Early Predictions for Atlanta Hawks Starting Lineup Next Season
Familiarity or novelty?
That is the question for Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer as he selects his starting lineup for 2014-15.
On one hand, Budenholzer possesses an established unit (Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford) that led his team to a 16-13 record before Horford's season-ending pectoral injury.
Despite being done after 29 games, this five-man group still played the most minutes together of any other lineup for the Hawks last season, per 82games.com.
On the other hand, some new Hawks could make Budenholzer's decision difficult. Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive ace and streaky three-point shooter, Kent Bazemore is a do-it-all energizer bunny and 2014 first-round draft pick Adreian Payne has the versatility the Hawks like in their big men.
Will the Hawks go with what has worked in the past, or will they change it up?
Let's look at which players Budenholzer will likely tab as starters to open the 2014-15 season.
Point Guard: Jeff Teague
This choice was too easy.
Jeff Teague has made statistical improvement each year since being drafted in 2009 by the Hawks, and he has been the team's full-time floor general for the past three years.
The question is not "will he start for the Hawks in 2014-15?" Instead, it's "is this the year he makes the leap from above-average starting point guard to All-Star?" Either way, it's a "yes" from me.
Many of the best Eastern Conference guards are either injury-prone (Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving) or aging (Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson), which could give Teague the perfect window to sneak in as a reserve guard for the 2015 festivities at Madison Square Garden.
If Teague continues his pattern of yearly statistical improvement, then he should average somewhere around 18.5 points and seven assists per game for the Hawks in 2014-15.
Those are All-Star numbers.
Shelvin Mack and Dennis Schroeder give the Hawks elite depth at the point guard position, but neither will challenge Teague for his starting spot in 2014-15.
Shooting Guard: Kyle Korver
At this point, you know what you are going to get out of Kyle Korver: three-point shooting, floor-spacing and, as Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie notes, a team-first attitude.
And that's a wonderful thing.
The 33-year-old Korver is a perfect fit for the Hawks offense reliant on ball movement and a steady diet of three-pointers. His quick, smooth stroke is the same no matter where he catches the ball, as his YouTube highlights from last year would attest.
In fact, Korver might be the best three-point shooter in the league. It should be a while before anyone breaks his streak of 127 consecutive games with a three-pointer.
Is anyone going to supplant him from the starting lineup? It's doubtful.
Kent Bazemore is more of an all-around player than Korver, but he's too inexperienced to start for a playoff contender at this point. Thabo Sefolosha was the Oklahoma City Thunder's longtime shooting guard, but the Hawks need better shooting out of their "shooting" guard.
Expect the Hawks to stay with Korver as the starting 2-guard, even if his minutes dip a little bit.
Small Forward: DeMarre Carroll
Small forward is the toughest decision of the lineup.
DeMarre Carroll shone in his first year as a full-time starter for the Hawks last season. He set career highs in points (11.1), rebounds (5.5) and assists (1.8) per game, in addition to several other statistical categories.
But Thabo Sefolosha could make things interesting even though he has primarily been a shooting guard in the past. The last regular-season NBA game Sefolosha didn't start was his very first game with the Thunder in February 2009. I think it's safe to say he's used to starting.
How do their games compare?
Sefolosha and Carroll actually play a very similar style. Both are strong and athletic on defense, streaky from three-point range and often make the big hustle plays expected of role players.
One slight difference, however, is their ability to finish near the basket. According to Vorped, Carroll shot 66.3 percent at the rim in 2013-14. Sefolosha, by comparison, shot only 60 percent. It's one of the main reasons Carroll easily outpaced Sefolosha in scoring per 36 minutes last season (12.5 to 8.7, respectively).
We'll go with Carroll as the starter, given his experience with the Hawks system and his superior offensive skill set.
Power Forward: Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap was an All-Star in 2014, so he's nearly a lock to start at power forward next season.
However, don't be terribly surprised if Budenholzer tries some lineups where Millsap plays with all bench players. The San Antonio Spurs, a team the Hawks seem to be trying to emulate (as YouTube shows), have shown that you don't have to play your five best players together all the time to win.
Without the departed Lou Williams as a spark off the bench, the Hawks could benefit from another reliable scorer to play with their reserves, a la Manu Ginobili of the Spurs. Millsap may be that guy at times.
And who would take his place?
Probably Adreian Payne. The rookie is extremely skilled and versatile, with shooting ability, athleticism and decent defensive skills. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, last year's second-string power forward, Mike Scott, may be gone next season. If not, then Scott could also push for some court time with the starters.
But, for now, Millsap will start at the 4.
Center: Al Horford
Al Horford will round out the Hawks starting lineup to begin the 2014-15 season, and it'll be the same lineup the Hawks used to start last season.
Horford was in the midst of a very strong campaign last season (20.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes) before a major pectoral injury in December sidelined him for the rest of the year. Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon and Pero Antic formed a platoon at the starting center position following Horford's injury.
We haven't heard too much from Horford this offseason, but the plan is that he will be ready for training camp, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore tweeted in June.
The Hawks will certainly enjoy having his interior presence back. Atlanta finished No. 21 in points in the paint last season, according to Team Rankings. They were also No. 27 in rebound differential, per ESPN.com.
With Horford back in the starting lineup, both of those numbers should improve.
All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.