The Atlanta Hawks were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA for the 18-19 season, but outperformed those expectations by a decent margin. Sure, the Hawks were among the worst defensive teams in the NBA, and the offensive was prone to inconsistency, but Atlanta won 29 games. And they did so with a rotation that prominently featured three rookies, a second-year player and a third-year player.
Let’s start there, as Travis Schlenk has put some solid building blocks in place in his two years as general manager. In his first draft in 2017, Schlenk selected John Collins to pair with Taurean Prince, who had just finished his rookie year, as the Hawks forward tandem. Then, with three first round picks in 2018, Schlenk drafted Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman. Young and Huerter became Atlanta’s starting backcourt, while Spellman showed some potential as a backup big.
With the Hawks rebuilding after a decade of playoff appearances, it was important to nail draft picks as that was where Schlenk placed most of his attention. He selected Collins 19th overall in 2017 and then swung a blockbuster trade at the 2018 draft. The Hawks moved back two spots to the fifth pick, while swapping the third pick to the Dallas Mavericks. That meant passing on Luka Doncic, but Atlanta drafted their point guard for the future in Young while also picking up an extra first rounder (tenth pick in 2019).
Building through the draft is usually an exercise in compiling as much talent as possible and letting things sort themselves out over time. It isn’t that Atlanta hasn’t been taking that approach, but it’s also happened to work out that all of their players fit well as pieces together. Very little of their young talent overlaps. Collins and Prince play the forward spots, Huerter is a classic wing, and Young is a lead guard. And they don’t just fit together by position either. Their games are complementary of each other as well. Young and Huerter are perimeter players. Prince is a slasher. Collins has a developing jumper, but still does his best work in the paint.
Now it’s up to Schlenk to continue to give Lloyd Pierce, who did a nice job as a rookie head coach, the right pieces around his young core. At first glance it seems like the positions of need for Atlanta are center and another wing. The 2019 NBA Draft is fairly light on centers, but Jaxson Hayes is thought to be the best prospect at the position. Things seem to be slotting for the Hawks to have a shot at drafting him with either the eighth or tenth pick. That’s perfect for Atlanta, as they can select Hayes and let him grow along with the rest of the young talent.
As for the wing spot, many mock drafts have Cam Reddish falling to the Hawks. That could be a major steal for Schlenk, as Reddish was considered a top prospect coming into this past season. He struggled to find his fit with all the other high-end talent at Duke, but scouts are still intrigued by Reddish’s 3&D potential on the wing. He’d be a worthy gamble for Atlanta, given his considerable upside.
Beyond that, the Hawks have a couple of holdover veterans to fill those roles for one more season, as Alex Len and Kent Bazemore are entering the final seasons of their contracts. Len is the favorite to start at the center spot, while Bazemore could either start on the wing or be a top reserve. Bazemore is also a trade candidate, as his $19.3 million salary would go a long way towards matching money in a trade.
As it has been since Schlenk took over, expect Atlanta to be active in trades this offseason. They project to have near $43 million in cap space. But the Hawks probably aren’t quite ready for top free agents to sign on just yet. They’re still a year away from that. But that sort of cap space makes Atlanta a prime trade partner.
Expect the Hawks to be prominently mentioned as the third team in to help facilitate trades. Schlenk is happy to take on a bad salary or two from another team, in exchange for picking up more draft picks or even more young talent. Atlanta can also offer up Bazemore to contenders looking for wing help, who are also looking to shed some salary. It seems like a good bet that the Hawks will make at least one trade to eat some money, while picking up an asset for the future.
As for free agency, expect Atlanta to be active around the edges. They’ll look for bargains that can fill a role, as they did with Len a season ago. DeWayne Dedmon has probably priced himself out of a deal that makes sense for where the Hawks are right now, and there is a good chance his rotation spot will be replaced by someone in the draft. Schlenk is on the record as saying he’d welcome Vince Carter back, but Carter will likely look to catch on with a contender for what could be his final NBA season.
That means you’re looking for undervalued free agents for Atlanta. Think about players willing to play on a short-term deal for fairly light money in exchange for an opportunity at playing time and a chance to build their value for the future. Some players who fit this profile are Alec Burks, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, Mario Hezonja, and even someone like Jabari Parker. All of those players could come cheap enough, as they look to regain some of their standing in the league.
While Hawks fans might be hoping for more out of this summer as they want to push things back towards the playoffs, the patient approach is the best approach. The young players need another year of seasoning, and don’t need high-priced veterans blocking their path to playing time. A year from now is when the Hawks will be poised to make their big splash. And Schlenk would like to do it with a few more future assets squirreled away to fill out his roster when they do.
Guaranteed Contracts (9): Kent Bazemore, DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Alex Len, Miles Plumlee, Taurean Prince, Omari Spellman, Trae Young
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts (2): Jaylen Adams, Deyonta Davis
Potential Free Agents (5): Justin Anderson (RFA), Vince Carter (UFA), DeWayne Dedmon (UFA), Isaac Humphries (RFA), Alex Poythress (RFA – Two-Way)
“Dead” Money on Cap ($0): None
First Round Draft Pick(s): #8, #10
Maximum Cap Space: $50.8 million
Projected Cap Space: $42.9 million