When Paul Millsap bolted westward last summer — after the Hawks opted not to send a contract offer his way — Atlanta’s rebuild was set into motion. The starting five from its euphoric 60-win season, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Demarre Carroll, Millsap and Al Horford, all had fresh NBA kits last season.
Without a lottery pick to shape and mold, the 2017-18 season was a stopgap between the franchise’s consistent history of playoff appearances and the natural developmental years that laid ahead. After a 58-loss campaign, their most since the 2004-05 season, the No. 3 overall pick was waiting in the wings as a reward for their trials.
Splash Brothers East Coast
Despite opting to trade back and pass on Slovenian wunderkind Luka Doncic, Atlanta has a clear foundation as it aims to restore lost glory. No. 5 pick Trae Young is the type of celestial being who can A) take over games with his mesmerizing scoring flurries and playmaking, and B) put fans in seats as the Hawks consistently rank near the bottom of the league in average attendance each season.
Atlanta’s second selection of the evening, Maryland sharpshooter Kevin Huerter, who rose up draft boards after initially declaring just to test the waters, was one of my favorite late-lottery, mid-teens targets for teams. He’s the best sniper in the draft (41.7 percent from deep on 5.5 attempts per game last season), has some delightful craft off the dribble, and is a cerebral passer. Question marks revolve around his ball-handling and athleticism, the latter of which will make life challenging defensively, especially early in his career. But Huerter is a high IQ player and, in my eyes, has one of the highest offensive floors in this year’s wing class.
Young and Huerter add a radical amount of floor spacing to the Hawks and should serve as the team’s long-term backcourt pairing if all goes well. Disgruntled point guard Dennis Schroder probably has his bags all but packed now, unable to play off the ball alongside Young due to poor outside shooting and a small frame, while also unlikely to accept a reserve gig.
Assuming Schroder has found new threads by next October, Atlanta will likely trot out a starting five of Young-Huerter-Taurean Prince-John Collins-Dewayne Dedmon, which instantly becomes a top-1o League Pass club with a ton of shooting in the backcourt and springy athleticism in the frontcourt.
Collins delighted and surprised as the 19th overall pick last season, etching his name into the team’s long-term plans as a bouncy rim-runner. Averaging 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just 24.1 minutes a night, the Wake Forest product was tabbed to the All-Rookie Second Team. Prince made a comfortable leap in his sophomore season, upping his averages across the board and quietly acting as one of the better high-volume three-point shooters in the league:
Next to Doncic, Young is arguably the best passer in this draft, capable of slinging it with either hand wherever necessary. He can make virtually every pass in the book and is going to set up Huerter and Prince for a bevy of open looks on the perimeter. Oklahoma didn’t have a capable secondary ball-handler last season, which forced Young to play almost exclusively on the ball, but with Huerter and Prince exhibiting complementary flair as facilitators, Young can run loose and zip around screens as an off-ball dynamo.
Better In The NBA
Rarely did Young find easy buckets at the NCAA level, especially from deep, but Huerter and Prince are simply too good as shooters to warrant abandoning them on a regular basis. I’d wager with a slightly diminished offensive burden and better spacing around him, Young’s three-point percentage — and perhaps his overall scoring efficiency — is going to improve.
Young, Huerter and Prince won’t be the only three long-ball threats in the starting lineup, though. Dedmon, who recently opted into his player option, buried 35.5 percent of his threes last season, emerging as a stretch 5. Viewing Atlanta’s starting 4 and 5 from a traditional lens, neither Collins nor Dedmon was particularly efficient as a big in the pick and roll, but Young is far and away a better facilitator than Schroder, who conducted most of that action last season.
Surrounded by a herd of shooters, Young and Collins will have ample room to bust out some zippy pick and rolls, resulting in snarl-worthy dunks:
Defensively is where pretty much every question lies. Young’s absolute ceiling is as an average defender; Huerter, despite good size and decent length, will likely struggle as most rookies do; Prince has nailed the “3” in 3-and-D wing, but lacks the discipline and awareness to be a plus on that end just yet. Collins and Dedmon will be the best defenders of the quintet, but a dearth of perimeter and wing defense is always going to be problematic. Oh, and there’s not much depth, but as long as the starting five is out there, this should be a fun, offensively charged squad.
Atlanta entered last season without a clear franchise centerpiece and a drove of players who projected to top out as rotational pieces. As Summer League approaches and the wheels begin to turn on another year of basketball, there’s at least a youthful core in place with Young, Huerter, Prince and Collins tallying an average age of just 21. The Hawks are going to be an intriguing team, one that’s going to bounce up and down the floor, hoist lots of threes, score a ton of points and not play a lick of defense. And that’s OK for now.
The Hawks landed the premier offensive player in this year’s draft — though, admittedly, Doncic would make this team even more mouthwatering — and a seriously well-rounded offensive talent to pair with the two young pieces already in place. 2018-19 likely won’t bring Atlanta many more wins, but Young should dazzle while Huerter surprises — plus development from Prince and Collins — giving upper management and the fanbase some hope in the form of a clear(ish) direction.