11.) The Atlanta Hawks

Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?

Again, maybe the highest rating ever for an Atlanta team that has never quite won me over. A 60 win season filled with overachieving lovable role players? Mehh. Four All-Stars from the same starting 5? Cool, the East is terrible. A total rebrand with horrific black and neon patterned jerseys? Don’t really care one way or the other. Dwight Howard getting booed out of Houston and going to his hometown state for one last chance at fan recognition and elite level play? Sign me up!

In a lot of ways, the Hawks front office reminds me of Masai Ujiri in Toronto. They’re patient when they want to build their culture, willing to embrace a change when they see something is not working, and never, ever overpay for a player who they know is not worth it (haha whoops). This was all on display over the summer when head coach, and president of basketball operations, Mike Budenholzer flipped starting point guard Jeff Teague to the Pacers for the number 12 pick in the draft and decided against giving long-term face of the franchise Al Horford a 5 year max extension at 30 years old.

Howard’s three year contact represents much less of a gamble for the Hawks, both in years and dollars, but is also inherently risky just because of all the baggage Dwight brings everywhere he goes. By now every casual basketball fan knows how bizarre the guy is; getting farting banned in the Orlando locker room to becoming one of the world’s creepiest collectors in Houston. Not only that, but it’s been publicly documented that Howard wants a large role in any offense he’s involved in, needing multiple post touches to feel properly involved and give the appropriate effort on defense. If this is the same goofy, needy, disgruntled guy, it’s going to be a real problem for what has always been a stable Atlanta team.

If Howard is ready to shut the fuck up and fit in, however, this could be a terrific signing. Atlanta has been an incredible defensive team over the last three seasons, but they’re a horrible rebounding group that just posted the worst offensive rebound percentage in league history last season. Howard might not have the defensive versatility of Horford, with all the switching and trapping the Hawks usually like to run, but at least he won’t get absolutely murdered on the boards by Tristan Thompson and the Cavs for the third postseason in a row. If he’s content to play defense and then roll to the rim in the pick and roll he should give Atlanta an element it hasn’t had in his offense for a long time.

On the other side of that pick and roll is recently promoted starting guard Dennis Schroeder. Schroeder has been one of the better backup point guards in the league for the last few years, and with Jeff Teague’s free agency upcoming the team figured they could part ways with Teague and get fully behind the fourth year “German Rondo”. Schroeder isn’t much of a shooter, but he’s an athletic slasher with a good passing sense that should perfectly complement a leap and dunk big like Howard. Paul Millsap is still the best player on this team and should have plenty of looks, but it’s possible that the Hawks offense looks completely transformed this year.

Other than that, the gang is mostly the same. Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore are there to provide hot shooting from three, Mike Scott is still the Emoji King, and the team has a solid, if unspectacular bench with players like Thabo Sefolosha, Tiago Splitter, and Tim Hardaway Jr. They used both their first round picks in the draft this year on athletic wings Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry who project to 3-and-D specialists that could eventually replace the departed Demare Carroll. It’s unlikely either of them plays much this year, but Atlanta has traditionally had excellent player development and should be able to get something out of these guys going forward.

Make no mistake, this season is about Howard and Schroeder and how this team begins to redefine their identity going forward. I don’t think they’re an absolute lock for the postseason, but they have well-established players at almost every position and excellent coaching. The consistency won’t be the same as the Hawks of the last three seasons, but if Howard works out in Atlanta the ceiling is a lot higher.

Last year’s ranking: 27 (+16)

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