By now, it’s abundantly clear that the Atlanta Hawks are rebuilding, and that this season’s team will be decidedly beneath the middle of the NBA pack. General Manager Travis Schlenk reportedly wants to avoid years of prolonged mediocrity, but in the short term, this Atlanta team will have all the hallmarks of a rebuilding franchise (in short, they will likely be bad). This reality is encouraging for next year’s draft, but June 2018 is nearly a year away.
Rebuilds are often long and uninteresting for the fans. As exciting as the Philadelphia 76ers are now, it’s undeniable that their on-court product has been decidedly lackluster in recent years. And while Schlenk’s comments suggest that he wants to build a competitive team much faster than Philadelphia has, his plans don’t change the roster’s short-term realities. As far as the playoffs and immediate contention go, the Hawks are short on intrigue.
However, I’d like to suggest that there are actually plenty of reasons to care about this iteration of the Hawks, and that this team is still worth watching, even on a random weeknight in January. The roster is young (for the first time in a while), and there are multiple players who could profile as trade assets if situations work out right. Much of what happens in 2017-18 will determine the success of Schlenk’s long-term vision for Atlanta.
The 2016 And 2017 Draft Classes
DeAndre’ Bembry, Taurean Prince, Tyler Dorsey, and John Collins represent the last two draft classes for Atlanta (at least in terms of the immediate roster). Prince and Collins have been impressive in both the NBA and summer league, and their development alone is a compelling reason to care about the Hawks.
Not only are they the potential backbone for a competitive team in the future, but Collins is Schlenk’s first draft pick in Atlanta. If he succeeds this season, this will be validation for one of the new GM’s most important decisions so far.
Player development has always been a key part of Atlanta’s franchise vision, and these players all still have room to grow. Collins and Prince are the two most intriguing out of this group, but Bembry has untapped potential, and Dorsey could improve as well.
It’s still not clear to what level these four players can contribute in the future, but their growth is critical, and watching them on a night-to-night basis is well worth the investment for fans. If these four players are going to be the core of a playoff team, we may see the beginnings of that growth now.
In many ways, Schroder’s future as a point guard is still to be determined. He played competently last season, but still has plenty of room to grow.
Many analysts around the league don’t see a high ceiling for Atlanta’s starting point guard, but it’s important to realize that Schroder is still only 23 years old. It’s possible that his offensive resurgence and defensive regression last season represent who is truly is as a player, but it’s equally possible that there is still more to come.
With the roster experiencing such large turnover, it’s difficult to project just how well Schroder will play right now. The nice thing, though, is that there should be less pressure on him with the rebuild in full effect.
Atlanta will surely struggle to score without Paul Millsap (the only true offensive threat after Kyle Korver was traded), but point guards develop late and this could be a good opportunity for Schroder to continue to grow. As important as Collins and Prince are, Schroder is still one of the team’s most important assets.
The Hawks also have several veteran players on the roster, something that may fly under the radar given the team’s youth. Many of these players can’t be (productively) traded due to bad contracts, but others may be candidates later in the season. Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, and Dewayne Dedmon all fall into the category of players who won’t make the Hawks good, but who could easily have value to a playoff contender once the calendar flips to 2018.
It’s difficult to project trades this far in advance, and it’s possible that none of these players will be good enough to get assets in return. At this point in the season, though, the Hawks definitely have a few players who could catch the eyes of teams in win-now mode. Schlenk may be looking to continue his restocking efforts, and these players could be valuable assets in that regard.
The Hawks have a bright future, even if their immediate team isn’t compelling. Schlenk still hasn’t made enough moves to full evaluate the future of the rebuild, but the Hawks’ young assets and future draft picks (which are considerable in number) mean that there are plenty of reasons to care about the 2017-18 team. This year may not bring another playoff performance, but it will be far from a waste.