April 13, 2016, 10:00 am
Coming off of a fantastic 2014/15 season in which the Atlanta Hawks not only reached the Eastern Conference Finals but also set a franchise record with 60 regular season wins, it was always going to be tough for the 2015/16 team to live up to expectations. They may not have lived up to preseason expectations, but the season should still very much be viewed as a success with the continued improvement of both the team and multiple individual players as the season progressed. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in The ATL.
Despite losing DeMarre Carroll to the Raptors in free agency, the Hawks were still expected to battle the Cavs for Eastern Conference supremacy this season. On the whole, the Hawks never really challenged the Cavs at any point this season. The 6th most efficient offense in the NBA last season saw their offense drop to 21st in offensive efficiency, while also seeing their True Shooting Percentage (TS%), Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), assist rate, offensive rebound rate and total rebound rate also drop. A 60 win team a season ago won just 48 games this season.
That all sounds negative but the drop off can be attributed to two main factors: Kyle Korver produced one of the best shooting seasons of all time last season, but underwent two offseason surgeries and struggled for the majority of this season; and last season the Hawks benefitted from the NBA’s easiest strength of schedule. Korver is absolutely essential to the Hawks’ motion offense with his elite off-ball movement, screen setting and ability to stretch the floor with his elite shooting. Offseason ankle and elbow surgeries prevented one of the league’s best shooters and best conditioned athletes from entering the season 100% healthy, and his play suffered as a result.
But the negatives end there. As the team’s offense struggled, the defense rose to elite levels. The 2nd ranked team in defensive efficiency completely thwarted the opposing teams’ offenses, rivaling the Spurs’ team defense. The quickness and length of the guards, coupled with the athleticism and versatility of the front court simply created havoc on the opposition.
The Hawks also saw multiple players either take the jump into superstardom – Paul Millsap – or produce breakout seasons – Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott. As the season progressed, so did the individual performances. As Korver has fully recovered and regained his previous form, the offense has improved across the board and the Hawks have taken flight. Sitting in 7th place in the Eastern Conference standings on February 25th, they had lost 10 of their previous 15 games and were sitting at 31-27 on the season. From that point forward, they went 17-7 and climbed up the 4th in the standings. Their .708 winning percentage over that time span is better than both the Cavs’ .615 and Raptors’ .692 winning percentage (the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, respectively).
Although the regular season did not live up to expectations, the Hawks are playing their best basketball heading into the playoffs. Paul Millsap’s rise into superstardom plus a healthy Thabo Sefolosha as they enter the playoffs has the current version of the Hawks arguably better than last year’s version as they entered the playoffs. The Hawks have taken flight and it wouldn’t surprise me if they improve on last seasons’ Eastern Conference Final playoff run.
Mike Budenholzer helped turn the Hawks into an offensive juggernaut in the 2014/15 season. This season, he helped the Hawks turn into a defensive juggernaut. A fantastic X’s and O’s coach, he is also great at managing personalities, creating a Spurs-like culture where the players are selfless on and off the court. He has once again done a fantastic job and should be under no pressure to lose his job.
On the offensive end, Budenholzer’s floor spacing, motion offense that empowers the players to read the defense and react with varying sets is perfect for the current Hawks’ roster. It maximizes the individual skills on the roster by meshing Korver’s shooting and off ball movement, Teague and Schroder’s quickness and ability to break down the defense, and the versatility of Millsap, Horford and Bazemore into one fantasy friendly system.
On the defensive end, Budenholzer again maximizes the skills of his individual players by instilling a system predicated on being quick and aggressive but also well positioned. The versatility, smarts and quickness of both Horford and Millsap is the engine that drives this defense. They provide the Hawks with a backline that can not only protect the rim, but can also defend the pick and roll, switch onto smaller guards and closeout on shooters. It allows the other players to get aggressive, move above screens and get into the face of the opposition. It is very fantasy friendly, as you see impressive steal and block numbers on multiple Hawks players.
