Clint Capela has played less than 30 games in a Hawks uniform. Nevertheless, the 26-year-old current starting center for the club has already shown fans just how strong of a player he is in the paint. Capela might one day end up on the list below, but as history stands right now, the following five “bigs”, in this writer’s view, are the best in Atlanta hoops history.
5. Tree Rollins (1977-88)
Sometimes a nickname becomes so synonymous with a person that it just seemingly replaces their given birth name. Such is the case with Wayne – better known as “Tree” – Rollins, who was a veritable shot-blocking machine over 11 seasons with the Hawks.
A two-time NBA All-Defensive Team honoree, Rollins led the league in blocks during the 1982-83, averaging a whopping 4.3 per game. He was not much of a scoring threat, but, as one might imagine, Rollins could get after it on the boards.
Overall, Rollins averaged 7.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game in more than 800 games with the Hawks. He currently sits atop the franchise’s all-time leaderboard in blocks by a long shot and ranks ninth in the category in NBA history. Rollins belongs on this list.
4. Moses Malone (1988-91)
When it comes to their entire bodies of NBA work, Malone is arguably the best all-around player on this list. However, he only spent three seasons with the Hawks, and only two of those saw him really perform up to his Hall-of-Fame status.
Malone was already 33 years old with north of 1,000 professional basketball games under his belt by the time he joined the Hawks in the offseason of 1988, but that did not prevent him from producing a couple of stellar seasons in ‘88-89 and ‘89-90.
Across 162 games between those two campaigns, Malone averaged 19.5 points, 10.9 boards, and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting a nice 48.6 percent from the floor. The Hawks earned their way to the playoffs in two of the three seasons Malone was with them and played to a 136-110 regular-season record.
3. Kevin Willis (1984-94, 2004-05)
From the time the Hawks selected him with the 11th pick in the 1984 NBA Draft until they traded him away a couple of games into the 1994-95, Willis was a consistent post presence that was often a background performer for “The Human Highlight Film” Dominique Wilkins.
Even though he was rarely the go-to guy, Willis still put up solid stats throughout his Hawks tenure. He averaged 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game while shooting 50.5 percent from the field in 722 games during his initial 10-season run with the organization.
Willis came back to Atlanta as a 42-year-old in 2004 and played 29 inconsequential games that mostly just gave longtime fans a chance to salute his past efforts for the team. Willis currently ranks seventh in points, third in rebounds, and fourth in games played in franchise history.
2. Al Horford (2007-16)
In all honesty, Horford and Willis probably should be ranked “2a” and “2b”. Decisions need to be made in debates such as these however. Given the fact that a Horford-led Hawks squad never missed the playoffs and enjoyed the organization’s best ever season (60 wins) in 2014-15 with him leading the way on the court, the third-overall pick of the 2007 Draft gets the edge.
Horford has a couple of severe injuries during his Hawks days. One held him to only 11 games (three more in playoffs) in the ‘11-12 season while the other limited him to 29 games in ‘13-14. Aside from that, Horford was always at All-Star level. In fact, he was named to four All-Star teams as a Hawk.
In 578 games, Horford averaged 14.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 blocks for the Hawks. He ranks third in franchise history by impressively draining 53.5 percent of his attempts from the field. Horford was instrumental to a very successful era for the Hawks and, simply put, he is one of the best all-around players to ever suit up in Atlanta.
1. Dikembe Mutombo (1996-2001)
The second Hall-of-Famer on the list is the best of the bigs in Atlanta history. Mutombo was not only a fan favorite, but he was also at peak performance throughout his four and a half years in the city.
The finger-wagging Mt. Mutombo earned four All-Star selections with the Hawks and pretty much no one patrolled the paint and rim in the mid-to-late-90s quite like him. Across 343 total regular-season games for the Hawks, Mutombo averaged 11.9 points, 12.6 boards, and 3.2 blocks.
The team was in rebuild mode when Mutombo was ultimately traded away in 2001, as they were in the midst of a second-straight losing campaign. However, the Hawks had plenty of success with Mutombo as an anchor in the middle over three seasons from 1996-to-1999, winning 64 percent of their regular-season games and never finishing lower than fifth in the Eastern Conference.
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