Hawks: Travis Schlenk deserves credit, but is there one decision he regrets?

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Travis Schlenk was hired in 2017 by Hawks’ principal owner Tony Ressler to succeed Wes Wilcox, as the team opted to go in a different direction with the former Golden State assistant general manager. Since then, Schlenk has earned a reputation as an aggressive, risk-taking general manager. And because of that, the Hawks are now in a far better position to compete for a championship than they were when he stepped in and have clearly identified their foundational building blocks. Still, that doesn’t mean Schlenk hasn’t made a couple of head-scratching moves.

His first action as general manager was drafting John Collins with the 19th overall pick, which has turned into a favorable decision. The fourth-year man out of Wake Forest has become a legit 20-and-10 threat, who is one of the most efficient scorers in NBA history. He’s a versatile piece that thrives in transition, the post, and the pick and roll — all while shooting an above-average percentage from everywhere on the court. Now Schlenk will have his first opportunity to re-sign one of his draft picks this offseason.

After that, the new GM made the first of many bold moves in parting ways with Mike Budenholzer and hiring Lloyd Pierce during the 2018 offseason. A month later, Schlenk pulled the trigger on one of the biggest blockbuster draft-day trades of this century, trading Luka Doncic to the Mavs for Trae Young and a 2019 top-five protected first-round pick. That second draft also produced Kevin Huerter, who was the 19th overall pick. Young is the centerpiece of Atlanta and will be built around for a long time to come with the hopes of winning a championship. Huerter has shown his value with the Hawks recently while they have been decimated by injuries, as Chase pointed out yesterday.

“Red Velvet has started all four games since Hunter’s injury, averaging 16.5 points on 52.2% shooting from the field and an even better 53.3% mark from behind the arc. He’s also picked it up on the distributing end, dishing out 4.5 assists per contest.”

In hindsight, both decisions have turned into favorable ones — three quality long-term starters in back-to-back years.

Then in the same month, Schlenk traded Dennis Schröder. This move not only dumped Schröder’s negative-value contract while acquiring a first-round pick, but he also cleared the way for Young to take the reins of the offense the moment he arrived in Atlanta. Carmelo Anthony was apart of that trade, but the Hawks were in a position to eat his hefty salary because of their financial flexibility and a lack of playoff ambitions.

In his third draft, Schlenk made his second major draft-night trade and came away with De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish — the second pick due to the 2018 draft-night Luka Doncic deal. And though Reddish has yet to find himself on the offensive side of the ball, he’s still valuable on the defensive side thanks to his length. On the other hand, his teammate has turned into one of the best members of that 2019 draft class — as Brandon suggested — now that he is developing offensively.

“…averaging 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game while playing 32 minutes per game before his recent injury. Hunter’s efficiency has also taken a substantial leap in year two. He’s shooting 10.4% better from the floor and 11.3% better from the charity stripe, leading to a 12% increase in his true-shooting. Hunter’s averaging nearly five points per game more than last season on just one more shit per contest.”

The former Virginia Cavalier came into the league a versatile defender and is clearly turning into the three-and-D wing that Schlenk envisioned him being. But before he drafted two wings, for the same reasoning as the Schröder trade, Schlenk traded Teauran Prince to the Brooklyn Nets — a move that cleared minutes for Hunter and Reddish, relieved Atlanta from having to pay Prince’s next contract, and netted draft capital that would be used in later trades.

That extra first-round pick was utilized in the first couple months of 2020 to acquire Clint Capela, who has completely transformed Atlanta’s defense — an area that has been lacking since Pierce took over. Capela’s averaging a career-high 14.6 boards per game and more points per game than when he was in Houston. He has been arguably the Hawks’ third-most important player this year behind Trae Young and John Collins.

This past offseason, the Hawks GM selected Oneyeka Okongwu and signed a list of high-profile free agents who haven’t been able to stay on the court. Yet it still looks like a good offseason for Schlenk — one where there were more good decisions than bad. The Hawks are prime to make the playoffs, but does anyone in Atlanta really think they can beat the Nets, Celtics, 76ers, or Bucks in a seven-game series?

I definitely do not. But I do believe the roster can make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, just not with this coaching. The one regrettable decision will end up being Lloyd Pierce, who was hired with a track record of player development and coaching defense. The defense has been drastically better this year than a season ago, but there are still way too many lapses on that side of the court. Pierce should be given credit for some of the younger Hawks’ development, but I just don’t think he has what it takes to lead this team to an NBA Championship. For that to happen, Schlenk will have to make another bold move and bring in a much more proven head coach.




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