The Atlanta Hawks have a roster to spot to fill and need to look at upgrading their frontcourt group immediately with the right free agent acquisition.
While it’s understandable that not every NBA team can excel at every facet of the game, one area has hurt the Atlanta Hawks for nearly the entire Mike Budenholzer era in Atlanta: rebounding, particularly on the offensive end.
Though Budenholzer’s Atlanta Hawks by design often give up chances at collecting offensive rebounds in hopes of getting set up for better transition defense on the other end of the floor, it’s starting to get to the point where the Atlanta Hawks aren’t going to win games in the longterm against more physically dominant teams on the boards.
This doesn’t mean that the Atlanta Hawks can’t find creative ways on both ends of the floor to best teams that thrive on the glass from time to time, but Saturday night’s loss at home in double overtime to the Milwaukee Bucks does bring to light some cause for concern.
The young Bucks team decimated the Atlanta Hawks on the glass and that prevented Atlanta from every really seizing control of the game’s pace, a crucial part of being able to win and put teams away. Milwaukee is the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference this season, but have managed to knock off the Atlanta Hawks in both of their meetings this year. While Atlanta is the better team on paper, Milwaukee is one of those teams that presents itself as a horrible matchup for the Hawks.
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Looking at team statistics, the Atlanta Hawks are still a top five defense in the NBA with a team defensive rating of 102.5 points per 100 possessions, fourth in the Association. They are seventh in points allowed per game in 100.2 and are considerably better on the glass defensively, 11th in the league.
However, Atlanta still struggles to hold its own on the offensive glass, 29th in the NBA, and its opponents are getting too many second and third-chance opportunities to get points on the Atlanta defense. Perhaps these rebounding numbers are a bit misleading, as the Atlanta Hawks aren’t a top five offense in 2015-16, as they are 18th in team offensive rating (105.0) and 10th in points scored per game (102.7).
While it isn’t exactly fair to put much of the team’s turnaround defensively on injured backup center Tiago Splitter, he did have a 103 defensive rating in 36 games played for the Hawks. Surprisingly, that was a career worst for the Brazilian big man who played his first five seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
Though losing Splitter for the year to season-ending hip surgery will certainly hurt the Atlanta Hawks’ ceiling as a team, Atlanta’s front office has to find the right player to fit in its frontcourt schematically now that Splitter isn’t going to play for the rest of 2015-16.
Besides Splitter going down to injury, the Atlanta Hawks do have another roster spot to fill after their three-team trade with the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. While the Hawks brought back former point guard Kirk Hinrich, they did send Justin Holiday to the Bulls and Shelvin Mack to the Jazz, freeing up that 15th roster spot.
Many thought that the Atlanta Hawks would target either of the most interesting recently waived players in David Lee and Anderson Varejao, but it seems that both veteran big men are heading elsewhere. Lee is likely heading to the Dallas Mavericks and Varejao is certainly on his way to the Golden State Warriors. Both reserve big men could have at least helped the Hawks on the boards playing 10 to 12 minutes coming off the Atlanta bench.
Regardless of missing out on both Lee and Varejao, the Atlanta Hawks have to realize that to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference Playoffs race that they will have to stay competitive in the frontcourt in terms of winning on the glass. Atlanta should still look to upgrade the backup center spot with Tiago Splitter going down, but the Hawks clearly missed two good opportunities to sign veteran free agents in David Lee and Anderson Varejao. Hopefully Mike Budenholzer and Wes Wilcox can rectify the Hawks’ frontcourt depth issues sooner rather than later.