ADP: 20 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 24 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 6/7 (9/8 cat), Per Game Value: 6/7 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 81
Make no mistake about it, Paul Millsap is a bonafide superstar – both in fantasy and in reality. But he may also be the most underappreciated player in basketball today. His versatility and unique skill set is essential to the success of the Hawks, both offensively and defensively (he became the first player since the inception of the 3PT line in 1979/80 to record 15 rebounds, five blocks and five threes in one game). Standing at 6’ 8”, he is smaller than the prototypical power forward. But his 7’ 1” wingspan coupled with the lower body strength and excellent mobility and quickness for a big have allowed him to excel at the position.
His skills were on full display in a fantastic all-around season. On defense, Millsap’s versatility was a major force to Hawks’ second overall ranking in defensive efficiency. Not only did he provide fantastic rim protection, but his quickness and ability to close out on shooters and blow up pick and roles with his ability to switch and stay in front of guards was indispensable. That’s not including his innate ability to get into passing lanes, trap and surprise the opposition with the rip steal.
On offense, Millsap showed that he is as versatile as they come at his position. He can finish with the best of them around the basket, has become a good spot up shooter who opens up the offense with his ability to knock down the three, and can put the ball on the floor to either create for himself or for his teammates. He posted averages of 17.1 points, 0.9 threes, a career-high 9.0 rebounds, a career-high 3.3 assists (including a career-high 16.5% assist percentage), 1.8 steals, and a career-high 1.7 blocks on 47.0% shooting from the field and 75.6% from the FT line. His efficiency from deep (specifically from the corners) slightly dropped from 34.7% in 2014/15 to 32.2%, but he improved his mid-range jump shot (from 10 feet all the way out to the 3PT line) from 34.5% in 2014/15 to 43.2% this season. All in all, Millsap led the Hawks in points, rebounds, steals and blocks.
How much better can Millsap get in both reality and in fantasy in 2016/17? Even if he doesn’t improve his 3PT shot and heads into next season as the same player he is today, he is a top 10 player who will play close to 80 games and is versatile enough to be the lead dog on a fantasy team.
ADP: 18 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 47 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 12/17 (9/8 cat), Per-Game Value: 12/17 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 82
A perennial fantasy stud, Horford was up to his old tricks again this season. He isn’t the biggest, strongest, fastest or most athletic center in the league, but he very well might be the smartest. Having a checkered injury history coming into the season, Horford has played in every game this season.
His averages of 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 setals and 1.5 blocks are nearly identical to the averages he posted last season. His overall FG% is down to 50.4%, but he became arguably the most versatile true center in the game today. Horford shot 74.4% at the rim, 49% from 16 feet out till the 3PT line, and a very respectable 34.4% for a center from deep. He averaged 1.1 treys per game while attempting 220 more total 3PT on the season.
Horford developed a legitimate 3PT shot, but didn’t fall in love with it. His ability to finish around the basket, shoot from the FT line like a guard (79.8%), pass the ball extremely well, and spread the floor and open the lane for his teammates to drive towards the basket is invaluable to the success of the Hawks. On the defensive side, he continued to be extremely smart and well positioned, coupling his stable presence with the aggressive of Millsap to create havoc on the opposition.
Horford has to make a major decision as he heads toward free agency. He is a perfect fit in the Hawks’ system and likely won’t experience the same amount of success if he were to bolt to another team. But even if he is to leave Atlanta, as long as he continues to improve his outside shot, he will remain an elite fantasy center.
ADP: 42 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 33 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 41/57 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 41/57 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
Despite having a down year compared to last season, Teague performed much better than he has been given credit for. Sure, the emergence of Dennis Schroder shined the light brighter on Teague’s performance this season, but he still performed extremely well.
On the season, he averaged 15.7 points, a career high 1.4 treys, a career high 2.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.3 blocks on 44.0% shooting from the field. His minutes, PER and AST% were all slightly down, but his USG% was a career high 26.6. Criticized for not being a good enough 3PT shooter, Teague improved his 3PT% from 34.3% all the way up to a team and career high 40% conversion rate.
