Chase Irle: There is no doubt that Atlanta made some of the most interesting moves of the offseason. Lifetime Hawks, Jeff Teague and Al Horford that helped take the franchise to its peak, are gone. Dwight Howard replaces Horford, in what might be the biggest free agent signing in Hawks franchise history. The notorious big-man has received quite a hit to his reputation due to his performances in Los Angeles and Houston, but Howard has vowed that he is healthier than ever and ready to get back to the days were he was the league’s most dominant center. Dennis Schroder takes the reigns as the full-time starter at the point guard spot. Schroder has shown signs of brilliant potential, but there are serious questions whether he can fill the shoes of Jeff Teague, who was an all-star in 2015. Atlanta also welcomes a couple of new first-round picks in Taurean Prince and DeAndre Brembry. Both have high expectations coming out of college and it will be interesting to see if either of them could become a contributor in year one.
Contrary to many people, I like the moves the Hawks made this offseason. There is no doubt the team needed to shake things up, as there was no chance for the former Hawks roster to beat the Cavs in a seven game series. Adding Howard presents a huge risk/reward scenario. Howard could struggle with his health like he has in the past, which could spell doom for the Hawks season, but if healthy he is an upgrade over Horford and could take this Atlanta team to new heights. I am also a huge believer in the star potential of Dennis Schroder. Teague was a nice point guard, but Schroder has the potential to be something special. Something the Hawks have not had since Joe Johnson or maybe even Dominique Wilkins.
Atlanta’s biggest strength is in their numbers. This Atlanta team is an unbelievably deep squad, with point guard being the only exception. A healthy Howard and an explosive season from Schroder could put Atlanta back in the conversation for a number one seed, but I am going to temper my expectations a bit. This team should be easily good for 45 wins, and for an exact number I will say 51.
Harrison Coburn: It has been a while since I have been this excited for the upcoming Hawks season. While this team is likely no contender, they only have a slightly lower floor and a much higher ceiling going forward. The team is going with Dennis Schröder at the point, and the sky is the limit for the young German. He could be in for a break out year now that he has been handed the keys. Dwight Howard is an upgrade from Al Horford. The Hawks have been a great all-around team except for one category: the boards. A full season of Dwight and Kris Humphries on the boards should help. Perhaps Tiago Splitter can once again solidify himself as a solid role player coming off injury. Atlanta is the perfect place for Dwight and this is why he did not meet with any other teams. This is the best landing spot for him because it’s his hometown, he has an elite coach who runs a system that should get him open, and it’s the best team he could have possibly joined where he can be the same player. He and Paul Millsap will be a deadly combination. Of course, the team also has Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore returning. It is yet to be seen how big of a role Taurean Prince and Deandre Bembry will play, but despite the wing depth, the Hawks unfortunately do not have a great scorer. Until they can find their “guy”, the Hawks will continue to be a good team that just can’t get over the hump. I think the addition of Dwight Howard helps the Hawks in a series with the Cavs. My prediction for the Hawks is that they surprise in the regular season and win around 50 games, only to lose once again to the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, I think they can take a game or two this time.
Michael Arkin: Things will look a lot different than usual when the Hawks start their new season. There will be no more Al Horford or Jeff Teague, who have been players who have had incredible moments during their tenures with Atlanta. Things have changed, as Dennis Schröder is the new starting point guard and 8X All-Star Dwight Howard has taken over the center position.
Schröder has been waiting to become the starter, and he could be an absolute game-changer for this Hawks team. He will go through some slumps, but I expect him to become a leader on this team. An underrated part of this team is the bench. I think this bench, besides a backup point guard, can compete with anybody. There are a lot of guys who will play a lot of minutes, and I could see at least ten players in the rotation.
Dwight Howard is also a name that many have bashed for years, but the difference is not only does he want to play here and represent his hometown, but he is led by an incredible head coach. Mike Budenholzer is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and he was the one who wanted Howard. He will find ways to incorporate Howard into not only making him a great player, but making his teammates better. This player will get us rebounds, which has been this team’s achilles heel for years. And having a guy like Kris Humphries coming in after, I expect Atlanta to out-rebound their opponents in most games.
With all that being said, I see this Hawks team finishing near the 50-win mark this year and take the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs, Raptors, and Celtics have finish above, but I predict Atlanta will find it’s way to face the Cavs for the third straight year in the playoffs. The Hawks can take a game or two against Cleveland, but once again, the Cavs will find a way back to the NBA Finals. The Atlanta Hawks team is made for a playoff run, and I can guarantee that teams will not want to face this team in a seven-game series. With that being said, here’s to a season for the ages.