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Trilly Grades Your Rebuild 2020: Atlanta Hawks

Trilly Builds is back! Same as last year....only different! We still have our "Good Things" and "Bad Things" section. We no longer have our rebuild status grade because, with the way the season ended, just about every team could claim incomplete. I've added three things that I would do if I took over the franchise tomorrow. And a "protected players" section, as I may do an expansion draft later and want to cover my bases. Previous editions can be found here. Let's get to it!

Atlanta Hawks (20-47, 14th place Eastern Conference)

Good Things

1. Ice Trae

Trae Young is the worst defender in the league. His size/athleticism leaves him as a one-position defender but his effort/instincts have him as a no-position defender. Now that we got that out of the way, let's talk about the fun stuff.

Five players all-time have had a season averaging at least 29 points & 9 assists per game:

  • Oscar Robertson: (1960-62, 64-68)
  • Tiny Archibald: (1972-73)
  • James Harden (2016-17)
  • Russell Westbrook (2016-17)
  • Trae Young (2019-20)

Trae was the youngest person to do it and had the best 3P% of the bunch. 

He's not a perfect player and he'll always be tied to Luka, but Trae is a star. His warts really don't worry me much longterm, considering his strengths. NBA defense is hard when you have to guard a Harden/Westbrook every night while moving backward. I trust that he can get to a place of defensive competence or more, the way other slight guards (Monte Morris, Mike Conley Jr, Pat Beverly) have. Zach Lavine was part of a league-average defense this year, which is a miracle and also hope that Trae alone won't submarine a defense. Again, if he's going to be dropping 29/9 a night, he won't need to lock up on defense.

2. Plenty of young talent

The Hawks leaders in minutes played: Trae (21 years old), De'Andre Hunter (22), Kevin Huerter (21), Cam Reddish (20) and John Collins (22). This is what you're supposed to do when you're tanking. Each of the young bucks getting big minutes has shown potential early. You just read about Trae and more on Collins later.

Hunter shot 36% on corner threes and hit 39% of his overall catch-and-shoot threes. He routinely took the other team's best scorers and had occasional highlights, like helping to frustrate James Harden into shooting 3/25 over three quarters. The team is +4.7 points better per 100 possessions when Hunter is on the court. A good sign for a rookie at a valuable position.

The Big Huert battled injury to start the season but recovered nicely. From Jan 1 until the season ended, he averaged a 14/5/4 on 42/40/82 shooting over 33 games. He hit 42% of his catch-and-shoot threes on the season and the Hawks were +2.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court.

Reddish's season was a story of two extremes. His first 31 games: 8/4/2 on 32/26/77 shooting in 26 MPG. His last 27 games: 13/4/1 on 45/40/83 shooting in 28 MPG. He also held his own defensively against guys like Kyrie and he chipped in with defending Harden in the game mentioned above. 

His defense is a plus right now and his offense is trending up. He's the pick that Dallas sent over in the Trae/Luka trade and showed enough potential to have Hawks excited.

3. Plenty of flexibility going forward

Atlanta punted on a little cap space next season by trading for Dewayne Dedmon/Clint Capela but with Chandler Parsons/Jeff Teague's contracts expiring, the Hawks will still have the most cap space available of any team this summer ($49 million). They can try to make a splash or keep taking on bad contracts attached to draft picks.

The Hawks are projected to have the 4th pick in this draft, own all their own first-rounders until 2026, and have an extra 2022 first-rounder coming in from OKC. GM Travis Schlenk has done a nice job of trading up/down in drafts to get his guy, while also maintaining future draft assets and cap space. 

Bad Things

1. Talent but no identity

Missing a lot of threes, running and being young isn't an identity. The Hawks finished 26th in Offensive Rating (ORTG) , 28th in Defensive Rating (DRTG) but were 5th in Pace. This led to a lot of three-pointers taken (11th in 3PA rate) but missed (30th in 3P%). When you run at a high pace and miss a lot of threes, you give the other team a lot of opportunities to run and get easy buckets in transition. The Hawks give up the second-most transition opportunities in the league and defend such attempts horribly (21st percentile).  

The Hawks had good shooters but too many people shot threes that shouldn't have been shooting threes. 

The aforementioned top five in minutes, Young/Huerter/Hunter/Reddish/Collins combined for 28.2 3PA per game, making 10.2 (36%, 15th in the league). These five alone take more threes per game than all of the Indiana Pacers and make them at a comparable rate.

