The Atlanta Hawks, as presently constructed, look to be one of the smallest rosters in the league. Looking at their projected starting lineup, both their backcourt and their frontcourt have the appearance of being undersized.
This will present its own form of problems, but none that will be impossible to overcome.
Let’s take a look at the Hawks depth chart and discuss the current makeup of the roster before digging into how they’ll compensate for their lack of size.
Hawks’ Current Depth Chart
The Hawks have kept only seven players from last season.
They kicked off free agency by adding to the frontcourt, signing Paul Millsap, Elton Brand and DeMarre Carroll. They have added to the backcourt by acquiring Jared Cunningham and promising rookie point guard Dennis Schröder.
Ferry has previously stated that the team might look to add another wing player before the offseason is over.
We have decisions to make with Lucas [Nogueira] and Mike [Muscala]...Along with that, probably another wing would be an area that we may look at as an area to add. I feel like our roster has good flexibility in how it can play, but also in how we can build.
Since then, second-round pick Mike Muscala has already signed to play in Spain this year. And, while there were whispers that Atlanta was working on a buyout for first-round pick Lucas Nogueira, the additions of Pero Antic and Gustavo Ayón may keep him in Spain as well.
The team recently released DeShawn Stevenson and relinquished their rights to Ivan Johnson’s qualifying offer. With Schröder in the fold, Shelvin Mack may be next on the chopping block. Williams’ ability to play both guard positions adds to Mack’s expendability.
More roster changes could still be in order.
We know that they will be running a motion-based offense, similar to the San Antonio Spurs. We’ve previously discussed some of the nuances to the Spurs-based offense that the Hawks will likely be using.
We can expect to see a lot of movement off-the-ball. Jeff Teague and Al Horford will be the feature pieces in the starting lineup. There should be a heavy dose of high-post pick-and-rolls to either set up shooters or attack the basket.
We will probably see double- and triple- off-ball screens for shooters. We may even see off-ball screens between Horford and Millsap to confuse opposing defenses with the hopes of getting either an open jump shot or layup.
With what the Hawks have on the roster, anticipate a starting lineup that features Teague, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Millsap and Horford.
However, it may still be within the realm of possibility that Williams remains with the team’s second unit, especially as he returns from a torn ACL.
Leaving Williams in the second unit most likely would mean that Korver slides down to the 2, allowing space for either Carroll, a newly signed wing player or perhaps even Mike Scott to fill in at the 3.
Moving Korver to the 2 would add size to the position, though it’d shorten the rotation at small forward.
Nevertheless, the motion-based offense should do wonders to hide Atlanta’s size deficiencies.
On the Defensive
Though Horford would rather not guard opposing centers, the Hawks’ frontcourt duo will be the least of the Hawks worries on defense.
Horford is a serviceable defender. If ever the argument could be made that he struggles guarding the 5, it would be limited to elite-level centers. Dwight Howard, when healthy, could routinely put up about 20 and 15 against him.
Fortunately, there are only a few exceptional big men in the league these days, and the position is continuing to evolve. More big men are working on their jump shot and fewer have fully developed back-to-the-basket post skills.
When Horford or Millsap need a breather, Elton Brand will be first off of the bench. He is a good defender. While only 6’9”, his 7’5½” wingspan gives him a 9’2” standing reach. That length has enabled him to serve as a capable NBA shot blocker.
Additionally, Antic and Ayón both add some height off of the bench. Antic, however, was anything but impressive with regards to rebounding or playing defense in Greece.
The bigger problem will be defending bigger guards and wing players.
Not only do the best guards in the league have respectable size, they typically have a low-post game. The Hawks guards give up a lot of size and could be quite susceptible to being posted up or getting shot over.
Making things worse, whether Korver plays at the 2 or 3, he is not the most athletic player around.
The Hawks will likely need to implement and practice some team defensive schemes. Perhaps a trapping defense would be a wrinkle they could throw in every so often to disrupt opposing teams’ offensive rhythm.
The problem with playing man defense will be guarding the screens. Will they choose to fight through screens or play a switching defense? If they switch, they will likely find themselves in size mismatches. If they fight through the screens, they risk opposing guards and wing players getting enough room to either shoot or attack the rim.
A trapping defense could solve the problems they might face in guarding ball screens, but they'll have to work even harder to rotate quickly.
Needless to say, the Hawks defense presents a lot of questions that will be hard to answer until the roster is completely set and training camp has begun.