51 Q: Can Hawks maintain balance without DeMarre Carroll?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can the Hawks replicate last year’s success without DeMarre Carroll?

Even as the Hawks cruised to 60 wins and the first seed in the Eastern Conference last season, one question never really went away: can you contend for a title without a single superstar? That may have been the wrong question to ask. Their season was a tremendous success, making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. If the matchups were different and a few health things broke right, it’s easy to imagine this team making it to the Finals as it was built. The better question to ask about their long-term potential is whether, for a team this balanced and precise in its construction, they can survive the loss of one of their most important players.

That’s the question the Hawks are going to have to answer this season. Heading into free agency, they had to choose between re-signing Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll; they opted to keep Millsap, while Carroll, their most important perimeter defender, signed a big contract in Toronto. In a vacuum, Carroll is a replaceable role player. But his physical, versatile defense and solid outside shooting were integral to what the Hawks were able to do last season. He was the only member of the starting lineup left off the Eastern Conference All-Star team, but there’s a reason all five starters shared Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for January. The problem with the Hawks’ no-stars approach isn’t the lack of one go-to scorer, it’s the fragility of the construction. If one piece is out of place, things can fall apart quickly, and Carroll is a big piece to lose.

The Hawks have a few options to replace him, but none of them are ideal. They’re hoping they find their new Carroll in Justin Holiday, a little-used bench wing from the Warriors with similar potential. Like Carroll when he joined the Hawks in 2013, Holiday isn’t much of an outside shooter (he shot 32.1 percent from beyond the arc last season), but the Hawks are hoping their coaching staff can turn him into one, like they did with his predecessor.

Tim Hardaway, Jr., whom they acquired on draft night, is another player who will see a lot of minutes on the wing in Carroll’s absence. Hardaway is further along as a scorer than Carroll was when they signed him, but he’s a bit of a ball-stopper. It’s going to be an adjustment to fit him into Mike Budenholzer’s unselfish, movement-heavy offense, but he’s got the talent if he’s willing to buy in. He’s also going to need a lot of development on the defensive end, where he never amounted to much in his first two years with the Knicks. If Atlanta’s development staff can turn him into a solid two-way player, that trade will be considered a success.

The biggest question mark in the Hawks’ stable of wings, however, is Thabo Sefolosha. He’s still recovering from a broken leg suffered in April’s nightclub incident in New York. If he’s healthy, he can make a tremendous impact on the defensive end. The Hawks allowed 7.1 fewer points per 100 possessions last season when Sefolosha was on the floor than when he was off. But even when Sefolosha is healthy, he isn’t the offensive player Carroll is.

Replacing Carroll isn’t going to be easy, and it might have to be a by-committee effort unless Sefolosha is fully healthy or one of Holiday/Hardaway makes significant strides in their first year in Atlanta.

The good news is that elsewhere, the Hawks have gotten better. They picked up Tiago Splitter from the Spurs for nothing. Last year, their biggest weakness was lack of frontcourt depth outside of Millsap and Al Horford. Now, they have a legitimate three-man rotation up front and have the flexibility to play Horford at either frontcourt position, depending on matchups. Splitter will help the Hawks defensively and his passing ability for a big man is a good fit for what the Hawks do offensively. But Carroll’s versatility and ability to play power forward in smaller lineups will be missed, and there’s no immediate answer on their roster to replace that.

In all likelihood, the Hawks take a step back from last season, which was their best year in franchise history in regular-season wins and their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since they lost the 1961 Finals as the St. Louis Hawks. But they’ll still be a playoff threat, competing with the Heat and Wizards in the Southeast Division. If Millsap and Kyle Korver can stay healthy, they will at the very least be a good team with a chance to be a top-four seed in the playoffs. If they get lucky with some of their new additions, they have the potential to be more than that.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets:

Deandre Ayton misses coronavirus test, arrives late to underway Suns-Thunder game

Suns center Deandre Ayton
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.

This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.

Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.

Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.

Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.

Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
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The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.