Can Atlanta remain a force in the East, or were they just a one-season wonder?
The Atlanta Hawks were the second best team in the NBA in terms of record in the previous regular season. However, as everybody knows, regular season success in the NBA does not automatically translate to playoff success. Unfortunately for the Hawks, that was their case last year – they were simply amazing from October to April. Mike Budenholzer had created a team that played Spurs-like basketball and dominated its opponents with teamwork and selfishness. Yet, when the playoffs came, Atlanta just could not retain their regular season form and even though they reached the Eastern Conference Finals, they did not look like a team that was worthy of winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The question now is – can the Hawks improve their 2014-15 season performance?
It is a bit hard to answer that question, as they lost a key player in the offseason and that could be crucial. The Hawks had to choose to retain either Paul Millsap or DeMarre Carroll, because they just could not afford to sign both of them. The result was Carroll joining the Toronto Raptors. The decision of keeping Millsap made more sense, as the power-forward is definitely the more experienced and proven player between the two of them. However, losing Carroll will undoubtedly cause a lot of problems for Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks head-coach will now have to choose between Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Justin Holiday in an attempt to fill the void left by DeMarre. The bad thing is that neither of them has the skillset to be a good enough replacement.
Nevertheless, even though the Hawks will have problems at small forward, they get an upgrade at the center position. Pero Antic is gone and his place in the rotation will be taken by the ex-Spurs player, Tiago Splitter. The Brazilian is one of the best defenders in the NBA and his talent will definitely be highly appreciated by his new team, as he can guard multiple positions and protect the rim quite successfully. However, there is one big negative about the arrival of Splitter – he is prone to getting injured and his 57 missed games in the last two seasons prove it. But, if he can stay healthy, he will surely be a great addition for the Hawks.
As a conclusion, it is safe to say that Atlanta does not look as strong as it did last year – their roster does not look as balanced as it was during the 2014-15 season and the energy that Carroll brought every night on the floor is going to be missed. On the other hand, the Hawks are still going to be a very dangerous team in the East and will fight for the top place in the Conference table. However, it is hard to think of them as contenders – there is just no way that they will be able to defeat LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the playoffs.