The Hawks open training camp next week. Here are five things to look for as the team prepares for the 2014-15 season and the second year under coach Mike Budenholzer.
1. The health of Al Horford
The center’s season came to an abrupt end last year when he tore his right pectoral muscle in a game against the Cavaliers on Dec. 26. He was done after just 29 games. At the time of the injury, Horford led the team in scoring and rebounding and the Hawks were third in the Eastern Conference. Without him, they slipped to eighth and made the playoffs despite a below-.500 record.
Horford progressed in his rehabilitation and was doing some basketball activities – minus contact – during a summer trip to Italy with Basketball Without Borders. There has been little word on his progress from that point. Training camp will be the first chance to see just where he stands.
2. The health of John Jenkins
The guard’s season came to an end, coincidentally, the same day as Horford with a re-occurrence of back trouble that had plagued him the previous summer and the start of training camp. After playing sporadically in 13 of the Hawks’ first 27 games, Jenkins was shut down on Dec. 26 and had surgery on Feb. 3. The former first-round pick agreed to play in the Las Vegas Summer League and was cleared to play just before the start of the tournament. He played in just two games, suffering an undisclosed injury in the Hawks’ third game, and averaged 1.0 points, 1.5 assists and 1.5 rebounds.
Jenkins has been working out at and away from the Hawks’ facility this summer. Training camp will also be the first opportunity to see his progress in this return and just where he will fit in to Budenholzer’s shooting guard rotation.
3. The impact of offseason distractions
The summer was one of turmoil for the Hawks’ ownership and management. Bruce Levenson’s controlling interest of the team is for sale. General manager Danny Ferry is on an indefinite leave of absence. The coach is acting as general manager, although much of the work assembling the roster is complete. The team will have to deal with the sensitive issue of the racially inflammatory remarks made by the front office. Ownership is still divided. The players and coaches will no doubt be questioned often at home and on the road during the exhibition and regular season.
The offseason issues are out of the control of the players and coaches. There focus must be on the court. However, that focused will be taxed.
4. The role of offseason additions
The core of the Hawks returns the season with just the additions of free agents Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore and first-round draft pick Adreian Payne. Just how Sefolosha and Bazemore will fit into the system will start to be defined in training camp – especially their roles as defensive stoppers to spell DeMarre Carroll. The Hawks struggled last season defensively when the rigors of guarding the opposition’s top offensive threat wore down Carroll. He will get relief with Sefolosha and Bazemore in a to-be-revealed rotation.
The role of Payne as a stretch four who can also play with his back to the basket will be determined. Payne played well in Summer League but admitted to still learning when and where his shot would come.
The Hawks have one big loss in the form of assistant coach Quin Snyder, who left to coach the Jazz. Synder worked a lot with Kyle Korver getting his shot off the pick-and-roll and Carroll on his offensive game
5. Little training camp competition
The Hawks will come to camp with 15 players under contract – only the deal of Mike Muscala is not fully guaranteed. That will be the roster limit. The team can bring in as many as 20 players to training camp but there is simply not an open spot barring an injury or radical move. The more interesting thing to watch during camp and the exhibition season will be what the lineup, depth chart and rotations look like come opening day.
One of the main battles will be at the backup point guard position behind Jeff Teague. Shelvin Mack is back and Dennis Schroder has a full year and offseason under his belt. Each offer different strengths that may well be used in tandem behind Teague.
Those are the five things I’ll be watching closely. What are you interested in watching and reading about during training camp?