NBA Preview: Atlanta Hawks

With the final team in the Southeast Division as well as the Eastern Conference, I will be discussing the Atlanta Hawks.  Last season was business as usual for the Hawks, as they went 48-34, got in a four way tie for third place in the East, won a playoff series, then got swept in the second round by the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers.  What about that season sounds different from the usual (outside of the anomaly 60-22 season the year before)?  Nothing does to me, but this year may be a bit different for the Hawks.  For one, the Dwightmare moves to Atlanta and replaces longtime center Al Horford, and it will be interesting to see what will occur during the season in Atlanta.

ADDITIONS: C Dwight Howard (Houston), PG Jarrett Jack (Brooklyn), F Ryan Kelly (Los Angeles Lakers), SF Taurean Prince (draft), F DeAndre Bembry (draft)

SUBTRACTIONS: PG Jeff Teague (trade-Indiana), C Al Horford (Boston), PG Kirk Hinrich (free agent)

RE-SIGNED: SF Kent Bazemore, PF Kris Humphries, F/C Mike Muscala

There were not a ton of individual moves this offseason for the Hawks, but collectively this team is going to look a lot different than that 60-22 team from 2014-15.  It's puzzling to me how they could radically change a team that recently had so much success, until you remember the last two postseason appearances.  Both times, they got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and both times, most people did not believe they had a chance.  A change was almost imminent from that perspective, and although I'm not a personal fan of Dwight Howard, I can see that this roster and situation makes sense to a degree.  He has a great stretch four next to him, a lot of talent on the wings, and won't be relied on to be an equal to a superstar shooting guard (i.e. Kobe Bryant/James Harden).  Plus, he is kind of out of the natural picture by being in Atlanta, and he is from the area.  Maybe the Dwightmare actually is over.

PLAYER TO WATCH: I don't want to say Dwight Howard, because the reasons I would could also belong to my "biggest concern" and "biggest unknown" topics.  I'll go with the guy that the Hawks handed the keys over to at point guard, fourth year pro Dennis Schroder.  Schroder has been slowly primed to take over as the starting point guard when/if longtime guard Jeff Teague left, and although at one point last season he was almost traded to the Sixers, it appears the Hawks are finally letting him loose.  He has potential to be an upper-half point guard in this league with probably the same amount of impact as Brandan Knight has, but with no Teague around it will be interesting to see how he handles the starting role.

BIGGEST CONCERN: Like I said earlier, only about one third of the roster is likely to be different pieces from last season, but the impact of the roster turnover is pretty big.  How the losses of Horford and Teague affect this team, along with the addition of Howard and promotion of Schroder has to be the biggest concern in Northern Georgia.  The Hawks need to make sure that the pieces they brought in and swapped out are going to work well with the pieces already in place.

BIGGEST UNKNOWN: I don't want to harp on about Schroder and Howard anymore, but they are really the only unknowns of importance on this roster.  This team will have success based upon the success of those two individuals.  I understand the Hawks are a good team anyways, but these guys will push them over the top or drive them off a cliff.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: C Dwight Howard, PF Paul Millsap, SF Kent Bazemore, SG Kyle Korver, PG Dennis Schroder

ROTATIONAL PIECES: PG Jarrett Jack, G/F Thabo Sefolosha, C Tiago Splitter, PF Mike Scott, F/C Mike Muscala

ROUNDING OUT THE ROSTER: G/F Tim Hardaway, SF Taurean Prince, PF Kris Humphries, F DeAndre Bembry, F Matt Costello

PREDICTION: I think the Hawks are probably the fourth best team in the East should everything go smoothly.  That's a big what if though, and it depends on the success of the offseason.  Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore already have proven their worth to this team, and the bench is pretty good and has solid depth.  They have a mix of young and old, experience and upside, and outside and inside talent.  I think that out of every team in the East (outside of Boston, Cleveland and Toronto), this team is most likely to been a home court favorite in the first round of the playoffs.  In other words, I believe they should be over 50 wins and get the four seed.