Their next five in MPG (guys that finished the year with ATL) were Carter/Bembry/Dedmon/Godwin/Teague. They took 12.3 3PA per game, making 3.3 (26.7%, worst in the league by a mile). This may not be an issue next year as everyone but Dedmon is a free agent, and Dedmon is a career 37% 3P shooter so I'm willing to bet this was a fluke season for him. You have to either give those shots to the top guys or replace them with guys that can hit them consistently. For the Hawks, 1/3 of the most valuable shots in the league were taken by guys that couldn't hit them. Improve that and it automatically helps your defense because you aren't in transition as much. It feels like an easy fix.

2. No secondary creator

The Hawks need another person to create offense badly. Trae is Trae, and Huerter projects to work into that role but they need help now. It can work if you have two guys and they're both elite like Russ and Harden, but the Hawks don't have that luxury. Things got so bad this season that they traded for Jeff Teague to fill in at backup PG. It didn't work (-4.4 net rating when Teague was on the court).

When Trae doesn't have the ball, there needs to be more creators on offense to free him and get open looks for others. Think about how Nikola Jokic runs the offense in Denver but he also has Murray/Morris/Barton as creators to play with/off of him. Luka is a force to himself, but he also works well with/off of Barea/Wright/Brunson. Maybe Hunter/Reddish develop into these types, but some help while they grow into the role wouldn't hurt. They may be able to get a Killian Hayes or Tyrese Haliburton in the draft this year to help with that.

3. Roster turnover

This isn't as bad, considering why the turnover exists. The Hawks wisely take on big contracts from other teams that usually come with assets. It's the correct play long-term but in the short-term, it leads a ton of Taurean Prince to Jabari Parker, Kent Bazemore to Evan Turner, Vince Carter playing more than 5 MPG, etc. If healthy, the rotation should be pretty set with guys that have been around a least a season which will help going forward. Some combination of Young/Huerter/Hunter/Collins/Capela with Reddish/Dedmon/2020 lottery pick as your top eight. Bruno Fernando is your third big and maybe you bring back Bembry/Damian Jones/Skal Labissiere/Godwin for depth.

3 Decisions I’d Make If I Was GM Tomorrow

1. Re-sign John Collins because it's about to get expensive

I'm not just saying that because he's a close personal friend.

It's because he's really good and you might be able to re-sign him at a fair number before people realize that. The Hawks were 2-3 when Collins got suspended for 25 games. In his absence, they went 4-21. They finished at 20-47 meaning they went 14-23 the rest of the way. That record itself isn't impressive but them more than doubling their win percentage with Collins in the lineup is. In addition to a win over the Pacers that Collins missed after his return, the Hawks went 5-22 (18.5%) without JC and 15-25 (37.5%) with him. That winning percentage and the Hawks being a +4.1 net rating per 100 possessions with Collins on the floor shows that Atlanta would have been pushing for the 8/9 seed. Instead, they finish with the 4th worst record in the league. That's the kind of impact Collins has and it starts with his offense.

Collins averaged a 22/10 in 33 MPG this season on 58/40/80 shooting. He shot 64% on 2-pointers and 40% on 3-pointers. For reference, the list of people that have averaged 20+ PPG on at least 60% 2P FG and 40% 3P FG over a season is two names long:

LeBron James, year three in Miami. The year he made First Team All-NBA, First Team All-Defense, won MVP and won Finals MVP.

And John Collins last year. That's it. That's the entire list. This season, he had a:

  • higher PER than Jimmy Butler
  • higher TS% than Karl-Anthony Towns
  • higher FT rate than Donovan Mitchell
  • higher percentage of total rebounds grabbed than Anthony Davis
  • higher percentage of shots blocked than Joel Embiid

His win shares/48 minutes saw him tied with Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry, which is very impressive considering he plays on a losing team. Atlanta had an ORTG of 124 (1st in the league by a kilometer) and a DRTG of 112 (20th in the league) when Collins was on the court. He played 47% of his minutes at center this year and allowed 57% DFG, a number comparable to Clint Capela. Opponents within 6 feet of the rim, shoot about 5% worse than they normally would (comparable to Embiid or Marc Gasol).

So in summation, the counting numbers favor him and show he's at least a competent rebounder/defender so he's not a one-trick pony on offense. The advanced numbers like him individually and his team plays considerably better with him on the court. There's also room for improvement as he's 22 and just started shooting threes. He took zero three-pointers his freshman year of college and went 0/1 his sophomore year before turning pro. His rookie year he took 0.6 3PA per game but hit 34%. That quadrupled to 2.6 attempts at 35% success in his second season. This year, he jumped to 3.6 attempts per game at 40% conversion. By this math, he'll be taking 12 three-pointers a game by the time he is 25 and hitting roughly 112% of them.

He can also do this pretty regularly:

And by regularly, I mean he dunked more than anyone but Giannis this past season.

