These aren’t your older brother’s Atlanta Hawks. Only three years removed from a 60-win season, the entire All-Star core has moved on to greener pastures. In fact, only three players remain from that team: Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore, and Mike Muscala. The decline has been consistent — and a little depressing:
- 2014-15: 60 wins, lost in the Conference Finals
- 2015-16: 48 wins, lost in the Conference Semi-finals
- 2016-17: 43 wins, lost in the first round
- 2017-18: 24 wins, didn’t win the lottery
Atlanta snapped their 10-season playoff streak this season, capping off one of the most under-the-radar runs in the sport. Some veterans, like Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, were shipped out; others, like Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon, were shut down to help empower the tank. This left a collection of rookies and G-leaguers logging big minutes — another method used to rack up losses.
The rebuild is now in full force on multiple fronts. Not only are the Hawks trying to solidify their core, they now have a new coach on the sidelines with Mike Budenholzer heading to Milwaukee.
Here to talk about the state of the Hawks is Jameelah Johnson. She runs her own Hawks site (atlhawksfans.com) and also covers the Atlanta Dream for WNBA Insidr. You can follow her on Twitter at @JameelahJNBA.
5. ND: The Hawks were … not great this year, but guys like John Collins and Taurean Prince got a chance to showcase and expand their games. How excited are you about those two?
JJ: The development and promise of the youth of this team was one of the (if not the main) top highlights of this past season. Taurean Prince really showed out after the All-Star break, averaging 19-5-4 with a 44/41/89 shooting split. I do think his injured finger affected his perimeter shooting some but I loved his tenacity. He’s a hard-nosed player who isn’t afraid to attack the lane. Prince converted 61 percent of his shots inside of three feet. While the “hard-nosed” characteristic isn’t exactly unique in the league, Prince has a mindset that sets him apart.
John Collins gave highlight after highlight, but what impressed me the most about his season was his growth from Summer League. On offense, he developed more post moves and started shooting threes with more confidence once given the green light. He knocked down 10-of-28 threes (35.7 percent) after the All-Star break. It’ll be interesting to follow his growth as a shooter moving forward.
4. Mike Budenholzer is out, Lloyd Pierce is in. What are your thoughts on the coaching change?
I am really excited about Lloyd Pierce becoming the new coach. Not only do I find his experience with his previous teams to be impressive, I think his ability to connect to the players is a huge plus. Understanding what these young men will be going through will allow him to know how to approach them. I believe that’s why he’s so high up on the list for players around the league, they recognize his ability and potential.
3. Agreed. With the locker room expected to be filled with young guys, Atlanta needs a coach who can connect with them. Pierce should be able to do that. One player he needs to sit down with soon is Dennis Schröder. He made headlines recently about his future in Atlanta. Do you think he should be dealt?
Schröder loves Atlanta. I know he does. That being said, these guys are professionals and extremely competitive. What Schröder said does not surprise me but it’s all how he said it. I’m a firm believer in doing what’s best for both the player and the team, and if a player doesn’t want to continue with the team, he should be dealt. I can’t say for sure that’s the case here, I think Schröder just wants to ensure he has a purpose in Atlanta.
2. The Hawks have the third pick in this year’s draft, which puts them in range for a talented perimeter player (Luka Doncic, Trae Young) or a dynamic big man (Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr.). Would you like to see the Hawks go big or small with their pick?
The Hawks were very careful in the contracts they finalized during the season, leaving them with some voids to fill. I’d love to see them go with a versatile big with their pick, but I would fully understand getting a talented wing like Doncic. In fact, he’s the only reason I’d go small.
1. For what it’s worth, it looks like Doncic might slide. You just may get your guy. Moving on to free agency: what is a need that you’d like to see the Hawks address?
As I previously mentioned, the Hawks are going into free agency with a lot of flexibility and spots to fill. Despite what their 2017-18 record says, that team was in almost every contest, battling. I want to see a stronger bench. Unfortunately, injuries were a common theme among the team, leaving rotations a guessing game. With a second unit who has not only the ability to keep them in games but also extend possible leads, I believe this team could go far.
With Carmelo Anthony finally traded last summer, the 2017-18 season marked the beginning of the Kristaps Porzingis Era for the New York Knicks. Things went great over the first month of the season. Porzingis looked like an MVP candidate and role players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter chipped in admirably.The Knicks eeked out close games with a surprisingly efficient offense (fifth in fourth quarter offensive rating from Oct. 17 through Nov. 17).
Then, Porzingis went down.
Then the chirps about head coach Jeff Hornacek got louder.
Then Jarrett Jack happened, and kept happening, and kept happening.
Suddenly, the hot start was but a distant memory and the harsh reality settled in again — these Knicks weren’t going anywhere.
If there’s a bright side, the Knicks have more of a direction than they’ve had in recent years. Porzingis is The Guy; Frank Ntilikina is going to be good, even if there are questions about his best role as of now. There’s a new sheriff — well, head coach — in town, one that should give a sense of identity to a perpetually bad team.
Here to talk to me about the state of the Knicks is Sara Peters of Bleacher Report. You can follow her on Twitter at @3fromthe7.
7. Kristaps Porzingis looked like he was ready to make a leap before having his season cut short with a major injury. What stood out to you the most?
