NBA

A Blueprint to Improve the Atlanta Hawks

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 12: Trae Young (11) of the Atlanta Hawks drives on Paul Millsap (4) of the Denver Nuggets during the third quarter on Tuesday, November 12, 2019.
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group

The mindset of modern NBA front offices is to get as young as possible in hopes of finding a franchise-altering star. For any young team, wins will not roll in right away. It is essential to let guys develop and gain NBA experience.

The downside to a full-on rebuild is the possibility of instilling a cycle of losing for their core players. The Atlanta Hawks seem to be heading on this path. Since they drafted Trae Young in 2017, they haven’t topped 30 wins and finished last in their division. What’s more worrying is before the 2019-2020 season ended, they were on track to have the lowest losing total since the 2004-2005 season.

The Hawks only have five players on the roster with more than three years of experience. With at least two first-round picks and multiple second-rounders in this year’s draft, this team may even get younger. While youth is important, it’s time to start utilizing their young talent to create wins.

Here is a blueprint to help improve the Hawks culture and hopefully set the ship to be a playoff contender:

DIVERSIFY THE OFFENSE

Pick and roll is a staple of any NBA offense. When used correctly , it can create a two on one situation that opens the floor for threes and cuts. 

However, it can become predictable if a team runs the same set over and over again. For the Hawks, Trae Young is often the one handling the ball on these plays. He is top five in usage rate at 33.9 percent. Possession after possession, Young creates off the dribble, which can drain him and become unproductive for the Hawks’ offense.

What other successful pick and roll teams do with scoring guards is start with them off-ball. The Jazz are a perfect example of this. They run an action that flows into the pick and roll to give them an advantage before screens are set.

Gobert sets a pin down for Rubio.

Gobert sets a pin down for Rubio.

Wesley Matthews is already behind the play before Gobert sets an on-ball screen.

Wesley Matthews is already behind the play before Gobert sets an on-ball screen.

Young would not have this much space to shoot initially. Whoever is guarding him will be chasing him off the line to force the drive, as shown here. Matthews, the defender, is chasing the play.

Young would not have this much space to shoot initially. Whoever is guarding him will be chasing him off the line to force the drive, as shown here. Matthews, the defender, is chasing the play.

The Jazz were able to run this play and get into the lane with Rubio, who is a non-shooter. With Young, they can set the ball screen even higher to allow him to pull-up from three and stretch the defense. This set is simple to incorporate to make their pick and roll more efficient. 

There are numerous ways to flow into pick and roll action, such as a dribble handoff. The Hawks need to add this to their offense if they want to run the pick and roll. 

Now, onto the next way the Hawks can improve their roster.

ADDING VETERANS

The Hawks are an incredibly talented team, but they lack the experience to turn that talent into wins. 

Their playstyle involves many three-pointers in a fast-tempo offense. On a hot shooting night, they may catch a team off guard, but this fast style of play isn’t working for them. They are 8th in three-point attempts, but the Hawks are 17th in makes and have the worst three-point percentage in the NBA. Additionally, they rank  27th in defensive rating and 29th in turnover percentage. 

This playstyle isn’t a path to sustainable success in the NBA due to weak defense and inefficient offense. Along with that, it builds bad shot selection habits, and players don’t prioritize protecting the ball.

Adding veterans who can handle the ball and keep the team stable will lead to better basketball. It’s more effective to bring in veterans who can contribute and teach instead of players who aren’t going to crack the rotation. 

These are some veterans that address current team needs (which is pretty much everything except three-point attempts) and can help develop players. 

James Johnson

James Johnson
Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency

Johnson will bring immediate toughness and defense that should rub off on his teammates. On the offensive end, he is an underrated playmaker and screener who can also stretch the floor. Johnson was involved with the Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies transaction at the trade deadline; he’s set to become a free agent this summer. 

Jeff Green

Jeff Green
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Green will bring a similar skill set to Johnson except a little more shooting. He has played on winning teams throughout his career and can spot-up. Green is a versatile defender who defends bigs and some guards.

Dion Waiters

Dion Waiters
Carlos Tischler/NurPhoto

Although this past season Waiters had some off-court troubles, he is an extremely talented scorer who can be a creator next to Trae Young. last season, Waiters tried to prove he belongs on an NBA roster with the little minutes he received. Unfortunately, he was traded with James Johnson to the Grizzlies and was subsequently released. Waiters will bring a chip on his shoulder along with more variation in scoring.

Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group

Millsap had a great stretch of his career on the Hawks under Mike Budenholzer. He is a versatile forward who can defend multiple positions, stretch the floor, and score from the post. He may be harder to sign as he still can contribute to contending teams, but the Hawks should see if he is willing to return to a former team.

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn
Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto

Dunn was a high lottery pick for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016. However, he was traded soon after to the Bulls in the Jimmy Butler trade after a mediocre rookie season. The change of scenery didn’t work. He has failed to attain a starting spot due to his inconsistent shooting and the addition of Coby White and Tomas Satornsky. However, Dunn is still a great defender and has shown craftiness when he gets into the paint. If he can improve his shooting, he can be a steal for the Hawks as a two-way guard. 

Next is a situation the Hawks can take advantage of to land a star player.

TRADE FOR VICTOR OLADIPO

Reports have surfaced that Oladipo immediately rejected a four-year, $80 million deal from the Pacers. He has risen to an all-star caliber level but was offered less than his current contract. 

The Pacers already committed money to Malconm Brogden and Myles Turner. Domantis Sabonis became a first-time all-star this year and is up for an extension as well. The Pacers will need to invest a lot of money to their core if they want to keep the group together. On top of that, the Pacers signed Jeremy Lamb and TJ Warren for the next few seasons. There isn’t much money for Oladipo unless Indiana wants to go into the luxury tax.

If the Pacers feel they don’t want to commit huge money to this core, the Hawks should pounce on this chance. 

A trade involving Dewayne Dedmon, Deandre Hunter, or Cam Reddish and the Hawks’ first-round pick this year could get the Pacers to accept the trade before they lose leverage. Oladipo’s contract expires after next season, and the Pacers will most-likely make a move for the future.

The Pacers receive a young prospect who can contribute right away – in either Hunter or Reddish – and a top-five pick in this upcoming draft.

If the Hawks can get Oladipo to agree to an extension before the trade, they should pull it. Oladipo is a great fit next to Trae Young since he is an excellent defender and can score the ball. He led Indiana into the playoffs during his Most Improved Player season in 2017-2018 and took the series against Lebron James’ Cavaliers to seven games. 

The Hawks have plenty of cap space and talent on the roster already to push into the playoffs. If they sign some tough veterans who can create on offense and play tough defense, the Hawks should see improvements as a team.. Adding an established star will help right away with their culture and allow Trae Young to excel as an off-ball shooter. More importantly, the Hawks put themselves in position to compete in the east. 

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