I say all that to say this: He might not be a star in five years but if he turns out to be, all the signs were there. The Hawks have a chance to extend him this summer before he hits RFA next summer. They could make him prove it again and go get an offer from another team, but I wouldn't get cute. I'd re-sign him this summer for as much money and as many years as he'd like. 

2. Hit Free Agency hard 

The UFA crop is limited (Freddy Van Vleet would be interesting) but the RFA crop has a little potential. Brandon Ingram is a RFA and even though the Pelicans will match any offer, I'd still have a max offer sheet waiting for him. Bogdan Bogdanovich might be available from Sacramento and fits the bill as another guy that can create offense. Kris Dunn had a tremendous defensive season and might be a cheap option to handle tougher defensive assignments so Trae doesn't have to do so. Other teams won't guard Dunn, you say? I say that other teams didn't guard Vince Carter or Brandon Godwin this season, and neither of those guys is Dunn defensively. The same could be said for Torrey Craig, a RFA this season that Denver might not be able to keep.

3. Trade Clint Capela

That's right. I know he hasn't even played a game for the Hawks but I'd move him. He has three years, $57 million remaining on his current deal and he's 25. For reference, Andrew Wiggins is making $93 million dollars over the same period. Al Horford is getting $81 million over the same three seasons. Blake Griffin gets $75 million over the next two seasons. Would you rather have Capela at that price or Andre Drummond at $29 million for next season alone and then whatever his next contract costs?

The price they paid for Capela was worth it, Evan Turner and the Nets first-rounder this year from the Taurean Prince trade. But I think they can get his production with guys already on the roster. Dedmon isn't the rim runner that Capela is, but he's a better option to space the floor and can protect the rim defensively. Ideally, Dedmon spaces the floor so that Collins can shoot or rim run. He gives them legit five-out potential on offense without conceding anything defensively. When Dedmon is out, Collins can space the floor so that Bruno Fernando can rim run. The Bruno Fernando minutes also don't have to be occupied by Bruno Fernando. Atlanta may end up in a spot where it makes sense to take James Wiseman in the first round. Aron Baynes is a UFA that can play solid two-way minutes at center. Nerlens Noel, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Mason Plumlee, Paul Milsap, and Serge Ibaka are all UFA big guys that can help in 15-20 MPG spurts. Cobble together a center rotation with three of those guys and then flip Capela. To where? I'm glad you asked!

Charlotte Hornets get Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks get Nicolas Batum, Malik Monk, and 2020 or 2021 first-round pick

The Hornets turn Batum's salary, Biyombo/Zellers minutes, and what's projected to be the 9th pick into a legitimate big man to run with Devonta, Terry, PJ, and Miles. The Hawks absorb Batum's contract but get to turn a big they don't need into a top-10 pick and a flier on Monk. Schlenk may use his extra picks to move up, as he did last year to get Hunter, or move down and pick up future assets, as he did with Luka/Trae-Cam.

Sacramento Kings get Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks get Cory Joseph and 2020 first-round pick

The Kings clearly wanted bigs going into last season, signing Dedmon and Richaun Holmes to go with Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles. Now, Dedmon is a Hawk, and Holmes is going into the last year of his deal. The Kings declined Giles' option and Alex Len hits FA as well, so the need for a big is still there. The Hawks get a much needed backup PG/good defender, albeit a pricey one, and what's projected to be the 12th pick in this year's draft.

Washington Wizards get Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks get Thomas Bryant, Ish Smith, and 2020 first-round pick

Bradley Beal is ready to win now. John Wall figures to be healthy. They'll have the money to re-sign Davis Bertans and make a move like this. The Wiz are ready to compete now and Capela would be a nice running mate for Wall/Beal/Bertans/Rui in DC. The Hawks turn a starter into three valuable pieces: Bryant can be another rotation big, Smith fits the backup PG spot and the pick is projected to be the 9th selection this year. More draft lottery capital for Schlenk.

Protected Players

1. Trae Young

2. John Collins

3. De'Andre Hunter

4. Kevin Huerter

5. Cam Reddish

6. Clint Capela

7. Dewayne Dedmon

8. Bruno Fernando

Thoughts: This works out perfectly for the Hawks. Their protected guys all project to be rotation players next season.

Unprotected players

1. Brandon Goodwin

2. DeAndre Bembry

3. Damian Jones

4. Skal Labissiere

Thoughts: You wouldn't hate bringing back Bembry or one of Jones/Labissiere as depth if one of the four above gets selected.

Ineligible players (unrestricted FAs)

1. Vince Carter

2. Treveon Graham

3. Jeff Teague