2018-19 Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

NBA.com Global on Oct 14, 2018 11:41 AM
2018-19 Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 1: Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks drives to the basket against the the New Orleans Pelicans during a pre-season game on October 1, 2018 at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

The Atlanta Hawks are selling their future, which lies with rookies Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman. Hawks GM Travis Schlenk, in his time in Golden State, is clearly using the Warriors' blueprints to construct this Hawks roster -- with Young, Huerter and Spellman serving as the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green figures in their rebuild. The comparisons, no matter how outrageous they might seem, won’t go away. The Hawks have purged the roster of nearly every piece from the previous regime. So the new foundation is undoubtedly Schlenk’s vision and has his fingerprints all over it. The heavy lifting rests on the shoulders of new coach Lloyd Pierce and it will be a roller-coaster ride in the early going.

ICYMI

Carmelo Anthony and Vince Carter, two of the greatest players of their respective generations, both became Hawks in a season of upheaval for the franchise …Anthony’s tenure was brief and only lasted as long as it took for the Hawks to complete the trade with Oklahoma City and buy out the remainder of Anthony’s contract (he’s in Houston now). Anthony’s acquisition was the vehicle that allowed the Hawks to rid themselves of Dennis Schroder, which was their most critical offseason task …Carter, on the other hand, will be relied upon for veteran leadership and whatever on-court contributions he can make as the oldest active player in the league. He’s been excellent in a similar role in his last two stops (Memphis and Sacramento) and should be able to do similar things on this youthful Hawks roster.

THREE POINTS

1. Young won't get keys to the kingdom -- yet. Anyone who thought that might take a few months of the regular season has not been paying attention. The Hawks are betting on Young’s talent, skill and drive from the very start. They have Jeremy Lin lined up to serve as his backup/sounding board and who better to show Young how to deal with oversized expectations than the man who survived Linsanity?

2. Don't forget about John Collins and Taurean Prince. Both are key to the Hawks' future. Collins might be the team's most impactful player this season, given the vast improvement in his game since the start of his rookie season. Prince has also taken a huge step in his development. They exemplify the youth, athleticism and potential on this roster. Their continued development is as important as the development of any of the prized rookies.

3. A fresh start for Alex Len. The former lottery pick will have an opportunity to rehabilitate his reputation if he shows himself to be a quality contributor for the Hawks. There is plenty of opportunity for him to find his way into the rotation on a team with a dearth of seasoned frontcourt talent. Len’s production has never matched his raw talent, so maybe Pierce and his staff get the best out of him.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Schlenk is betting his reputation on the Hawks’ rebuilding process. His blueprint is a picture-perfect mirroring of the plan used by the two-time defending champion Warriors, who were as fortuitous as they were calculated in charting their rise to the top. Play comparisons offer a theoretically reliable way of selecting talent, until you realize that the comparisons were way off base.

STARTING FIVE

Trae Young | 27.4 ppg, 8.7 apg, 3.9 apg (Oklahoma)
Stephen Curry comparisons will be tough to live up to, even for a player who led NCAA in scoring and assists in his lone college season.

Kent Bazemore | 12.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg
The highest-paid player on the team survived a summer roster purge to make it back for another season.

Dwayne Dedmon | 10.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 0.8 bpg
Veteran center had his best season as a pro in nearly every significant statistical category in his first season with the Hawks.

Taurean Prince | 14.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.6 apg
Showed all the signs of being a legitimate starter in his second season in the league.

John Collins | 10.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg
A potential walking double-double this season if the progress he made as a rookie and through the summer is any indication.

KEY RESERVES

Kevin Huerter | 14.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.3 apg (Maryland)
Injury kept the rookie out of Summer League action. But he’ll be one of the surprises of the class with consistent minutes.

Alex Len | 8.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.2 apg
Former No. 5 overall pick has a chance to shake the bust label that has accompanied his name throughout his first five seasons.

Jeremy Lin | 18.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 4.0 apg
Injuries have limited the one-time breakout star to just 37 games over the past two seasons, both in Brooklyn.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Hawks have been here before, staring at the long end of a franchise overhaul and the painstaking process that comes with it. But that was under a previous regime and during a completely different era. A brutal 13-win season was the result in the first season of that aforementioned rebuild in 2004-05. The core of that team helped the franchise to a 10-year playoff run that culminated in a 60-win season and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 2014-15. The remnants of that highlight season are long gone. The Hawks are in the embryonic stage of the process and have to be careful not to revisit such a dreadful low point in Pierce’s first year on the job. Lock these Hawks in at 19-63 this season.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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