Trying to recover from losing one star player is extremely difficult in the current state of the NBA. Trying to recover from losing two is nearly impossible. Trying to recover from losing four All-Stars over the course of three offseasons? Never been done before.
The Atlanta Hawks are trying to do the impossible and recover from the losses of four All Stars from their 2014-15 roster (Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver), and they have some young prospects as well as wily veterans that might make the Hawks, led by one of the best tacticians in the league in Mike Budenholzer, a sneaky playoff contender in a weak Eastern Conference.
Continuing on with our series, we’ll focus on the small forward position.
Last Year’s Stats
Taurean Prince: 16.6 MPG, 40.0 FG%, 32.4 3P%, 78.7 FT%, 2.7 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 1.0 TOPG, 1.6 PFPG, 5.7 PPG
Luke Babbitt (68 games with MIA):15.7 MPG, 40.2 FG%, 41.4 3P%, 73.3 FT%, 2.1 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 0.4 TOPG, 1.7 PFPG, 4.8 PPG
Nicolas Brussino (54 games with DAL): 9.6 MPG, 36.9 FG%, 30.5 3P%, 77.3 FT%, 1.8 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 0.5 TOPG, 0.8 PFPG, 2.8 PPG
While the numbers might not be very impressive on a base level, they can be explained in a way that adds promise and potential to the grim numbers.
Taurean Prince, who was battling for time last season with Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefoloshia which forced him into playing in the D-League for a bit during the beginning of the year, ended up earning the starting job during the playoff series against Washington. Now that Sefoloshia is gone to Utah, Prince is in line to step in and play 25-30 minutes per game as the starting small forward, and he showed signs of being a quality rotational player last season.
His jumper isn’t broken by any stretch of the imagination, and the way that he can attack the rim is quite good for a small forward. He also can capably defend most forwards, as well as some guards in the pick and roll, which is very valuable to the Hawks, who are constructed to play defense primarily. Prince doesn’t have the flashiest skill set, but he can defend, rebound, and score at a relatively high level, and he’s only in his second NBA season.
Look for him to have an expanded role at both the 3 and 4 for the Hawks.
Luke Babbitt has long been known as a shooting forward that really doesn’t do much else on the floor. His skillset is not very diverse, so finding offense for him is difficult due to his lack of independent shot creation, so the only way to get him offense is to drive and kick to the open shooter after the defense rotates.
He looks to be a pick and pop threat and a weak side corner shooter primarily, and the Hawks didn’t sign him to be much more than that.
One of the Hawks’ deficiencies last season was 3-point shooting, especially after they traded Kyle Korver, one of the best in the league, to Cleveland. The lack of shooting across all five positions really forced Hawks GM Travis Schlenk to find some under the radar players that could reliably shoot and make an open 3, which is why the Hawks made such acquisitions as Babbitt and Marco Bellineli, two veterans who can shoot the ball at an NBA level.
Look for Babbitt to be one of the best shooters on the team in limited opportunities coming off the bench.
Nicolas Brussino, a 6-9 forward from Italy, is one of the most recent acquisitions by the Hawks, who claimed him off of waivers from Dallas on July 22nd.
He hasn’t played very many minutes in the NBA in the half a season he’s been on an NBA roster, but when he has played, he has shown some flashes of potentially earning a spot in an NBA rotation. He can relatively capably shoot, pass, and defend, not necessarily at a high level in any of those catagories, but enough to be an NBA player. Look for Brussino to potentially get some spots minutes at the 2 and 3 positions, and maybe he can crack the rotation as the season progresses.
Don’t count on him making a significant impact for the team this year, however, as he’s getting his feet wet on the biggest basketball stage in the world.
The Atlanta Hawks’ small forward position is one of the most inexperienced positions on the team, and it will show this next season. With two second-year players and a wily veteran that has little versatility, the Hawks are going to look for a massive step forward for Taurean Prince, who showed signs during the playoffs last season. Prince, however, is not quite ready to be a top-half small forward in the NBA, and there isn’t much behind him in the way of versatility.
Look for Prince to take a step forward, but not one that will be substantial enough to move into the middle tier of starting small forwards, as well as Babbitt providing shooting depth from a bench role.