Now sure his assists were down and he became a more passive player, attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line less frequently, but he was still a vital component to the success of the Hawks. His improved 3PT shot made teams respect his ability to knock it down and prevented his defender from sagging off on him and helping down low against Millsap and Horford. He still returned early-to-mid round value and was a significant asset more often than not in fantasy. An aggressive Teague coupled with an improved 3PT shot could lead to his most impressive season to date in 2016/17.
ADP: N/A (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 140 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 64/66 (9/8 cat), Per-Game Value: 64/66 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 75
When DeMarre Carroll signed with the Raptors in the offseason, nobody expected Bazemore to fill the vacant shoes as admirably as he did this season. Clearly he wasn’t thought of much in the fantasy community, as he went undrafted in most leagues. A role player off the bench last season, he is a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Player this season.
Bazemore posted career-highs in minutes (27.9), points (11.6), threes (1.5), rebounds (5.0), assists (2.3), steals (1.3), blocks (0.5), FG% (44.2%), FT% (81.5%), eFG% (51.7), 2PT FG% (50.2%), TS% (55.1%) and PER (13.4). In most cases, the numbers blow away the previous career-highs. The only main offensive statistic that he didn’t post a career-high in was 3PT%. His 35.7% efficiency from deep was just off his career high of 36.4%, but is extremely impressive considering his total 3PT attempts more than doubled from 132 to 301. This was by all accounts a true breakout season. Not bad for a player who returned mid-round value despite going undrafted in most fantasy leagues.
An outstanding athlete who now has the confidence and trust of his teammates, coaches and fans, expect Bazemore to take another step forward next season. He still needs to work on his shooting to maximize his value in this offense.
ADP: 53 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 70 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 94/101 (9/8 cat), Per-Game Value: 94/101 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 80
Korver had a career year at the age of 33 last season, rivaling Steph Curry and Klay Thompson is his ability to knock down the three. An ankle injury suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals and offseason elbow surgery robbed Korver of an offseason to stay in shape and maintain his shooting stroke. He struggled early and his overall season averages of 9.2 points, 2.0 treys, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks on 43.6% shooting from the field and 39.8% shooting from deep reflect the fact the struggled. Considering his ADP of 53 (Yahoo/9 cat) and 70 (ESPN/8 cat), he definitely didn’t provide his owners with the draft day value they were envisioning.
But as the season progressed, so did Korver’s shooting. He shot 33.0% from the field and 29.3% from deep in December. Those numbers climbed all the way up to 46.7% from the field and 45.5% from deep in March. It is no surprise that as Korver’s season turned around, the Hawks started winning more games.
Arguably the best off the ball player in the NBA, Korver’s screens and cuts are absolutely essential to the success of the Hawks. His importance to the motion offense ensures that he will once again receive significant minutes next season. As long as he stays healthy enough to return back to his rigorous offseason workout and conditioning regimen, he should return to being one of the most lethal shooters in the NBA while returning mid-round fantasy value.
ADP: N/A, Total Value: 127/142 (9/8 cat), Per-Game Value: 127/142 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 75
Last April, an off the court incident with the police ended Sefolosha’s season early as he broke his leg. Had he been healthy, it’s possible the playoffs would have gone differently for the Hawks. But he recovered and came back healthy this season, averaging 23.4 minutes, 6.4 points, 0.6 threes, 4.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks on 50.3% shooting. Although those numbers don’t jump off the page, his efficiency as ability to contribute across the board (even if it the contributions are minimal) have made him worthy of a roster spot in standard leagues. He has gotten even better as the season winds down, shooting 59% over the past month. His 3PT% of 33.9 is his best in three seasons, but it doesn’t tell the entire story as he become a lethal 3PT shooter over the past two months, shooting 39% and 48% respectively.
