Hawks begin what expects to be long season of growing pains
ATLANTA (AP) — Taurean Prince knows the Atlanta Hawks are about to begin one of the toughest seasons in franchise history.
A year after going 24-58 — worst in the Eastern Conference — the Hawks are likely to take a step further back in the standings with an even younger team.
Point guard Trae Young, the fifth overall draft pick, and shooting guard Kevin Huerter, the 19th overall pick, are both 20 years old. Forward Omari Spellman, the 30th overall pick, is 21.
Young is projected to start alongside forward John Collins, 21, and Prince, a 24-year-old small forward who began to flourish in the final six weeks of last season.
“I’m still super young, so I’m looking for advice, too,” Prince said Monday. “I’m still figuring out things. I’m still getting better along with them every day. I’m no better than them just because of my age.”
The Hawks have mixed in several veterans to balance out the roster. Guard Kent Bazemore, a sixth-year veteran, and center Dewayne Dedmon, a fifth-year veteran, will start. Reserve guard Jeremy Lin is with his seventh team in nine seasons and coming off a major knee injury.
And the most recognizable name belongs to Vince Carter, who at 41 is the oldest player in the league. The eight-time All-Star joined the Hawks on a one-year contract to mentor young players and provide some reassurance when the inevitable losses begin to pile up.
It all adds up to a major rebuilding job for Lloyd Pierce, a first-time head coach who was an assistant the last five years in Philadelphia. The 76ers went through a similar experience before breaking through last season, so Pierce knows to keep his lessons simple in the early going.
“We’re starting out with four guys that have never played an NBA game,” Pierce said. “How much better can they be at the end of the year and at their position what are they capable of doing? The goal is to upward mobility. The reality is you’re going to have some good nights, some bad nights, some stretches when you’re rolling and some stretches when you’re not.
General manager Travis Schlenk had a busy offseason, parting ways with coach Mike Budenholzer and trading away the team’s top scorer, Dennis Schroder, to begin the rebuild with a largely unproven roster.
Young is the centerpiece. He struggled in the second half of his only season at Oklahoma with poor shot selection and getting open against double-teams, but still became first major conference player in NCAA history to have 800 points and 250 assists in a single season.
After a rough early going in the NBA summer league, Young settled down and improved his shot selection and passing. Defensively, though, Young has a reputation for taking plays off, so he wants to begin rewriting the narrative when training camp begins Tuesday.
The Hawks have five exhibition games before opening the season Oct. 17 in New York.
“I can play defense,” Young said. “I played for teams before if I didn’t play defense, I wouldn’t be on the court, and I’ve always been on the court. So that shows I can play defense. I’m looking forward to showing that I can.”
Bazemore, about to begin his fourth season with the Hawks, said Pierce has installed a scheme that won’t put too much responsibility on one player.
“The offense is not so intricate that you really have to think a ton,” Bazemore said. “It’s the freedom to react. All five guys on the floor have the freedom to make a play. It’s not any set plays or any one guy. It’s free flow. And it eases to the defensive end as well. We’re all on a string. We’re all moving together.”