The Atlanta Hawks will run their offense through their point guards and bigs in 2016-17. The starting lineup features Dennis Schroder, Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard, and the bench includes the likes of Jarrett Jack and Mike Scott. That’s a lot of guys who want the ball and want shots at the 1, 4 and 5 positions.
To accommodate for those players, the team has mostly reserved their two wing spots for guys who focus on defense and contribute on offense as complementary options.
Atlanta is in an interesting situation with its wings, because it doesn’t have a standout 2 or 3 who deserves a bunch of minutes in favor of other players. But it’s also pretty deep at those spots, so you could argue that a lot of their wings deserve minutes. However, it is in good position to mix and match them, since their low-maintenance skill sets and strong defensive chops mean there aren’t really any unplayable duos.
I’m going to give my opinion on how the rotation at the 2 and 3 spots will end up during the 2016-17 season. I’m assuming that the 15-man roster leaves the team with the following six wings: Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Thabo Sefolosha, Tim Hardaway Jr., Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry.
Atlanta’s most valuable players on the wing are probably Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore, which is helpful because they have skill sets that complement each other nicely.
The 35-year-old Korver’s career is definitely on the downslope, but he still commands a lot of defensive respect on the perimeter because of his deadly three-point stroke. His percentage from downtown dipped just under 40 (39.8) last season for the first time in seven years. Atlanta should be counting on him for a slightly better shooting performance in 2016-17.
Korver is also a respectable defender who usually does a nice job on less-heralded offensive players. His lateral quickness doesn’t seem to be declining that significantly, despite several injuries throughout his career.
Bazemore will take on the tougher defensive assignments and do pretty well with them. He plays with great effort on that end, which is a positive when he makes the right decisions. He has a freakish wingspan of 6’11.5” that helps make up for being just 6’5” and 201 pounds.
And his athleticism is top notch. While the play is nearly three years old, watch Kent Bazemore jump over former teammate DeMarre Carroll for this insane spike. He’s always capable of this sort of thing:
On the offensive end, Bazemore is an average shooter for a wing and a strong slasher off of a catch. He doesn’t take on much of the ball handling and prefers to play off the ball, which is similar to Korver. However, the two players offer different things and point guard Dennis Schroder will have no problems with possessing the ball for a huge portion of the time to make up for his starting wings’ lack of ball dominance.
We’ll say Korver gets about 26-28 minutes per game as his role continues to diminish with age, and Bazemore gets 29-31, because of his relative youth and the huge contract he signed over the summer.
This is where the rotation gets kind of tricky. Thabo Sefolosha is easily the most proven wing on the Hawks bench and remains a defensive ace at the age of 32. He’s ranked between third and eighth among small forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus in each of the past three seasons.
The catch is that he’s a definite minus on offense who hampers Atlanta’s spacing. Also, with him being past his prime and the Hawks not looking like a true title contender, is it worth giving him a lot of burn when there are younger players who could use developing? I think so, because the Hawks have some potential to surprise this season and could be one of the top few teams in the East. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Thabo ends up on the trade block this season in the final year of his deal.
Tim Hardaway Jr. will probably never be worth that first-round pick that the Hawks gave up a summer ago, but he improved significantly over the second half of last season and has definite 3-and-D potential. He sported a 46.7/38.7/86.5 shooting slash after the All-Star break, scoring 8.4 points in 18.8 minutes per game. His insertion in the rotation late in the season also coincided with Atlanta’s defensive surge.
However, a minor groin injury in the final game of the season curtailed some of that momentum. He was a complete non-factor in both postseason rounds. Was that a sign of things to come or just a bump in the road? It’s worth noting that most the Hawks’ main wings in the Mike Budenholzer era have traditionally experienced significant improvement in year two with the system. Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Bazemore are all prime examples of that.
Then there are the two rookie first-round picks, Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry.
Ideally, Prince becomes the next Carroll. From the hair to the solid 6’8″ frames to the spot-up three-point shooting ability to the defensive stinginess, there are a bunch of similarities between the two players. The four-year Baylor standout hasn’t shown promise for us to expect him to be anything more than a No. 4 offensive option in the NBA, but that’s alright. His size and strength gives him some stretch 4 potential.
Bembry is a bit more raw and not as easy of a plug-and-play option in his rookie year. His athleticism is one thing that is totally ready:
But most other areas of his game could use some seasoning. Unlike Prince, the former St. Joseph’s projects as a slightly higher-usage offensive player, but his decision-making and shooting stroke (26.6 percent from three in 2015-16) could use a lot of work. On defense, Bembry has a lot of potential, but I doubt Budenholzer turns that into production this season. If the Hawks give him minutes in any important situations during his rookie year, it would mean the team is probably dealing with some injuries.
It’s also going to be a major transition going from the Atlantic 10 to the NBA, especially compared to Prince’s more NBA-like Big 12 background.
Off the bench, Sefolosha and Hardaway should each grab around 17-19 minutes. Prince will occasionally enter the rotation at around 12 minutes per game (with a few reps as a power forward), and Bembry will likely spend a lot of his season in the D-League. Of course, if a trade involving someone like Sefolosha materializes, that shakes things up.
Also, since a lot of the Hawks’ wings are similar in skill level, there could be several changes throughout the season as players get hot or go through slumps.