We are all aware: The Hawks offseason was not a pretty one. After Coach Mike Budenholzer stepped down as the President of Basketball Operations and Travis Schlenk was hired as the new general manager, things were bound to change, and change they did. Within a month, eight-time all-star Dwight Howard was sent to Charlotte and four-time all-star Paul Millsap signed with the Denver Nuggets.
Schlenk’s emphasis this offseason was flexibility, and keeping even one of Howard or Millsap would have severely limited the Hawks cap space in the future. Letting them walk may mean hard times are in the near future for Atlanta, but the long-term is a lot more promising.
Regardless of what “experts” are predicting the Hawks to finish at the league’s cellar, expect this team to compete night in and night out. Even though Schlenk cleared house, there will be no tanking under Coach Budenholzer. This is an organization that won sixty games with no superstars and a makeshift roster filled with free agents that drastically overachieved in their new home. That is what Coach Budenholzer does. He has always pushed the best out of his players, and players always reach new heights in Atlanta and usually leave with a fat contract, just ask Tim Hardaway Jr..
So who is going to be that guy this season?
People were shocked around the NBA, when the Hawks opted to sign Dwight Howard. He can’t shoot? What was going to happen to the Hawks flawless, pass-happy system? Why would the Hawks do this? Well it is simple really, rim protection has become one of most valued assets in today’s NBA. While the need for a dominant post game has faded, an increased emphasis is placed on rim protection from the center position so that other players can protect the three-point line. That is what Dewayne Dedmon brings to the Hawks.
From a defensive standpoint, Dedmon was miles better than Howard was last season, which may come as a surprise to many considering Howard is a former three-time Defensive Play of the Year award winner. According to NBA real defensive plus/minus, Dewayne Dedmon ranked second in the entire NBA among centers with a defensive real plus/minus of 3.94. That trailed only Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, and Dedmon produced that in just 17.5 minutes per game for the Spurs last season. Compare that to Dwight Howard, who finished 14th in defensive real plus/minus with a rating of 2.60.
Last season Howard finished among the NBA’s top rebounders in the league at 12.7 per contest. Dedmon only averaged 6.5 boards per game, but when stretched out over 36 minutes a game, the numbers look much more similar. Dedmon averaged 13.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season in comparison to Howard’s 15.4 boards per 36 minutes.
On the offensive end, Howard was atrocious for the Hawks. There was hope, that in a much smoother and well run offense, we would see a resurgent offensive year in Atlanta for the once dominant center. However, those who watched much Hawks basketball found out that was far from the case. Howard has clearly lost step in athleticism which is the only way he found baskets last season. There has been very little improvement in his post up efficiency, and as I mentioned earlier, the need for a back to the basket center is fading. Dedmon might not be much of an offensive threat either, but he can do similar things to Howard like finish around and above the rim with force. Take all of that into consideration, and there is reason to believe Dedmon could nearly replicate Howard’s production at a fraction of the price.
Even beyond all of that, there are even a couple more reasons to believe Dedmon can put up similar production to Howard. The first is his age, as he is four years younger than Howard, and perhaps even more importantly, has much fewer miles on his tires. Dedmon did not find his way to the NBA until the 2013-2014 season and has never been more than a reserve in the league, while Howard has suffered a bevy of serious injuries over his illustrious 14-year career.
Also, Dedmon did not even start playing basketball until he was a senior in high school! His mom objected to him playing organized sports because of her strong religious position, but when Dedmon was able to make is own choices at eighteen, he decided to try out for the high school basketball team. Stardom was not something he found, however, as he barely played because of how poor he was athletically despite his 6′ 9″ frame at the time.
The rest we know now, is history. Dedmon is a 27-year old fresh off signing the largest contract of his career, and let’s be clear, he is not planning on slowing down. By signing a two-year deal with the Hawks that includes a player option in the second season, Dedmon is betting on himself. If he has a big year in Atlanta, he is due for a significant pay raise, and given his history and the history of players thriving under Coach Budenholzer, expect Dedmon to have a career year in Atlanta.