Hawks Explain Yourself

Hawks Free Agents: Ersan Ilysavoa, Kris Humphries, Thabo Sefolosha, Tim Hardaway, Mike Muscala, Jose Calderon

2016-17 Hawks Weaknesses:  28th: Free Throw Percentage. 27th: Offensive Rating. 23rd: Field Goal Percentage. 22nd: Points. 21st: Non-Paint Points. 20th: Bench Points, Fast Break Points.

2016-17 Hawks Strengths: 4th: Defensive Rating. 5th: Free Throw Attempts, Field Goal Percentage (Defense). 7th: Steals.  9th: Total Rebounding, Power Forward Points. 10th: Opponent Points, Pace, Defensive Rebounding, Assists.

Largest (3) Hawks 2017-18 Contracts: Dwight Howard $23,500,000. Paul Millsap $21,472,407. Kent Bazemore $16,910,113

Player Option: Paul Millsap $21,472,407

Great sports encores are a fixture in the movies but in real life they are hard to come by. The challenge is to come close to the once in a lifetime perfection. The Hawks and their 60 win season in 2014-15 was not to be repeated on any level. The Hawks were inconsistent and a mystery.  The offense was stuck on average. Blame Dwight Howard. Blame Dennis Schroder. Blame Mike Budenholzer. Blame the trade of Jeff Teague.

In the aftermath of their playoff defeat to the Wizards, the Hawks have Paul Millsap on the brain. They must re-sign Millsap who is opting out his contract and wants to return. The Hawks stripped Mike Budenholzer of his Presidency title. Wes Wilcox was demoted from his GM job. And a job search is on. Things are looking a little dicey since Danny Ferry was forced out. But the Hawks better get it together before free agency. MIllsap is an attractive free agent. Lots of teams will be interested.

But often, with a new GM is a new philosophy. Budenholzer may be on his way out if he can’t do better managing Howard and being consistent.

As for Howard. Last summer, he was a necessary piece for the Hawks and they salivated at his intro presser. They should have.  The Hawks were last in the league in offensive rebounding, 24th in total rebounds. This year with Howard they were much, much better in total rebounding, 9th in the league, and their offensive rebounding numbers spiked too, to 13th.  While Howard has descended as a player with his health and his ego getting in the way, his one dominant trait is rebounding. He more than fulfilled his contract on that end of the floor, leading the Hawks with 12.7 rebounds, five more rebounds than Millsap, yet playing five less minutes.

Will Dwight Howard be happy is always the question and on cue he had his annual unhappiness scowl at season’s end. He didn’t like being replaced in the 4th quarter; who would? His pride was talking but also Dwight’s insistence that he still is the player he used to be is his recurring story. Not enough was done by Budenholzer to create actions for Howard and his unique abilities at this stage in his career.

Sensitive to a fault, Howard has to feel as if the bulk of the possessions are about him. However, the beauty of the Hawks style is the Spurs offensive system of ball movement and player movement. No one person is the star; the system is the star. When he is not idealized, Howard finds himself in brooding mode.

But Budenholzer deserves some of the blame for Howard’s grumbling. Howard has been around long enough for everyone to know who he is, not a skilled mid-range shooter like Al Horford, who he replaced. Howard doesn’t space the floor. Howard is old school, in the paint, swallow up rebounds and feasting off of putbacks and trips to the line.

Atlanta was last in free throw attempts in 2015-16 and were 5th this past season, thanks to Howard and Millsap who went to the line the most, nearly 12 times a game. Once again, it must be pointed out that Howard’s free throw attempts match Millsap who plays five more minutes than Howard.

Dennis Schroder was given the point guard star title and in the playoffs he was the leading scorer and he and Millsap were a nice two man punch on offense. But Howard was persona non grata, something he was particularly bitter about. His 8 points were a career low and begs the question, why pay Howard $20 million plus if you don’t think he can help win games in the playoffs?

Schroder’s defense was dismal against John Wall. Only Howard and Millsap had good defense throughout the series. Kent Bazemore, another signing last summer, was a huge no-show and his defense was atrocious and predictable.

Losing Kyle Korver put a dent in the Hawks three ball game and this offseason the Hawks need to add talent on the perimeter, a consistent three point threat. They are under the salary cap but they also have to replace or re-sign (7) players.

In past seasons, exhaustion has worn the Hawks down. They are a jump shooting team that doesn’t have the luxury of getting a lot of easy baskets. Enter Howard and his put backs. The  three point shots that used to be their layups are not as much of a necessity now. They weren’t tired against the Wizards. They just couldn’t defend the Wizards scorers. John Wall eviscerated them.

Was this season a disappointment? Of course it was. The Hawks had no consistency and the playoffs were a continuing story. They had good moments in spurts. And then that good in spurts team disappeared. Schroder is still a young player and is learning how to run a team but Budenholzer has to be some help here and make it easy for Schroder. Schroder has to improve defensively, otherwise he’s wasting his talent. All offense, no defense will get the Hawks nowhere.

As for Howard, he’ll meet with Bud and air it all out and Bud will make promises and then it will be all smiles until it is a repeat, Howard on the bench. The fact is, Howard doesn’t fit as well as he used to in the changed NBA. Howard to the Hawks was always going to be a gamble for both player and organization. The organization is going through changes. The player has to adjust.

 

 

photo via llananba