NBC Sports Washington is looking around the league as we prepare for the 2017-18 NBA season. Today, we break down the Atlanta Hawks' outlook...
2016-17 record: 43-39, 5th in East
Coach: Mike Budenholzer
Key additions: PF John Collins, C Miles Plumlee, SG Marco Belinelli, C Dewayne Dedmon
Key losses: PF Paul Millsap, C Dwight Howard, SG Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Projected lineup: PG Dennis Schroder, SG Marco Belinelli, SF Kent Bazemore, PF Ersan Ilyasova, C Dewayne Dedmon
1. How bad will they be?
At 10 years, the Atlanta Hawks have the second-longest streak of making the playoffs behind only the San Antonio Spurs, but that is about to be put to the test. After losing in six games to the Wizards in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks underwent a significant roster overhaul that saw a lot more talent leave than they brought in. Gone are Millsap, Howard and Hardaway, three of the Hawks' most important players last season. In those three guys, they lost a little bit of everything, especially with Millsap who is among the most consistent and versatile players in the NBA.
As a result, the Hawks are being predicted by many to take a major step back. The sportsbook Bovada's odds for NBA win totals in 2017-18 has them second-worst among all teams, with an over/under of just 25 1/2 wins. Only the Bulls are lower and that's worse than perennial doormats like the Nets and Kings. If they surprise people and continue that playoff streak, then Budenholzer will probably get the coach of the year award.
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2. Can Prince and Collins give them hope?
All of that is not to say the Hawks don't have talent, but they are resting their hopes on some very young players. Taurean Prince is entering his second season after being picked 12th overall last summer. He's an intriguing athlete at 6-foot-8 who can do a little bit of everything. He just needs to find his niche and be consistent at it. Collins was their first round pick in this year's draft. The 19th overall pick, Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward from Wake Forest. Last year he averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Demon Deacons. If either of those blue chip prospects can show promise, then the Hawks' outlook will look a lot less bleak.
3. Will Schoder take another step?
With Millsap and Howard gone, the Hawks' two highest-paid players are Bazemore and Schroder. We pretty much know what Bazemore is. At 28, he has settled in to being a defensive specialist with some decent value on the offensive end. For Schroder, who turns 24 this month, there are plenty of unknowns.
The Hawks are banking on Schroder to continue his development. So far through four seasons, he has gotten noticeably better each year. If he takes another step beyond what he put up this last season (17.9 ppg, 6.3 apg, 45.1 FG%), he could be an All-Star. The point guard position is deep in today's NBA, but Schroder is on the cusp of becoming one of the better ones in the game. If he takes a step back, the Hawks will be in trouble.
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