Last week I sat down with Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer in advance of training camp, which begins Monday, for a Q&A session. Excerpts of the interview appear in the Sunday edition of the AJC and I have posted other notes throughout the week.
For those interested, here is the complete and lengthy interview.
Q. In the past, the biggest question going into training camp was who will make the team. This year, with 16 contracts, the biggest question is who will not make the team. What are your thoughts about this training camp and how it might play out?
A. It feels like, watching the team and watching the players through September and all the individual workouts and other things we do, it just feels like it’s set up for a really competitive camp from top to bottom, everywhere you look. I think there is enough continuity and enough change where the guys who are coming in new, they are hungry. They want to establish themselves, the young guys including the rookies. Their competiveness is showing through. Whether it’s who is on the team, who is playing, it just feels like there is more opportunity for true genuine competition. I think that is good.
Q. Is that a key on successful teams that you have been a part of in the past? That kind of competition, including the players you brought in on training camp deals with NBA experience?
A. To the last part, I do think between a Ryan Kelly and a Will Bynum, guys who have been in the league and are established, it may be a little out of the norm of who we’ve had or other teams may have in camp. I think they are going to push it. As far as it being a key to being successful, I don’t know because some teams are very set and everybody knows their place and their role. I think some of those teams are wildly successful. Even on those teams, guys push themselves naturally or guys behind them are pushing them and there is more competition for the role spots. I don’t know that it’s a must because I’ve seen it, even us, it feels like there have been established roles in years one to two to three. It usually is a great thing and makes for a great camp. If you have the right kind of guys who are pushing each other and at the same time supporting each other, it’s pretty cool.
Q. As camp is about to begin, can you give me injury updates on Tiago Splitter?
A. With Tiago, everyone is really happy with his progress. With the hip, if you are just talking specifically about the hip, everybody feels like it couldn’t be going much better. Now, it’s getting all the muscles and everything that goes into being ready to play up to speed. We are expecting him to participate in camp, maybe not at 100 percent participation but significant. I think more of the scrimmaging and real basketball stuff to see how he is doing and be contentious that whenever we use him it’s in real live basketball environment.
Q. How about Jarrett Jack?
A. He is doing well. You always are optimistic that (recovery time) is on the shorter end. I’ve told him, and he knows, we are always err on the side of caution. Easing him into camp and easing him into exhibition games. To some degree the next week to 10 days will tell us more. He is going to be, I would say, not a full participant starting in Athens but he will do some things.
Q. There are a couple of major changes to your starting lineup this year with a new point guard and center. First, with Dennis Schroder running the point what is your biggest expectation? Concern?
A. I think the great thing about Dennis is he has been with us for three years. As far as starting, that’s going to be a new experience and a new role. For me, there is a lot of comfort that he knows what we expect of him as a point guard and how we play on both ends of the court. The biggest expectation for Dennis is that he keeps that competitive fire, that competitive spirit, that I would makes him a little bit unique. I would say that makes him special as a competitor. Continuing to grow as a leader and a teammate. I think if he focuses on really being a great defender, making all those competitive type plays with loose balls and rebounds. I think he is naturally gifted offensively. He obviously has the speed to attack and get to the rim and the paint. I think he sees the floor well. I think continuing to improve as a shooter is always going to be an important thing. He has to fight through if things aren’t going his way or the team’s way. That’s really the challenge for all of us. He and I have this great pull and tug about how competitive he is and still be focused on the next play or his next assignment. He gets it. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be that guy.
Q. Second, with Dwight Howard at center. You said earlier this summer you might be more comfortable with a traditional center. How do you expect the offense to be different? What about the defense?
A. The physicality and the force that Dwight brings to both ends of the court, I think is going to be a welcomed addition. If you take his skills, and part of that is his physicality and force, and incorporate that into a lot of the things we’ve done since I got here three years ago, I really think that’s an area where we’ve had success but that’s probably an area (to improve). A lot of people focus on a specific thing, but I think the physicality and the force, you have a player who is going to cover up some of the things, whether it’s rebounding or getting hits or screens and those type of things, it comes naturally to him. It will feel really different for us and our team.
