Aaaand, we are back!
With the advent of real, actual NBA preseason basketball, fans get to flip their calendars to the 2017-2018 season and start gearing up for one of the more anticipated campaigns of the last decade. As always, at Knicks at Night, we look ahead and break down the upcoming year, not by the quality of each team’s roster, but by how entertaining each should be to watch on a nightly basis. With nearly half the league’s All-Stars changing homes over the summer, there’s a lot more variability in these rankings and a lot of exciting, new situations to monitor. There’s never been a better time to plunk down that 100 bucks or so for the league’s premier subscription service, but also never a harder time choosing who to watch on a given night. To help answer that question… here are your Fourth Annual League Pass Watchability Rankings!
Something tells me that even with one of the most anonymous rosters in the NBA, Atlanta will not end the season with a bottom 5 finish. This team is too young, too well-coached, and too deep on the wing not to see a ton of internal improvement by year’s end. While the phrase “Hawks University” may go forever uncredited to its proper source, the fact remains that Atlanta’s developmental staff has churned out a number of 3 and D swingmen over the last few years (and sent them on their way to massive contracts), be it Demarre Carroll, Kent Bazemore, or New York City’s favorite son Tim Hardaway Jr. With its “Spurs East” factory churning out players perfectly suited for the modern NBA don’t sleep on either of the Hawks’ second year players Taurean Prince or Deandre Bembry to look like an absolute steal at the position.
Which ignores the fact that despite seeming like he’s been in the league for a decade, Dennis Schroder will be just turning 24 at the start of the season. Dubbed “The German Rondo” by international scouts, Schroder has been a maddeningly difficult player to evaluate, even after the Hawks traded Jeff Teague to the Pacers last year to give him the starting job and the keys to the offense. Schroder has the athletic talent to be a pesky defender and dynamic pick-and-roll player attacking the basket but he has yet to show he can approach the level of a league average starting point guard. Now, with Millsap gone and the ball likely in his hands for 35 plus minutes a game, Atlanta’s front office has another season to see exactly what his ceiling can be.
If Bembry, Prince, and Bazemore are the kind of low-usage, high efficiency shooters flanking Schroder, then the front office has done a solid job of filling out their roster with a number of different looks at center to pair in the pick-and-roll. Gone is Dwight Howard (breath a sigh of relief ATLiens) and in his spot Dewayne Dedmon as a threat to run the floor, block shots, and finish alley-oops. The team retained Mike Muscala and brought in Ersan Ilyasova and Luke Babbit to provide shooting from the big man positions in case the Hawks want to throw out a more offensive, stretchier group. And, lastly, with the 19th pick in this year’s draft Atlanta selected John Collins who has already done his share of exploding the internet for his monster dunks both on and off the court. Collins might not get the hype or media attention of a Lonzo Ball or a Dennis Smith, Jr. but don’t sleep on this guy to end up on the 1st team All-Rookie. If his Summer League stint showed us anything, it’s that Atlanta’s scouting and development departments remain excellent.
The problem with this team is the utter lack of star potential. The roster is cluttered with inexpensive role players (and the grossly overpaid Miles Plumlee) and projects to be far below average on both sides of the ball. It would take a massive leap from Shroder to become even the 12th best starting point guard in the league, while all the other young prospects are still seasons removed from becoming close to household names. The Hawks do have the cap space to become a dumping ground for a bad contract over the year, or play a role as a potential third party in a blockbuster trade. If that doesn’t happen, don’t expect to hear much about the Hawks this year.