The Hawks shook up their starting lineup this summer. They traded point guard Jeff Teague, elevating backup Dennis Schroder. They also signed center Dwight Howard, clearing the way for Al Horford to leave for the Celtics.
How will those moves affect Atlanta?
Hawks backup center Tiago Splitter doesn’t beat around the bush.
“(Howard) is a little bit more of a defensive player than Al, more rebounds, more physical presence on the court,” Splitter said. “That is going to change our team. … Dennis, he is also a great defender. He’s a better defender than Jeff. He will pressure the point guard the whole court. He is growing up and getting more solid.”
The Hawks allowed the second-fewest points per possession last season, behind only the Spurs. Clearly, Horford and Teague were doing something right.
Horford was far better defensively than Howard last season. The 6-foot-10 Horford has the size to defend the paint, mobility to defend the perimeter and intelligence to put it all together. Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, hit a higher defensive peak. But as he has aged and gone through injuries, he his defense has fallen off. Maybe Howard can get healthier and reclaim his form in Atlanta, but that’s far from a given.
Still, even if he doesn’t defend as well overall as Horford did last season, Howard might help the Hawks. Horford’s defensive strengths are similar to Paul Millsap‘s, and those redundancies allowed deficiencies elsewhere. Howard is better-equipped to handle big centers and rebound, an area of concern in Atlanta. The Hawks were one of the NBA’s worst defensive-rebounding teams last year.
Schroder and Teague also present an interesting transition. Schroder improved immensely defensively last season, and Teague regressed. Quick with long arms, Schroder has even more defensive potential if he focuses more on that end. Will Teague bounce back if healthier? (He’s just 28, so betting on his improved physical condition is less risky than with Howard.) Will Schroder pay more attention to defense as he gets the major offensive role he long desired?
Howard and Schroder could improve Atlanta’s defense, but the Hawks defended pretty darn well with Horford and Teague. I’m not nearly as convince as Splitter the two new starters are upgrades.