POSTED: Oct 14, 2015 7:34 PM ET
Hawks Season Preview: More or Less
Steve Smith and Brian Shaw make their predictions on Atlanta's success this season.
Ahead of schedule is one way to describe the Hawks heading into Mike Budenholzer's third season in charge. And his responsibilities have expanded now that he's not only the head coach but the team's president of basketball operations, under the new ownership group.
There's no pressure. With four returning All-Stars and expectations sky high after the best season in franchise history, all Budenholzer has to do is top 60 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Hawks own the longest playoff streak (eight straight) in the Eastern Conference and the second longest streak in the league to the San Antonio Spurs ... The Hawks led the league in assist percentage last season at 67.6 percent, roughly 16 percent higher than the league average ... Kyle Korver's effective field goal percentage of 67.1 percent was second in the league to only DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers ... Al Horford is in the final year of his contract and will join a star-studded free agent class at season's end, but has already declared he will not speak on or entertain any discussion about his situation during the season ... The Hawks' most glaring deficiency, they ranked among the bottom five teams in the league in rebounding percentage, was addressed in the offseason with the additions of both Tiago Splitter (7-feet, 254 pounds) and Walter Tavares (7-3, 260)... Point guard Jeff Teague decided against a summer of bulking up and came to training camp 10 pounds lighter. He insists that playing at 195 pounds last during his first All-Star season didn't give him the intended benefits.
1. Paul Millsap had a difficult decision to make in free agency and chose to remain in Atlanta, where he blossomed into an All-Star and vital cog on a playoff team, rather than starting fresh with an ambitious young group in Orlando. It was a wise decision for a player who reinvented himself in a Hawks offense he is perfectly suited for, given his versatility and expanded shooting range.
2. There is no point guard controversy, yet. But with the rapid ascent of Dennis Schroder and an All-Star incumbent in Jeff Teague, Budenholzer's biggest challenge this season might be finding ways to use both of them as effectively as possible without playing them at the same time and dealing with the defensive liabilities that come with that lineup wrinkle.
3. For all of the attention the Hawks get for their pace and space offense, they were actually the best transition defensive team in the league last season. They ranked just ahead of Milwaukee at 1.02 points per game with opponents scoring on just 47.6 percent of their transition plays.
Thabo Sefolosha missed the Hawks' postseason run after suffering a broken fibula and torn ligaments on a New York City street a week before the end of the regular season. With DeMarre Carroll in Toronto, there's a gaping hole in the starting lineup at small forward that a healthy Sefolosha could fill, provided he withstands training camp challenges from Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr. Budenholzer loves that Sefolosha has starting experience on quality teams that the other contenders lack, but he has to earn the job.
Jeff Teague | 15.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 7.0 apg
Arguably the best point guard bargain in the league, and he is just entering his prime.
Kyle Korver | 12.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg
One of the NBA's deadliest shooters, he's proved to be much more than that in this system.
Al Horford | 15.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.2 apg
Criminally underrated as the backbone of the most consistent playoff team in the East.
Thabo Sefolosha | 5.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.4 apg
He has huge shoes to fill coming off a late-season injury that cost him the playoffs.
Paul Millsap | 16.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.1 apg
A matchup nightmare for opposing power forwards, he'll continue to exploit his edge.
Dennis Schroder | 10.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.1 apg
His role has grown in each of his first two seasons, expect another jump this season.
Tiago Splitter | 8.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 apg
The veteran big man is the blue-collar low-post presence the Hawks needed last season.
Kent Bazemore | 5.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
His playoff effort last season was a revelation and has earned him a solid spot in rotation.
A second straight 60-win season is beyond ambitious, but the Hawks could very well be better this season with fewer wins. Last season was no fluke. The offseason additions cover all the holes and a return trip to the Eastern Conference finals is a very realistic goal.
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