By: Nick Divago
The Hawks brought back hometown hero Dwight Howard even though he wasn’t cheap and doesn’t seem to help them much. Coach Mike Budenholzer is being tasked with figuring out how to get the best out of Howard while keeping the rest of the team producing. Good luck.
Al Horford, Jeff Teague
It is not clear what the Hawks are doing this year, but it is clear is that they think Dennis Schroder is a starting NBA point guard. Teague is gone, and the Hawks’ other point guard is Jarrett Jack (32, coming off of a torn ACL). Schroder will get lots of minutes, and he can put up numbers. Last season he averaged 11.0 points, 4.4 assists, 2.3 rebounds, a steal and a three in just 20 minutes per game. All of those numbers will go up. He also shot 42% from the field, on 9.8 shots, and averaged 2.3 turnovers per game. The number of shots and turnovers will go up, too, so he will hurt you in those categories.
Schroder is twenty-two and entering his fourth season, so he should improve through development as well as increased minutes. The minutes will be there, so where you draft him depends on how much you think he improves and how you think swapping Horford for Howard affects him. I think he will show better skills and decision-making this season, but he will be hurt by the Horford for Howard exchange. Horford spaced the floor, was an excellent passer, and knew where to be on the floor. Howard does not do those things. Howard can, at times, help spot-up shooters, but Schroder is at his best running the floor and driving. Howard does not run like Horford did, and he will reduce space when Schroder drives. Howard is a better finisher than Horford, but I don’t think that will be enough to make up for what the offense is losing.
Howard will hurt Paul Millsap even more. Millsap averaged career highs in rebounds, assists, and blocks last year, but I don’t think he repeats. Millsap will turn thirty-two this season, but I am more concerned about his fit with Howard than his age. The Hawks’ offense has to change with Howard on the floor, and I think Millsap will be the biggest loser. Millsap benefited from lots of space and good interior passing when playing with Horford. He simply won’t have those with Howard. The Hawks also ran a fair amount of offense through Millsap the last couple years, but I don’t think they can do that when Howard is on the floor. Millsap needs room to work, and he will not have it. Howard will also steal rebounds. Millsap’s 1.7 blocks from last year seems like a fluke (previous high: 1.2), and Howard makes a repeat even less likely. Unlike Horford, Howard cannot defend on the perimeter, which means the Hawks will probably switch less than in the past, and Millsap will not be the back line defender as frequently. Millsap will still be a valuable fantasy player because his game is so well-rounded, but I expect his points, rebounds, and assists to fall. Think 15-7.5-2.5, rather than the 17-8.5-3 he has averaged with the Hawks.
Howard will have less impact on Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore. Korver might even benefit from having one fewer player along the arc. That said, neither player makes me tingle. Korver is a good source of threes and little else. Bazemore put up solid numbers last season, then got paid, but he is not a young breakout candidate. He put up similar numbers with the Lakers in 2013-2014, then averaged five points a game the next two seasons. I think Bazemore does basically the same thing he did last season. That makes him a back-end contributor, nothing more. If you are in a nine-category league, watch his turnovers. He averaged 1.8 last season and just 2.3 assists. That is not great.
To summarize, Howard makes pretty much everyone who matters in Atlanta worse, but how will “returning home” affect him? First, we all know Howard is thirty, injury-prone, and past his prime. He still gives you a major boost in rebounds (11.8) and field goal percentage (62%), although no longer in blocks (under 2 each of the past three years). He no longer kills your free throw percentage (49% on 6.7 attempts), he just Tonya Hardings it (look it up, kids). I think the Hawks are a good situation for Howard. They have good shooting and passing, and Budenholzer is a smart coach who should make use of Howard’s finishing ability. Howard’s production has been declining for years, but with his move to Atlanta, I expect a plateau. When drafting him, expect something like his production last year.