Sefolosha’s value in reality will almost always come from his fantastic defense. He has built a career on being one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, almost always drawing the assignment of covering the opposition’s best offensive perimeter threat. He doesn’t start games but almost always ends them. But even though he remains extremely valuable defensively, it has been his offensive improvement that has made him fantasy relevant. His improved 3PT shooting and cuts to the basket off the ball have made him important to the Hawks, but also raised his efficiency where he has become an asset in fantasy.
As long as he continues to improve from deep and is active without the basketball, Sefolosha will continue to receive significant minutes due to his outstanding defensive game. For this reason, expect him to be on the standard league radar again next season.
ADP: 140 (Yahoo! 9 cat & ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 126/172 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 126/172 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
The Hawks’ 2013 first-round pick at 17th overall out of Germany, Schroder had himself a true breakout season despite his inconsistency having him on and off the standard league radar all season. His raw per-game averages of 11.0 points, 1.0 treys, 2.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 0.9 steals in 20 minutes of action are not eye-popping, but they are all career-highs. They also don’t tell the entire story as his per 36 number numbers of 7.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals are all better than the per 36 numbers of starting point guard Jeff Teague. He also posted career-high numbers in 28.8 usage percentage, 36.1 assist percentage and 6.9 total rebound percentage.
Schroder is a lightning quick point guard who carves up opposing defenses that are either a step slow or get caught up in the screens and cuts associated with the Hawks’ motion offense. He has shown fantastic passing ability, making passes in tight windows and seeing plays before they even happen. His quickness and 6’ 8” wingspan also makes him a good defender who is very disruptive.
The Hawks have a decision on their hands with Schroder and Teague. It’s safe to assume that if Schroder isn’t starting with the Hawks next season, he’ll be starting with another team. He needs to become more consistent on a nightly basis, but if he cuts out some mid-range jumpers and improves a weak 3PT shot, he’s going to become a fantasy stud in 2016/17.
ADP: N/A (Yahoo! 9 cat & ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 213/231 (9/8 cat), Per-Game Value: 213/231 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 75
Although Scott was not fantasy relevant, he had himself a fine season in reality. He averaged 6.2 points, 0.8 treys, 2.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.2 blocks on 46.8% shooting from the field and a career-high 39.2% shooting from deep. He is becoming a knock down 3PT shooter while also providing solid defense. Budenholzer likes the effort and rebounding ability of Scott on the defensive end, so as long as he continues to work on and improve his 3PT shot, he may get enough minutes next season where he be considered as a 3PT specialist in fantasy leagues.
ADP: 140 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & N/A (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 275/286 (9/8 cat), Per-Game Value: 275/286 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 53
The Hawks were Humphries’ third team in 2015/16. After being traded from the Wizards to the Suns, he was waived and signed on with the Hawks on March 1st. In total, he averaged 6.5 points, 0.6 treys, 4.1 rebounds, 0.3 steals and 0.5 blocks on 41% shooting from the field. At this point in his career, Humphries is nothing more than a big that will provide energy and rebounding in limited minutes off the bench. He added a 3PT shot this season that can help him remain in the rotation if he continues to work on it. He likely won’t ever have fantasy value again.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
ADP: 135 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 140 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 284/306 (9/8 cat), Per-Game Value: 284/306 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 51
A broken wrist in the summer league delayed the start to Hardaway’s season and stripped him of the opportunity to get acclimated in a new team and system during training camp. His averages of 17 minutes, 6.3 points, 0.9 threes, 1.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists on 42.6% from the field, 33.8% from three and 89% from the FT line were down nearly across the entire board. He showed flashes of fantastic play whose shooting ability fit in perfectly with the Hawks’ offense. As long as he avoids injury and works on improving his defensive game, he should earn a consistent role and bounce back with a productive season in 2016/17 that can get him back on the standard league radar.
The Hawks now have the coach and system in place to ensure success for years to come. But heading into next season, they need to do everything they can to resign Horford, as there is no obvious in-house replacement to match his importance on both offense and defense. They then need to decide on their floor general of the future – either Teague or Schroder – and trade the other for shooting and wing depth.