As NBA teams are officially eliminated from title contention, theScore NBA freelance writer Andrew Unterberger takes a look back at the highs and lows of their season, along with the biggest questions ahead of 2018-19. The fifth edition focuses on the Atlanta Hawks.
John Collins. The rookie center out of Wake Forest emerged as the pleasant surprise of Summer League and continued his promising play into the regular season. While mostly coming off the bench, Collins has averaged 11 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes while shooting 58 percent from the field and posting a team-high 18.9 PER. He's a middling rim-protector and not much of a shot-blocker, so he might be a tough long-term fit in the NBA, but he's probably the most promising young player on the Hawks' roster. He's entertaining as well - no one else on Atlanta was posterizing Russell Westbrook this year.
The 46-point Kings win. Atlanta thumped the Sacramento Kings by 46 points in November, the most lopsided victory in franchise history. Eight Hawks scored in double figures, Atlanta hit 16 threes while dishing out 40 assists, and the starting lineup went a combined 30-43 in the rout. "It's a great feeling," center Dewayne Dedmon said. "We have to take this momentum, feed off of it and get ready for the next game." (The Hawks proceeded to lose their next three games, all by double digits.)
Taurean Prince's end of the season. After a strong showing in the 2017 playoffs - where he started all six games while scoring 10 or more points in five of them - expectations were fairly high for Prince's sophomore season. He seemed like the incumbent Hawk most likely to prove himself as a future fixture in Atlanta. Prince's production has been inconsistent in his second year, though, particularly blemished by a January where he averaged just nine points a game on 35 percent shooting. But he's seen an uptick in production recently, averaging 19 points a game on 44 percent shooting (47 percent from deep) in his last 10 - including a career-high 38-point outburst against the Bulls, demonstrating the wing might still have upside greater than a 3-and-D energy guy.
Playing spoiler. The Hawks have won just 12 games since Christmas, but remarkably, eight of them have come against teams currently fighting for the playoffs: the Wizards, Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans, Jazz, Timberwolves, and Pacers. Despite being out of the race since at least Thanksgiving, the Hawks have remained a factor in disrupting better teams' playoff hunts - and of their final 13 games, all but two of them are against teams still scrapping for a position.
Losing early, losing often. Yes, the Hawks are 20-49, which, in most seasons, would certainly be a negative. But, c'mon - let's not pretend this wasn't the idea from the beginning. Last summer, the Hawks let Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. walk, traded Dwight Howard for scraps, and made only marginal additions in free agency, all but rolling out the red carpet for the rest of the NBA to spend 2017-18 walking all over them. After 10 years of poking their head into the NBA's business class, they've finally returned to the back of coach, strapping themselves in for the long ride ahead. Losing was the plan for 2017-18, and losing was the result. Mission accomplished.
Gifting the Sixers. Veterans were few and far between on the Hawks' roster this season, but they did have two relatively proven rotation vets in sharpshooter Marco Belinelli (acquired from the Hornets in the Howard trade) and floor-stretching big Ersan Ilyasova (re-signed in the summer after being picked up from the Sixers at the 2017 deadline). Neither served much purpose on the clearly rebuilding Hawks, so both were rumored trade targets this February.
But apparently, Atlanta received such scant offers for the two that the Hawks elected to waive them outright after the deadline - leading to both signing with Philadelphia, an organization destined for the postseason. And so the Hawks essentially traded two rotation players to the Sixers while getting nothing - not even cap space - in return. It's not like Atlanta was ever getting the Brooklyn pick for Belinelli and Ilyasova, but still, not great.
DeAndre' Bembry. Prince wasn't the only athletic, versatile forward the Hawks landed in the first round of the 2016 draft - they also picked up St. Joe's product DeAndre' Bembry with the 21st pick. Bembry provided middling numbers in spot minutes during his rookie season, and on this year's depleted Hawks roster, he has yet to run with the opportunity to show he is a keeper. The production just hasn't been there: Bembry's field-goal percentage has plummeted to under 40, and he's posted more total turnovers (38) and fouls (32) for the season than assists (31) or free-throw attempts (25). He's barely played at all in 2018, and will now need a hard reset this summer before his next attempt to demonstrate his ability at the NBA level.
Empty Fortress. The Hawks have rarely drawn well at home, even in their good years - their playoff squad last year was still bottom five in the league, and racially charged comments from former owner Bruce Levenson about the team's perennially low attendance led to his ousting four years ago.
But this year has been particularly bad: According to ESPN, Atlanta rates dead last in both average attendance (~14,300, nearly 1,500 fewer attendees per game than the 29th-place Nets) and attendance percentage (~76 percent, about six percent less than the 29th-place Pistons). Not surprising for a team that essentially announced its tanking intentions before the season started, but still a factor to make you wonder how long a rebuild the Hawks ownership will be able to stomach.
Savage, savaged. The November halftime performance from local-rapper-made-good 21 Savage went viral for all the wrong reasons. The MC couldn't seem to find his own beat while performing "Bank Account" and his Post Malone collab "Rockstar," instead sounding like an obnoxiously loud echo of his own reference track vocal. When even Atlanta's music stars are bricking at the Fortress, it really is a lost season.
The vomiting woman. Enough said, really.
Is Dennis Schroder the point guard of the future? Jeff Teague was traded to Indiana two seasons ago in the hopes that backup Dennis Schroder was ready to take over as the team's starting point guard, but the results with him in charge have been mostly inconclusive. The box score numbers have been there: 19 points and six assists on a not-terrible 43 percent shooting - but the efficiency is low, the defense is lacking, and the losing is slightly discouraging. Schroder rates just 73rd out of 101 total point guards in ESPN's Real Plus-Minus, which is far from ideal for a player who is being paid ($15.5 million a year) like a core starter. if the Hawks can move him in the offseason, it certainly wouldn't be shocking.
Will Dwayne Dedmon and Mike Muscala pick up their player options? Both of these bigs have options to stay with the Hawks in 2018-19, but it'll be interesting to see if either actually uses it. Guaranteed money is guaranteed money, but the Hawks aren't likely to be more competitive in a year from now, and both have played well enough to possibly land multi-year deals elsewhere. Atlanta might appreciate the financial flexibility if so, but they might be better off having the bodies around to soak up frontcourt minutes.
What to do with the first top 10 pick since Al Horford? Like the Grizzlies in the West, the Hawks were decade-long playoff fixtures before this season. They'll have a high lottery pick this year, and should direct their attention to a wing scorer in a draft full of lead guards and big men. Of course, what Atlanta really needs is just quality talent, so if they have a chance at Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic, it's likely the pre-existing presence of John Collins and Schroder won't factor tremendously into their decision.
Can Kent Bazemore be unloaded? Everybody needs 3-and-D wings, right? Maybe not this badly, though: Bazemore is still owed $37 million over the next two seasons, which is a lot for a wing who averages 13 points a game on middling shooting. It has actually been Bazemore's most efficient season to date, and he'd almost certainly be more useful on a good team than a bad one, but he might be too pricey for Atlanta to unload without attaching other assets - something they'll likely have no interest in doing while still a couple years from doing anything productive with their cap space.
Is this Process South? You take a look at this Atlanta roster, and it definitely has the feeling of the 2013-14 Sixers - their first year with Sam Hinkie in charge. Back then, the team still had some leftover veterans from the previous administration, but they were mostly a safe haven for second-rounders and 10-day scrubs, as they worked to acquire the long-term assets that'd allow them to compete at the highest level years down the line. Will the Hawks continue to tear down as they begin to adopt the longest view in the NBA? Do they have another option at this point?
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)