Familiar faces are optimistic about the new season
2021-22 Hawks will try to use roster continuity to their benefit
The Atlanta Hawks are excited about their new additions.
President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Travis Schlenk likened the skills that center Gorgui Dieng can add to the roster to what Dewayne Dedmon gave them from 2017 to 2019: a smart, veteran center who can protect the rim on one end and space the floor on the other. His talents will be needed, especially at the start of the season when Onyeka Okongwu recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Delon Wright will add depth as a backup point guard but he can be used in other roles, too. Head Coach Nate McMillan noted that there will be times where Wright can team up with starting point guard Trae Young.
"I love his versatility," McMillan said, " and his ability to play with the ball and play off the ball. He's a big guard. He can defend as well as initiate."
If we took a time machine back thirty years, that description would have been apt for McMillan in his own playing days as a Seattle Supersonic. It is not difficult to envision McMillan finding creative ways to make use of Wright's skillset.
Despite the additions, the fate of the Hawks' 2021-22 season will not be determined by what Dieng or Wright or even rookies Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper bring to the table. After falling two games short of the NBA Finals, the Hawks return every single player – 11 players in total – who played 75 or more minutes for them in last season's playoffs. The vast majority, if not all, of the starting five should come from that group, as well as a large contingent of the bench rotation.
Trae Young is back for his fourth NBA season, ready to lead the Hawks back into the postseason chase.
"There has been a lot of chatter and stuff throughout the offseason, and not a lot of it has been about us," Trae said. "We all heard about it. We're very eager to go out there and play and have fun and try to shock the world again."
John Collins and Clint Capela signed deals that will solidify the frontcourt for years to come. Bogdanovic, De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter give the Hawks incredible two-way depth on the wings. Danilo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu, Lou Williams and Solomon Hill all return from last season's deep playoff run.
The Hawks are especially hopeful that getting Hunter and Reddish healthy elevates their defense to new heights.
"If we have all the guys healthy, it is going to be different," Bogdanovic said. "We know we're a deep team, and we know we have a lot of guys that can play on both ends of the floor. We need every single one of us, especially Cam and Dre."
One returnee whose role got a new twist is McMillan himself. After taking over just before the All-Star Break in a pandemic-compressed season, McMillan did not have an abundance of practice time to institute all of the changes that he may have wanted to implement from the get-go. Now, he gets a full training camp to work on things and a roster of mostly returnees ready to hone the nuances of their craft.
Huerter noticed some changes.
"Even within the first couple hours here and our first (day of) training camp, already we're doing some stuff differently on both sides of the ball, and that was as expected," he said. "When he took over last year, it wasn't like everything changed right when he took over. It was kind of a gradual progression. His message kind of changed. It wasn't like we had this whole offensive playbook in and did everything that we wanted to do defensively. I think there will be a lot of changes on that front this year."
Given their deep playoff run, the Hawks enter the 2021-2022 season with big aspirations. At least one player on the Hawks has successfully navigated this situation before.
In 2014, Bogdanovic joined the Turkish squad Fenerbahçe as a promising 22-year-old. In his first season there, even as he himself struggled, Fenerbahçe made it to their first-ever Euroleague Final Four. A season later, they added one-time NBA players Ekpe Udoh, Pero Antic and Luigi Datome to a core that already included Bogi and Jan Vesely and the team made it one step further to the Euroleague championship game.
Making the leap from very good to great took some painstaking fine-tuning.
"Details. It's all about the small details and consistent work," Bogdanovic said. "Never give up on the work and keep building. It's a slow process. It's not just one year and you're going to be successful. It's a tough process."
The next season, Bogdanovic's last in Europe before heading to the NBA, he finished 7th in Euroleague in scoring. Fenerbahçe made it back to the Euroleague Final Four and won their first-ever European championship.
It goes without saying that Bogdanovic would like to do something similar in his Hawks' future. And while building a successful team is never an entirely linear process, the Hawks head into this new season hopeful that continuity – with a dash of good health – puts them in a position to prosper.