With training camp a little over a month away, it has been a pretty low-key summer for the Atlanta Hawks. As things stand, the roster makeup for next season is as follows: 11 players were retained from last season’s playoff roster (highlighted in yellow below). Two rookies, who were signed to full-time deals, in Kobe Bufkin and Mouhammed Gueye, and added Wesley Matthews and Patty Mills, via free agency and trade, respectfully.
Based on the end of last season, we can assume that Quin Snyder will be sticking to a nine-man rotation in 2023-24, and the team’s top-nine this year is essentially the same as last year aside from Saddiq Bey, stepping into the starting power forward role vacated by John Collins, and last year’s promising first-round pick, A,J. Griffin, taking Bey’s place in the second unit. While I have my concerns (as I am sure the Hawks do too) about Bey’s ability to hold up defensively against the LeBron James’s and Zion Williamson’s of the world with his 6’7”, 215 pound-frame, the offense last season was undoubtedly more potent with him at the 4 rather than Collins, due to his superior perimeter shooting ability. In 940 possessions last season, Bey-on, Collins-off lineups posted a ridiculous 126.1 offensive rating, per cleaningtheglass.com. Additionally, Jalen Johnson is listed at 6’9”, 220 pounds and should at least give the Hawks another big frame to throw at the more physical 4’s of the NBA. Meanwhile, Griffin shot 39% from three as a rookie (36.4% on catch-and-shoot attempts) and should provide another perimeter shooting threat on the wing.
All in all, it is a solid nine-man rotation going into next season. That being said, we know that injuries are a part of the game, and looking beyond the team’s top nine, a few question marks begin to emerge about how Atlanta is planning on handling injuries to certain positional groups.
Take a look at the guard position. While the Hawks seemingly have a surplus of guards to fill in behind Bogdan Bogdanovic, in Mills, Bufkin and the Matthews’ (Garrison Matthews & Wes Matthews), none of the players mentioned are particularly adept when it comes to playing the point guard position – raising concerns as to who is going to step in and run the second unit should one of Young or Murray miss time. Last year, the Hawks had Aaron Holiday, who may not have been the most reliable ball handler but was a solid ‘3&D’ player, who had proven to be capable of playing the point in his previous stops in Indiana, Washington and Phoenix. In 372 possessions* with Holiday-on, and both Young and Murray-off last season, the Hawks outscored their opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions, per cleaningtheglass.com – a mark they will be really lucky to achieve with any of their third-string guards this season.
*An admittedly small sample size, though it wasn’t too skewed by hot/cold perimeter shooting
With Holiday now a member of the Houston Rockets, Mills is likely to be the first option to reprise his role from last season, and while you may remember Mills as a steady contributor on the 2021-22 Brooklyn Nets, the 35-year-old is a worse defender than Holiday, and his offensive production really tailed off last season, as he found himself on the outskirts of Jaque Vaughn’s rotation by the end of the season. Beyond Mills, Bufkin’s summer league showing inspired little confidence in his ability to handle point guard duties at the NBA-level (at least in the short-term, the team appears to be optimistic about his ability to play in an on-ball role in the future), while neither Bogdanovic nor the Matthews’ have played at the point before in their careers, raising alarm bells about the team’s depth at point guard going into the season.
On the wing, Bogdanovic should be able to provide cover at the 3 should De’Andre Hunter or Griffin miss time, although any injuries to two or more of Hunter, Bey and Johnson, would pose problems at the 4-position, as extremely raw, 20-year-old rookie, Mo Gueye, appears to be next in line for minutes in that scenario. Gueye showed some tantalizing flashes in summer league but has only been playing organized basketball for four years and will likely need to spend at least a couple of months in College Park before being viewed as a trustworthy role player.
While there have been murmurs about Snyder potentially experimenting with playing Onyeka Okongwu at the 4, I am concerned that his lack of outside shooting prowess will clog the paint for Atlanta’s guards unless the team gets really creative with how they use him.
Fortunately for the Hawks, they have pretty reliable depth at the center position. Okongwu, the 6th overall pick in the 2020 draft, is one of the best backup big-men in the league, and Bruno Fernando is a steady third center who could still improve, and is signed to a team-friendly deal.
If I were nitpicking, I would say that the team could use a 5 that can shoot the three-ball, though given that this team finished 29th in opponent rim-shooting frequency last season and did not improve their perimeter defensive talent over the off-season, I can understand them prioritizing interior defense with their third-string center. Additionally, at 6’11 with a 7’3” wingspan, Mo Gueye certainly has the length to man the middle, and shot 36.4% from three (on 3.7 attempts per game) last year at Washington State. In a pinch, I believe he could be able to step in and provide that pick-and-pop threat at the 5.
Overall, while it may appear Atlanta is more guard heavy than last year, in terms of their players’ skill sets, they are specifically more “undersized-off-ball wing” heavy than last year’s group. Though this should give them the ability to weather injuries at the 2 and 3 positions without much of a hitch, the lack of ball-handling ability and size in the third unit makes me a little nervous about how they are planning to handle an injury to the 1 and 4 positions.
Here is to hoping the Hawks stay healthy in 2023-24 so we do not have to worry about either of these scenarios, that being said, should the depth look a little shaky this season, do not say you were not warned!