Did the Hawks Invest Wisely in Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore?
Over the past 10-plus days, the Atlanta Hawks have been working overtime. Starting with their trade of point guard Jeff Teague, which came right before the NBA Draft, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer and Company have kept busy, handing out $140.5 million in contracts to Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore. They also saw lineup mainstay Al Horford hightail it to the Boston Celtics, despite their best efforts.
For all their hard work, maneuvering, and free-agency investment, are the Hawks a better team?.
We already touched on the Teague trade, now let's take a look at the impact of the two big signings, starting with the addition of Howard, an eight-time All-Star.
Ever since leaving the Orlando Magic in 2012, Howard's career has been on a downward trend. In his eight seasons in Orlando, Howard averaged 18.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game while earning three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2009 to 2011. In the four subsequent seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets, Howard saw his points per game slide from 20.6 in 2012 to 13.7 last season. He also has not averaged more than 1.8 blocks per game in the last three years.
His ability to be the focal point in an offense has been disappearing, too. After averaging 13.4 shot attempts per game and usage rate of 27.2% in 2010-'11, Howard attempted only 8.5 shots per game and held a usage rate of 18.4%.
Hampered by multiple knee and back injuries, Howard has not been able to log big minutes. He's played 29.8 and 31.3 minutes per game, respectively, over the past two seasons, the two lowest marks of his career.
With all that said, the seven-footer still is one of the game's best centers and capable of the occasional burst.
Last season, Howard had a pair of 20-point, 20-rebound games, including a 36-point, 26-rebound explosion against the Los Angeles Clippers. Howard also finished in the top five both total rebounds (835) and rebounds per game (11.8). And his .620 shooting percentage was good for second in the NBA, showing he still had some game in his legs.
While the 30-year-old can still be a top center, if healthy, here is the real questions: is Howard better than Horford, the Hawks' center of the past nine seasons?
Howard or Horford
Even though both players nominally play the same position, comparing their games is like apples and oranges.
Horford is by far the more dynamic scorer. He can shoot from distance -- nailed 88 3-pointers last season -- and his average shot attempt was over 12 feet from the basket. He excelled in pick-and-pops and cis a modern day big.
Howard, on the other hand, is purely a threat from in close. His average shot attempt was 2 feet, 6 inches away from the basket, with only 12 shots of his 600 attempts coming from beyond 10 feet.
With a switch from a stretch-five player to a traditional low-block player, the onus will be on Budenholzer to modify the Hawks' offensive playbook to fit Howard's strengths.
One area in which Howard should give Atlanta a boost is rebounding. Last season, Atlanta consistently lost the battle on the glass, allowing 46.5 rebounds per game, compared to grabbing 42.1 rebounds themselves. Their 8.3 offensive rebounds per game ranked dead last.
|2015-'16 Per-36 Minute Stats||Off Reb||Def Reb||Total Reb||OReb %||DReb%||TReb%|
As the numbers show, Howard is by far the better rebounder -- not just last year, either. Howard has a career total rebounding percentage of 20.6% while Horford has grabbed only 15.4% of the available rebounds throughout his career.
Howard's mere presence should boost the Hawks from bottom dwellers to at least average when it comes to crashing the boards. When we look at other defensive metrics, Howard does not hold that big of an advantage, if he provides any boost at all.
Examining Atlanta's rim protection numbers, the duo is relatively equal. Howard posted 1.6 blocks per game and a 4.1% block percentage. Horford was just a bit behind at 1.5 blocks per game and 3.6% block percentage last season. However, if we look at defensive rating, Horford blows Howard away, posting a 98.2 rating, compared to Howard's 105.1 clip.
Howard is clearly a different player than Horford, but given the Hawks; weakness on the glass, that may not be a bad thing. Atlanta is sacrificing some offensive spacing and shooting ability while upgrading on the glass.
The Hawks risked a lot more, though, by possibly letting Bazemore go.
After an inconsequential start to his career with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, Bazemore got his first break when he signed with the Hawks in 2014. His first season in Atlanta was unremarkable as he averaged 5.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game.
After three seasons in the NBA, Bazemore finally got some substantial playing time last year.
When DeMarre Carroll bolted for the Toronto Raptors last summer, Bazemore got the next big break of his career as he assumed the starting small forward spot on the Hawks, despite being a bit undersized (6-foot-5) for the position. He started 68 games with 80% of his time spent at the three spot in 2015-'16. The extra action saw an inevitable increase in production as he averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.5 treys per game. Bazemore posted a 55.1% true shooting percentage and -0.5 nERD.
The Hawks weren't the only team to recognize the defensive specialist's talents, turning down more money from other suitors.
Kent Bazemore takes four years, $70M, turning down four/$72M from Houston and the Lakers, to go back to the Hawks, per source.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 2, 2016
At only 26-years-old, Bazemore's ceiling is in front of him. While his defense is already solid -- 99.5 defensive rating last year -- his offense has nowhere to go but up, but he should get a boost with Dennis Schroder running the show.
According to NBAWowy.com, Bazemore played his best ball alongside the German floor general. In the 591 minutes he played with Schroeder last season, Bazemore had a 56.9% true shooting percentage and 1.09 points per possession (equal to a 109.0 offensive rating).
In the over 1,800 minutes Bazemore played with other point guards, namely Teague, his true shooting percentage was 52.7% and his points per possession fell to 1.04 (104.0 offensive rating).
The addition of Howard immediately makes the Hawks a better rebounding club and gives them a substantial defensive force in the middle. Both areas are something they had lacked the past few years, with an undersized Horford playing the five.
What they will miss the most about Horford is his ability to stretch the floor, his ball-handling and distribution skills, and his defensive mobility. While fitting in Howard will take a bit of a style change, if anyone can do it, it is Budenholzer.
With Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver on the books for only one more year, the Hawks could be in for even more changes after next year. If Atlanta is going to make one more run at the top of the East, the addition of Howard was mandatory given the potential of departure of Horford and limited replacements on the open market. The re-signing of Bazemore, a player whose best days are likely right around the corner, was a prudent move, as well.
Time will tell if the two moves will help Atlanta, who was eighth in our team power rankings a year ago, seriously threaten the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. One thing we do know is that the previous rendition of the Hawks were no match for Cleveland, getting swept by the Cavs in each of the last two postseasons.