed to deliver late-round total value in 12-team leagues. Owning him as a third center could have been considered a luxury for most of the season.
Dedmon was hampered in 2017-18 by a stress fracture in his tibia forcing him to miss a over a month of action.
ADP: NA/140 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 45/62 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 74/97 (8/9 cat), Games played: 82
Taurean Prince was the creme that was expected to rise to the top from the Hawks’ 2017-18 roster in fantasy. He was a solid defender who showed some of his scoring punch in the tail-end of the 2016-17 season. Was he the new hot 3-and-D guy who would make a splash for fantasy teams? Well that was the hope-slash-expectation of him. Did he deliver? The short answer is yes.
Prince saw big jumps in his offensive production in 2017-18. However, the improvement of his field goal shooting to 42.6 percent from 39.9 percent in 2016-17 was not enough to keep in stride with the increase in volume of the shots he was taking.
Considering the drastic increase in pressure for him to be productive on offense, Prince managed to pass his 2017-18 litmus test, albeit not with flying colors. He improved his stat line to 14.1 PPG, 2.1 3PG, 4.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.0 SPG and 0.5 BPG, bringing enough to the table for him to finish the season as a top-75 based on totals and a top-100 player on Per-Game value.
He was the only player on the Hawks roster to play in all 82 games, so he’s at least established a good baseline of reliable durability.
Prince had to go through an adjustment period and it was obvious at times that he was not prepared for this much responsibility. This resulted in him disappearing for weeks with strings of lackluster performances. Overall, his game is better and he’s a more mature player who should continue to take his fantasy value to the next level.
ADP: NA/143 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 80/74 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 101/90 (8/9 cat), Games played: 74
John Collins was a steal for the Hawks as the 19th overall pick. His season averages can be a bit deceiving. Collins was stuck behind an overrated Ersan Ilyasova for most of the season.
To get a better appreciation of what they got out this big man, you will have to take a look at his post-All-Star break numbers. Post-ASB Collins posted averages of 11.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 0.7 SPG and 0.9 BPG, with a commendable 56.4 percent shooting clip from the field in 28.1 minutes per game. Some extra minutes would’ve been nice, but minor injuries slowed him a bit. Plus, more Collins could’ve resulted in an extra win. That’s not good for the ping pong balls.
Yes, he was a bit raw in his rookie campaign but Collins has displayed the chops of a power forward who can grow into someone who can do some damage in the low post as well as be an asset on the glass.
ADP: NA/145 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 234/218 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 190/163 (8/9 cat), Games played: 53
Mike Muscala was the only fantasy-relevant big man off the Hawks bench. Sorry, Miles Plumlee. Muscala’s ability to hit treys (1.2 3PG) gave the Hawks a stretch-five option and this allowed him to see 20 minutes of action per night.
His low-end production kept him from pinging on standard league radars but when Dewayne Dedmon missed time with his tibia injury, Muscala had a small window of fantasy relevance. Don’t expect a repeat performance from the four-year veteran as his playing time will likely shrink as the Hawks add more talent to their roster.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 275/287 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 292/319 (8/9 cat), Games played: 54
Delaney was christened as Dennis Schroder’s primary backup, at least at the start of the season. That’s as far as his luster would take him.
The score-first guard did see some action off the bench but was not productive enough to be fantasy-relevant for even short spurts. He saw his minutes cut considerably when the Hawks saw that Isaiah Taylor was a superior playmaker during Taylor’s stint on the sidelines.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 377/366 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 185/162 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 15
Based on total stats tallied for 2017-18 Damion Lee does not look like much. That’s because he came on board via a 10-day contract in March. Lee had been playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G-League before being called up. He went to score 13 points in his NBA debut and was reasonably impressive, so much so that he was signed to a second 10-day contract and eventually inked for the remainder of the season.
Lee stands out because of the top-200 per-game value he mustered given his limited time with the team. It was not all smooth sailing though as the guard proved to be disappointing in spots, cooling off after a decent stretch where he was productive enough to be worth considering in 14-team leagues. He averaged 27 MPG and 10.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.0 3PG and 1.3 SPG during his brief stint with the Hawks.
He might not make it back on the Hawks roster in 2018-19, but his body of work over those 15 games is enough of a resume-padder for him to be considered by other teams in the league.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 284/317 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 359/402 (8/9 cat), Games played: 67
Taylor overtook Delaney in the Hawks rotation as the season was winding down. He ended up starting for Dennis Schroder when he went down with an ankle injury and was later ruled out for the season with a bone bruise.
Taylor’s minutes were on the rise post-ASB. He emerged as a viable stream asset for his 4.5 APG. He couldn’t hold a permanent slot on most fantasy teams due to his lack of peripheral contributions and his 40.2 field goal shooting percentage at nine shots per game.
In the end, Taylor was able to pad his resumé enough for people who regularly play in very deep leagues to keep an eye on him, even as a Schroder handcuff.
The Hawks need to stay the course and continue with their rebuilding plans. Whether or not Dennis Schroder is part of those plans is another story. He’d be a valued backup PG on a high-quality team and his skillset deficiencies are simply hurting the Hawks at this point.
They will also have to address their lack of defense, especially in the low post. Collins and Dedmon can block a shot a night but the Hawks could see a major turnaround if they had a game-changing rim protector. Who knows, maybe they’ll get lucky in the 2018 draft and land the next Clint Capela.
The key will be in how they maximize the flexibility they’ve gained from their cap space and to basically not screw up with their draft pick in what should be a pretty loaded draft class.
Taurean Prince is their most valuable asset right now and focusing on his development should be their top priority.