The Atlanta Hawks are thrilled with their new additions.
Basketball operations president and general manager Travis Schlenk compared the skills center Gorgui Dieng can add to the list to what Dewayne Dedmon gave them from 2017 to 2019: a smart, veteran center who can protect the rim at one end and space the floor on the other. His talents will be needed, especially early in the season when Onyeka Okongwu is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Delon Wright will add depth as a playmaker, but he can be used in other roles as well. Head coach Nate McMillan noted that there will be times when Wright can team up with starting point guard Trae Young.
“I like his versatility,” said McMillan, “and his ability to play with the ball and play with the ball. He’s a big goalie. He can defend as well as throw.”
Had we taken a time machine back thirty years, this description would have been fitting for McMillan in his own playing days as the Seattle Supersonic. It’s not hard to imagine McMillan finding creative ways to use Wright’s skills.
Despite the additions, the fate of the Hawks’ 2021-22 season won’t be determined by what Dieng or Wright or even rookies Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper bring to the table. After missing two games before the NBA Finals, the Hawks bring back all the players – 11 players in total – who played 75 minutes or more for them in last season’s playoffs. The vast majority, if not all, of the starting five should come from this group, as well as much of the bench rotation.
Trae Young is back for his fourth NBA season, ready to bring the Hawks back into the playoff pursuit.
“There was a lot of chatter and stuff throughout the offseason, and not much was about us,” Trae said. “We’ve all heard of it. We can’t wait to go play and have some fun and try to shock the world again.”
John Collins and Clint Capela have signed agreements that will solidify the frontcourt for years to come. Bogdanovic, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter give the Hawks incredible depth both ways on the wings. Danilo Gallinari, Onyeka Okongwu, Lou Williams and Solomon Hill all return from last season’s playoffs.
The Hawks are especially hopeful that Hunter and Reddish’s health will elevate their defense to new heights.
“If we have all the healthy guys it will be different,” Bogdanovic said. “We know we’re a strong team, and we know we have a lot of guys who can play on both sides of the court. We need each of us, especially Cam and Dre.”
One returnee whose role has taken on a new twist is McMillan himself. After taking over just before All-Star Break in a pandemic squeeze season, McMillan didn’t have much practice time to implement all of the changes he might have wanted to implement from the get-go. . Now he’s getting a full boot camp to work on things and a list of mostly returnees ready to hone the nuances of their craft.
Huerter noticed some changes.
“Even in the first two hours here and our first (day of) training camp, we are already doing things differently on both sides of the ball, and it was as expected,” he said. “When he took office last year, it wasn’t like everything had changed when he took over. It was kind of a gradual progression. His message sort of changed. It wasn’t. not like we have this whole offensive playbook and done everything we want to do defensively. I think there will be a lot of changes on that front this year. ”
Given their run in the playoffs, the Hawks enter the 2021-22 season with big aspirations. At least one Hawks player has successfully overcome this situation.
In 2014, Bogdanovic joined the Turkish team of Fenerbahçe as a promising 22-year-old. In his first season there, even as he wrestled himself, Fenerbahçe reached his very first Euroleague Final Four. A season later, they added former NBA players Ekpe Udoh, Pero Antic and Luigi Datome to a core that already included Bogi and Jan Vesely and the team took one step closer to the Championship game. Euroleague.
Going from very good to excellent required careful adjustment.
“Details. It’s all about the little details and working together,” Bogdanovic said. “Never give up the job and keep building. It’s a slow process. It’s not just a year and you are going to be successful. It’s a difficult process.”
The following season, Bogdanovic’s last in Europe before heading to the NBA, he finished 7th in the Euroleague in scorers. Fenerbahçe returned to the Euroleague final and won his very first European Championship.
It goes without saying that Bogdanovic would like to do something similar in the future of his Hawks. And while building a successful squad is never an entirely linear process, the Hawks approach this new season hoping that continuity – with a hint of good health – sets them up to thrive.