My neighbors were probably concerned about me early in the season because all the times I shouted “Ooooooo daaaaaaamn!” at a swirling Olajuwonesque slam, a monstrous block, or even three blocks in one play (poor Cody Zeller).
What impressed me were a few massive improvements he made over the previous season. Kristaps Porzingis was creating his own shots with a much more confident post game and was dominantly defending the paint without getting in foul trouble. In November, 38.7 percent of his made field goals were unassisted and he only committed 2.7 fouls per game. His power, mobility, size and skill were all being put to best use.
When he started to struggle is when Hardaway went down. Without a major perimeter threat to draw bodies or spread the floor, he didn’t have the same freedom, the same space. And of course on the road…well, they all ate hamburgers laced with tranquilizers or something.
6. Frank Ntilikina was a relative unknown coming out of last year’s draft. He didn’t put up gaudy numbers this year but looks like he could become one of the best defenders at his position in the near future. How did you feel about the pick at the time and how do you feel about him now?
I managed to resist the seductive enchantments of Dennis Smith Jr’s offense (and Malik Monk’s). Frank was my top choice because of his exceptional defensive intelligence, which is extremely rare in a rookie. I’m even happier with him now than I was then…but is he a starting point guard? I’m not convinced of that yet. I am impressed with his character, ability to play both backcourt positions, overall growth, and defense, which is just as good as advertised.
5. Jeff Hornacek is out — David Fizdale is in. How much blame do you place on Hornacek for New York’s lack of success during his stint?
Jeff Hornacek was given a difficult roster to manage and then he managed it horribly. As a leader of people, he utterly failed – the Joakim Noah situation is the perfect example. As a tactician, he made missteps. For example, when Hardaway went down, he left Porzingis to shoulder the entire burden – or Michael Beasley, when Porzingis was not on the floor – instead of finding ways to work other backcourt players, like Courtney Lee, into the offense. And when the defense was failing, the blame was always on the players for a lack of effort, never on the coaching staff for a lack of direction.
4. How excited are you about Fizdale?
When the Memphis Grizzlies fired Coach Fiz, I was tempted to put a poster of him on my wall like the one I had of Lou Diamond Phillips when I was in seventh grade, but I didn’t dare to dream so high. Once the Knicks fired Hornacek and started interviewing, it was between Fizdale and Mike Budenholzer for me – Budenholzer actually had the edge because of all he’d done for Hardaway’s development. But I’m delighted with Fizdale.
The Knicks have sorely lacked for defense, which was the defining characteristic of the Grindhouse when he coached the Memphis Grizzlies. But what the Knicks have been even more desperate for is an identity. For years, nobody’s really been able to answer a question like “Who are these Knicks? What’s this team about?” Fizdale has a strong personality and passion – he’s not wishy-washy. And I think that’s what is needed now.
Will MSG be the new Grindhouse or will it be something else? I don’t know, but it will have a character. The team will be more than just a set of co-workers showing up to the office. And the fact that Fizdale has already started building relationships and spending free time with players before the offseason is a sign of that.
3. Enes Kanter has become a bit of a fan favorite. All signs point to him opting out this summer but he clearly wants to be back. On the flip side, Porzingis may be best utilized at center. How would you like to see the Knicks approach Kanter’s free agency?
I’m not actually convinced that Porzingis is best at center. Playing the 4 gives him more freedom to use his wide gamut of skills. Nevertheless, it’s hard to decide whether to pay Kanter… and/or Kyle O’Quinn, who also has a player option. I know the smart business decisions for both Kanter and O’Quinn are to waive the options, but I wouldn’t be gobsmacked if they both – Kanter especially, since he’s making a helluva lot more than KO – pick them up. If the prices were right, I might just keep them both and see what an emotional, defense-first coach can do with two emotional players who compete on that end. I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make the call.
2. The Knicks have the ninth pick in this year’s draft. Who would you like to see them take?
In the draft, I think you should prioritize talent over fit, so ultimately they should be leaning towards the best player available. That said, the Knicks need to bolster their wing defense and three point shooting and I’m not hopeful about the options for those in the free agent market.
Also, as much as I like Collin Sexton (and I do), the Knicks shouldn’t go slobbering over any point guard unless they are committed to cutting ties with at least one of their current guards right now.
Depth and healthy competition between teammates are great things but it’s hard to maintain team spirit when you’re four-deep at one position – especially at that position.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that I would love for them to look closely at Khyri Thomas, who won the Big East Defensive Player of the Year twice at Creighton – where they call defense “Khyrifense” – and Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, who shared that award with Thomas once.
1. What needs would you like to see the Knicks address in free agency? Who are some potential targets?
I have blueprints for trap doors in the parquet floors at the Boston Garden so I can steal Marcus Smart from the Boston Celtics. I think they’ll probably match any offer for him, because he is one of the most elegantly hardscrabble, triumphantly annoying, gloriously destructive players that’s ever existed.
If the Knicks do decide to let Kanter and O’Quinn walk and play Porzingis at the 5 more, then I’d consider bulking up their frontcourt with a few energetic bruiser like Montrezl Harrell or Quincy Acy (who’s added a three to his game since he left the Knicks). I also now have a hard time imagining life without Michael Beasley.