Q. As the Hawks move forward after signing Kent Bazemore to a significant contract, do you see him getting more time at shooting guard? Or do you see him mainly as a small forward?
A. the great thing about making a commitment to Kent is how far he has come is exciting but all of us in the organization, including Kent, feel he still has a lot more room to grow and improve. Even though he doesn’t have a long track record of starting, he is just going to keep getting better. That’s exciting for us to get committed to a guy who is still going to grow and improve. With our wings, it’s a little bit like our bigs with the 4 and the 5, particularly the way we play, being interchangeable. That’s the way we think of it philosophically. If we got Kent to the 2 a little more is something we talk about. The great thing is Kyle (Korver) actually likes the challenge of guarding bigger guys. When you start thinking about the defensive end of the court, there are times when Kyle welcomes the challenge of guarding a post-up player. There is also Thabo (Sefolosha) playing. How much can Taurean Prince grow and evolve? With our bigs it won’t be the same with Dwight but, technically, in our offense you end up in either spot. On the wings it’s the same thing. I would say there is some discussion and some desire to get Kent at the 2 and you will probably be bigger and more athletic. Kyle is Kyle. Whatever number you want to call him and whatever number you want to call Baze, they are both very good. They guard different guys anyway.
Q. Other than Dennis Schroder starting for Jeff Teague and Dwight Howard starting for Al Horford, can I expect any other changes to the starting lineup with Kyle Korver at the 2, Kent Bazemore at the 3 and Paul Millsap at the 4?
A. I think it’s hard to see not going into camp that way but it’s a little bit of how can we figure out the best way to manage a game and the best way to manage a season. It’s hard for me not to see that. Again, I see them more as wings and not 2’s and 3’s. I’m excited to see how we fit together and what works well with Dennis now starting and the addition of Dwight.
Q. Concerning wings, especially with the two draft picks, you are deep and there are plenty of options there. What is the expectation going into camp about how that rotation might work?
A. No. I think that is going to be one of the areas of camp that is going to be great to watch and observe and through October. I will say that Tim Hardaway Jr. had a great summer. He’s been really, really good. I think Thabo is someone that we all appreciate, especially me. As good as we were defensively, the subtleties to Thabo’s game and what he brings. The other young guys, it’s great to see how they are different. They are confident and I think they are going to push. There is going to be great competition with those six wings.
Q. You will have three rookies this season. What are your early impressions on Malcolm Delaney? Taurean Prince? DeAndre Bembry?
A. I’ll start with Malcolm. He is a rookie who has played in the Euroleague final four. He’s played at the highest level in Europe and been one of the top guards over there. It’s almost not fair to call him a rookie. His demeanor and his understanding of the game, we feel really good about his addition. We have so much respect for European basketball. What he has done over there, to add that to our team, we are very hopeful he is somebody who is going to help us.
Taurean, I think he has made a great first impression in the months since we drafted him. To have the kind of size and physicality at the small forward position, is something we are hoping to work with, grow and develop. He can do a little bit of everything. Offensively, we have to continue to grow him and work with him but there is a lot there to work with. Defensively, he gets after it. He kind of fits that there is going to be more of an edge, a physicality, to our team between Dwight, Dennis and Taurean, that’s a big infusion of edge, toughness and physicality.
And DeAndre is similar in a very understated Paul Millsap kind of way. Very, very smart. His basketball mind is beyond his years. There is an athleticism, a pop, to him that is kind of under the radar. He fits us well. He can pass. He has a really high I.Q. I think he’s going to be good.
Q. I’m curious about the defense this year. You have been very good in previous years but now you add to it. Tiago Splitter told me you are going to be even better defensively. Do you see it that way, that you can be even better than where you have been statistically?
A. It’s kind of strange to look at it in a statistical context when you are the second-best defense. There is only one spot to move up. I would love to be the best defensive team in the league. But if you put the stats aside, I do feel like we can be better defensively. I guess that should translate to some statistical metric but I think Dwight’s impact on the game defensively can be unique and special. I think Dennis, as a starting point guard, especially as he is young (defense) is his calling card. You add Taurean to the mix and DeAndre, I definitely feel like there is the potential for this to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. That is what we have prioritized from the very beginning.