The Atlanta Hawks entered the 2015 offseason facing a difficult choice. Both their starting forwards, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll, were free agents, and the Hawks didn’t have the cap space to keep both. In the end, Atlanta chose to sign Millsap and bring in center Tiago Splitter, while Carroll went on to sign with the Toronto Raptors.
But letting Carroll go will be an issue for the Hawks. The veteran forward was the focal point of Atlanta’s perimeter defense, tasked with guarding the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant in his two seasons with the team. He was also a major part of their offense, serving in tandem with Kyle Korver on the wings as a three-point threat.
Atlanta’s options for replacing Carroll are limited. The team’s second-best wing defender is forward Thabo Sefolosha, who is still recovering from the broken right fibula he sustained while struggling with the NYPD. The team’s other holdover from last season is Kent Bazemore, who struggled to fill in for Sefolosha as Carroll’s back-up in the playoffs. Seeing as neither of these players will be ready to take over Carroll’s role on the team at the start of the 2015-2016 season, Atlanta’s best bet for Carroll’s replacement seems to be their latest acquisitions.
The team traded first-round pick Jerian Grant to the New York Knicks in return for shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. right after the NBA Draft. They then signed small forward Justin Holiday to a multi-year deal in free agency (Exact terms of deal not disclosed).
There are some issues with both players. Hardaway is coming into his 3rd season in the NBA, but the former first-round pick has been a disappointment in his first two seasons with the Knicks. His shot selection has been particularly bad and his motor on the defensive end wasn’t much better in New York. Holiday, also coming into his third season, is very very raw. His length and versatility make him a very effective defender, but he lacks the shooting touch to be a rotation player. This showed in his 2 seasons in the league. The young guard showed immense promise with the Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors, but never cracked the rotation with either squad.
However, both have the physical tools to be effective two-way players for the Hawks, and considering how fast Atlanta was able to turn DeMarre Carroll(Formerly a bench player in Utah and Houston) into a key starter, there is little doubt that the Hawks can make the most of Hardaway and Holiday. Atlanta seems to believe this too, as they traded a first-round pick for a struggling player and signed a raw and undeveloped guard to a multi-year deal.
In my opinion, Atlanta does have the ability to replace DeMarre, but not by next year. So even with Tiago Splitter giving the Hawks some much-needed size and strength down low, the Hawks will most likely regress from their 60-win season last year. That said, if Holiday or Hardaway improve next season, be sure to look for Atlanta to compete with the best in the East for the #1 seed in the near future.