Departures Put Hawks Under Pressure
The Atlanta Hawks took a step back in the 2016-17 season, suffering an exit in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the Washington Wizards.
Mike Budenholzer’s men reached the Conference Semi-Finals of the post-season in the previous term, only to be defeated by the eventual champions – the Cleveland Cavaliers – in a whitewash defeat.
The clash against the Cavs would be All-Star center Al Horford’s final game for the Hawks as he secured a lucrative move to the Boston Celtics during free agency. However, the club replaced him with a move for Dwight Howard from the Houston Rockets.
Kent Bazemore signed a four-year deal with Budenholzer’s men, while Taurean Prince was added in a three-team trade deal with the Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz that saw Jeff Teague leave the club.
DeAndre’ Bembry was selected in the first round of the 2016 Draft, but made a minimal impact in his rookie term, although the Hawks were able to get decent production from Prince in his first season.
Paul Millsap and Dennis Schröder were key players for the club throughout the campaign, with the latter taking a significant step forward in his development as he started almost every match.
Atlanta endured an up-and-down campaign, winning 43 of their 82 contests, but lacked the quality to challenge the elite sides in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks did reach the post-season and secured the fifth seed, but the Washington Wizards were able to overcome them in six matches.
Further departures this off-season have weakened Budenholzer’s men and that could have an effect next season in their bid to return to the post-season. We’ll now look back on the Hawks’ last campaign to see their triumphs and their failures.
The Hawks began the campaign extremely well as the hit the ground running. Atlanta faced off against the Wizards on home soil and secured a victory on the opening day, with Millsap and Howard leading the way with 28 points and 19 points respectively.
Budenholzer’s men followed up their display with a dominant defensive outing against the Philadelphia 76ers, allowing them to ease to a 32-point win. They made it three wins on the bounceby defeating the Sacramento Kings comfortably as Howard put in a complete display.
They tasted defeat for the first time in the campaign at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, despite a 31-point effort from Howard. The Wizards gained revenge for their defeat in the opener with a narrow victory, but Atlanta responded well by winning their next six games on the bounce, including a fine victory over the Cavaliers as Schröder dominated with a 28-point effort.
However, the Hawks them suffered a huge slump in form, dropping from an impressive 9-2 to 10-9 after losing seven out of eight contests even though Schröder put in strong performances against the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns.
Their poor run carried into the start of December, losing their opening three matches of the month. Back-to-back victories stopped their slide, defeating the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks thanks to solid performances from Howard and Schröder.
The Hawks were in a battle to remain at .500 throughout the month, enduring a period of inconsistency. Budenholzer’s men did end 2016 on a high note by producing successive wins over the New York Knicks and the Detroit Pistons to leave them at 17-16.
Spark Fizzles Out
The Hawks had the perfect start to the new year overcoming the San Antonio Spurs in overtime, with Millsap producing arguably his finest performance of the season to score 32 points and gather 13 rebounds in the contest.
The victory over the Spurs kickstarted a four-match winning streak on the road, defeating the Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets to get the club well above the .500 mark.
They carried that momentum throughout the month, triumphing in 11 of their 15 matches, including an incredible match against the Knicks that was decided in a fourth overtime period.
However, an inconsistent month in February stymied their progress as a three-match losing streak in and around the All-Star break began to increase the pressure on Budenholzer and his side.
The signs of foreboding were present and began to manifest at the start of March, suffering three defeats in a row albeit against quality outfits in the form of the Cavaliers, Pacers and Golden State Warriors. The Hawks won their next three outings, but then lost seven-straight to bring them back to the pack chasing the lower seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Four victories on the spin in April, including back-to-back triumphs over the Cavs, ensured their spot in the post-season. However, they could only clinch the fifth seed, leaving them on a collision course with the Wizards.
The quality of John Wall and Bradley Beal was too much for the Hawks to handle on the road as Washington raced into a 2-0 lead. Howard, Millsap and Schröder hit back to level the series with two dominant outing at the Philips Arena, but the Wizards edged their next contest at home before a Wall 42-point special secured their victory in Atlanta.
Departures Leave Void
The Hawks could be in battle next season following the departures of their key players. Millsap was arguably their most important player, averaging 18.1 points per game along with his defensive duties. The 32-year-old joined the Denver Nuggets and will leave a huge void on the court for Budenholzer’s men.
Howard plugged the gap of Horford’s exit and operated at a high level, finishing in the top five in rebounds last season. The eight-time All-Star still notched 13.1 points per game over the course of the campaign as well as being a defensive wall for his team in front of the hoop.
The Hawks signed Dewayne Dedmon from the Spurs to replace Howard, but he will be tasked with a bigger role than the one he played in San Antonio. Should he step up and continue his development then Atlanta might be able to get by for one term, but there is a lot of pressure on the 27-year-old.
John Collins was selected with the 19th selection in the 2017 Draft. He had a solid record in the college game with Wake Forest, although he may not be afforded a great deal of time to adjust to the NBA due to the needs of his side. Therefore backing him at odds of +3300 with Bovada sportsbook to be named Rookie of the Year could be a savvy bet.
Without Howard and Millsap, Schröder will have to take his game to new heights. He performed extremely well last term, but whether he can carry the fortunes of the Hawks to reach the post-season next term is unlikely even with the support of Bazemore. This is highlighted their betting odds of 125/1 with Bet365 to win the Eastern Conference.
John Collins To Be Named Rookie Of The Year
- Atlanta Hawks
- Dennis Schroeder
- Mike Budenholzer