GO BIG AND GET PHYSICAL
Atlanta won 60 games and advanced to the conference finals last season despite one of the NBA's smallest frontcourts, with 6'10" Al Horford at center and 6'8" Paul Millsap at power forward. The Hawks were routinely outrebounded during the regular season (28th in the NBA) and then bullied on the boards in a four-game sweep by Cleveland. Enter Tiago Splitter, a physical, 6'11", 245-pound center acquired from the Spurs, who will allow them to play big for the first time in Horford's eight years in Atlanta.
In San Antonio, Splitter supported Tim Duncan. He regularly took on the toughest defensive assignment up front and was a reliable rim protector. Despite battling a variety of injuries last season, Splitter made the Spurs better defensively: They gave up 100.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and 102.9 with him off it. Expect the same in Atlanta, where the 30-year-old Splitter's presence will save Horford the wear and tear of having to play in the pivot every night.
Splitter will come off the bench—but not always to replace a big. With the departure of small forward DeMarre Carroll to Toronto, expect coach Mike Budenholzer (a former Spurs assistant) to experiment with Splitter-Horford-Millsap lineups, especially against teams that aren't too athletic on the wings. Filling the hole left by Carroll will be a challenge, but with the addition of Splitter, Atlanta can reinvent itself, for stretches at least, as a punishing interior team.
A rival scout sizes up Atlanta
I see them dropping a little bit. They had a great year but, to me, everything fell into place. [And] the league has improved, the East in particular.... I like their roster, but I love Mike Budenholzer. There are a lot of teams that want to play like the Hawks but can't. Nobody spaces the floor better. They have a really good freelancing, spacing-type offense, but most of their scoring came from good penetration, drive-and-kick, and guys moving to the right spots.... Jeff Teague draws the defense and is really good at finding shooters. That was their offense. They were the most unselfish team in the league. That's a credit to Bud.... Kent Bazemore has the most upside on this team. His best asset is his defense, and with his shooting improving, he's more of a threat from three. Bazemore really can run the floor. With how they like to push the pace, he fits right in.... Whenever Dennis Schroder came into the game, he seemed to dominate the ball. Kyle Korver, in particular, was struggling playing with Schroder.... They don't have that inside game, so when their jump shots aren't going down, they're going to lose. That's what happened in the playoffs. Korver just might be the best three-point shooter in the league, but he didn't shoot it very well and their offense suffered.... Tiago Splitter is a good high-post passer and a good screener who can roll. He's just not a good finisher.... They probably look at Tim Hardaway Jr. as another shooter they can throw into the mix. He hasn't proven himself, but he's still young, and maybe a new start in Atlanta will help him.
COACH MIKE BUDENHOLZER
(3rd season with Hawks)
2014--15 RECORD 60--22
(1st in Southeast)
PG JEFF TEAGUE
15.9 PPG; 7.0 APG; 46.0 FG%; 34.3 3FG%
SG KYLE KORVER
12.1 PPG; 4.1 RPG; 48.7 FG%; 49.2 3FG%
SF THABO SEFOLOSHA
5.3 PPG; 3.3. RPG; 41.8 FG%; 32.1 3FG%
PF PAUL MILLSAP
16.7 PPG; 7.8 RPG; 47.6 FG%; 35.6 3FG%
C AL HORFORD
15.2 PPG; 7.2 RPG; 1.3 BPG; 53.8 FG%
SF KENT BAZEMORE
5.2 PPG; 2.7 RPG; 42.6 FG%; 36.4 3FG%
C TIAGO SPLITTER*
8.2 PPG; 4.8 RPG; 1.5 APG; 55.8 FG%
PG DENNIS SCHRODER
10.0 PPG; 4.1 APG; 42.7 FG%; 35.1 3FG%
Age in years and months of Kyle Korver at last year's All-Star Game. He became the fourth-oldest first-timer (behind Sweetwater Clifton, Sam Cassell and Anthony Mason).
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED