Coach Mike Budenholzer has a strong aversion to low-post play. Atlanta had just 6.1 post-up possessions per game last season, fifth-fewest in the NBA. And many of those happened accidentally: Paul Millsap backing down an undersized opponent, or Al Horford putting up a hook shot off a deep catch. There were seldom any programmed post operations—the sort of offense that new center Dwight Howard has come to depend on.
Coaches who've failed to indulge Howard's desire for paint touches have risked his becoming less engaged. That was especially true in Houston, where his field goal attempts dwindled in each of the last three seasons—down to 8.5 per game in 2015--16—and his effectiveness declined.
Style changes are inevitable for a team transitioning from Horford, who left for Boston, to Howard, 30, who signed a three-year, $75 million deal. But it's hard to imagine that Budenholzer, who prefers to string multiple actions into a fluid offense, will compromise and feature Howard in the post. Still, it might be worth it for the Hawks to appease the big man with some rolls to the rim and dribble handoffs. Even with his back problems, a motivated Howard can be a vital interior defender, rebounder and finisher.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH MIKE BUDENHOLZER (4th season with Hawks)
2015--16 RECORD 48--34 (2nd in Southeast)
PG DENNIS SCHRODER
11.0 PPG; 4.4 APG; 42.1 FG%; 32.2 3FG%
SG KYLE KORVER
9.2 PPG; 3.3 RPG; 43.5 FG%; 39.8 3FG%
SF KENT BAZEMORE
11.6 PPG; 5.1 RPG; 44.1 FG%; 35.7 3FG%
PF PAUL MILLSAP
17.1 PPG; 9.0 RPG; 1.7 BPG; 47.0 FG%
C DWIGHT HOWARD*
13.7 PPG; 11.8 RPG; 1.6 BPG; 62.0 FG%
SF THABO SEFOLOSHA
6.4 PPG; 4.5 RPG; 50.5 FG%; 33.9 3FG%
SG TIM HARDAWAY JR.
6.4 PPG; 1.0 APG; 43.0 FG%; 33.8 3FG%
C TIAGO SPLITTER
5.6 PPG; 3.3 RPG; 0.6 SPG; 52.3 FG%
TELLING NUMBER 6.1
A rival scout sizes up Atlanta
I can't imagine Mike Budenholzer changing the way he plays. I love it—swinging the ball, pushing it, getting a lot of possessions, unselfishness. But Dwight Howard wants to plant himself in the post. He's not a threat like Al Horford was from the perimeter, but he's going to want touches. Horford and Paul Millsap were always facing the basket. Atlanta only on occasion threw the ball into the post. I don't know how well it's going to work.... What they gave up trading Jeff Teague is ball movement. Dennis Schroder is more of a pounder; the ball's going to be in his hands and he's going to be looking for his own. Teague was really good at pick-and-roll, spacing the floor, drive-and-kick. Last year they underachieved, so maybe they thought they needed to make changes.... Kyle Korver is 35. I see him probably taking another half-step back like he did last season. He played better with Teague, too. He will be spotting up somewhere and Schroder won't find him. With Korver's age, Tim Hardaway Jr. should have a chance to prove himself.... When I watched Kent Bazemore play, I fell in love with him. He's improved his three-point shooting, he's athletic and he's really good defensively. I mean real good. He can lock you down with his length and quickness.... Tiago Splitter is a big body who can make an open shot, but he struggles to guard the quicker fives. Horford was really good at that—getting out to the pick-and-pops, rotations—and it's where both Splitter and Howard will struggle.... When they have to go to the bench, it's a weakness.
Significant changes to the starting lineup will force the Hawks to evolve—for better or worse.