Biggest Needs for Atlanta Hawks During 2014 Offseason

Joe FlynnContributor IMay 4, 2014

Biggest Needs for Atlanta Hawks During 2014 Offseason

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    The Atlanta Hawks may have been the worst team to reach the 2014 NBA postseason, but they certainly didn't play like it once they got there.

    The No. 8 seed Hawks took it to the No. 1 Indiana Pacers for seven tough games, coming up just short in the fourth quarter in Game 6 before the Pacers turned up the heat in a 92-80 win.

    Pacers coach Frank Vogel went out of the way to praise his opponent after the win, per the Hawks' official Twitter account: "They gave us all we can handle...They certainly have a bright future with Mike (Budenholzer) in charge."

    Indeed, the club seems to have found a keeper in Mike Budenholzer, who kept his team playing hard despite myriad injuries during the regular season.

    What kind of roster will Coach Budz have in 2014-15? Much will depend on health, especially the recovery of their best player.

    Here are the five biggest needs for Atlanta as they prepare for the 2014-15 season.

A Healthy Al Horford

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    Would the Hawks have ended up a higher seed if they had gotten a full season out of starting center Al Horford, who was lost in late December to a torn pectoral muscle? Almost certainly.

    The Hawks were in the running for home-court advantage in the first round at the time of Horford's injury, but they limped to the finish line without their best player.

    The Hawks were 16-13 in the first 29 games, and only 22-31 in the final 53 games. They were worse on both sides of the ball, according to NBA.com:

     GO-RtgD-RtgNet-Rtg
    With Horford29104.7102.3+2.4
    Without Horford53102.7105.0-2.3

    The Hawks struggled this season on the offensive glass, finishing 28th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, per Team Rankings. They need their two-time All-Star big man to help cover up that deficiency.

A Decision on the Backup Center Spot

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    While the Hawks were never going to match Horford's production with their reserves, they could have at least hoped to get by with the duo of veteran Gustavo Ayon and 31-year-old rookie Pero Antic.

    Unfortunately, the injury bug continued to plague Atlanta, as Ayon was lost for the season to shoulder surgery in late February. 

    Antic, the big man from Macedonia, played about as well as can be expected in the regular season, but he was exposed in the playoffs. In the seven-game loss to the Pacers, Antic shot an appalling 16.7 percent from the field (12.0 percent from the three). Those numbers are simply unacceptable from a center...even a backup.

    The front office will have to make a decision on both Antic and Ayon during the offseason. Ayon has a $1.9 million club option and Antic's $1.3 million contract for 2014-15 isn't guaranteed, per Sham Sports.

    At least one Hawks observer—Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal—would consider letting Antic walk: "Didn't think I'd say this a month ago, but I'd be perfectly fine with the Hawks declining to pick up Antic's non-guaranteed contract next [year].

A Strong Summer League from Lucas Nogueira

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    Remember him, Hawks fans: the kid with the hair?

    Atlanta traded for the rights to No. 18 overall pick Shane Larkin to acquire the 21-year-old Brazilian center. He played five games for the Hawks in the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 6.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.

    He stayed in Europe for the 2013-14 season and came on after missing the first few months with a knee injury. 

    Nogueira played 13 games for the Spanish club Asefa Estudiantes, averaging 6.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.

    The good news for Hawks fans is that Nogueira is healthy and set to take part in the Summer League, according to SB Nation's Robby Kalland, and the Atlanta brass will surely be watching him closely. Will they keep Nogueira in mind when deciding the fates of fellow bigs Antic and Ayon?

A Better Sophomore Season from Dennis Schroder

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    The Hawks selected two point guards back-to-back in the first round of the 2013 draft. They were able to trade a promising prospect in Shane Larkin because they were confident in the ability of German national Dennis Schroder.

    The then 19-year-old wowed scouts in summer workouts, per SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell:

    Schroeder can be a wizard with the ball, as evident by the ample amount of spin moves he executed during his breakout performance at the Nike Hoops Summit last month. But seeing his nearly 6'8 wingspan, wide shoulders and jarring quickness, there's one NBA comparison that immediately comes to mind for Schroeder. He's well-aware of it.

    "Rondo. Everybody says I play like Rondo."

    But Schroder certainly didn't play like Rondo in his rookie season. He finished with a 5.8 played efficiency rating (PER) in 641 total minutes in 2013-14. According to Basketball-Reference, that was the worst rating among any rookie with at least 600 minutes—and, remember, this was one of the worst rookie classes in recent memory.

    The Hawks have a fine point guard in Jeff Teague, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't expect far more from their most recent first-round pick.

Better (Regular Season) Home-Court Advantage

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    This one is the easiest.

    The atmosphere at Atlanta's Philips Arena was absolutely electric for Game 6 on Thursday night. Hawks fans came out decked in the new (old) Pac Man logo and were loud throughout the game.

    But the mood at home games was far different during the regular season. Per Sheridan Hoops' Michael Brumagin, the Hawks finished a dismal 28th in home attendance this season. The only two teams to draw lessPhiladelphia and Milwaukee—were by far the two worst teams in the league.

    Philips Arena was only 79 percent full on average. This was not always the case, per Brumagin:

    For historical reference, when the Hawks played at the Omni Coliseum in the days of Dominique Wilkins and the Highlight Factory, the best attendance mark reached was an average of 15,714 during the 1988-89 season. Considering the Omni’s seating capacity (16,378), that was 96 percent.

    If the Hawks want their home-court advantage to really mean something, they'll have to carry the momentum of these playoffs through the summer. If the Hawks make waves in the offseason, they will remind fans just how exciting this club can be.