Lloyd Pierce is not expecting a smooth ride in his first season as a head coach. Talk about your fixer upper.
His Atlanta Hawks have begun a major rebuilding job. They have no star player, their point guard is a 20-year-old rookie, and their roster depth is suspect.
“Our margin of error to start when you have a new team, a new staff, is very slim,” Pierce said. “So we need to try to get on the same page as early and often as we can.”
After going 24-58 to finish with the worst record in the Eastern Conference last season, general manager Travis Schlenk parted ways with coach Mike Budenholzer and hired Pierce, an assistant for the last four years with Philadelphia.
Atlanta’s focus quickly centered on remaking the roster with youth. The Hawks traded down two spots in the draft to get point guard Trae Young at No. 5 overall, and they added a first-round pick next year from Dallas. They took shooting guard Kevin Huerter in the 19th spot and power forward Omari Spellman 30th.
Young will start and get as much playing time as he needs. Pierce said Huerter, behind starter Kent Bazemore, and Spellman, behind John Collins, must earn playing time in practice.
Atlanta has so much youth that shooting guard Taurean Prince, their returning leading scorer, has been thrust into a leadership role entering his third season. Budenholzer put a good bit of scoring responsibility last season on Prince, and he responded with five 30-point games.
“It brought a lot more confidence to myself,” Prince said. “I basically figured out what my abilities are as a player against my peers.”
Collins should improve his scoring average after improving his jump shot during the offseason. He’s accurate inside, ranking second among rookies last season in field-goal percentage, and finished second in blocks per game and third in rebounding.
Some other things to know about the Hawks:
DEFEND THE RIM
Pierce, who designed and oversaw Philadelphia’s defense, has put the team’s biggest emphasis on how Atlanta performs when it doesn’t have the ball. The goal is get rebounds, run the floor and score early.
“You have to match who you want to switch with, because that’s where the league is going, and who you don’t want to switch with,” Pierce said. “We have a guy like Trae and we have a guy like (reserve center) Miles Plumlee. We don’t want to switch with those two guys. We don’t want Plumlee out on the perimeter that much and we definitely don’t want Trae at the rim, so I’m going to have to tweak a lot of what I’ve done in the past to fit who I have here now.”
DeAndre’ Bembry, entering his third season on the team, will get the bulk of the minutes behind Young. Pierce likes how well he can dribble into the paint without needing a screen. Otherwise, the depth is nothing special.
Oft-injured center Dewayne Dedmond and shooting guard Tyler Dorsey, a second-round pick last year, are back for a second season. Vince Carter, 40, was signed to mentor the youngsters. Jeremy Lin and Justin Anderson are trying to beat out other at point guard. Shooting guard R.J. Hunter and forward Thomas Robinson are trying to make the roster.
Collins likes the change to a fast-break offense. With Young replacing Dennis Schroder, Collins is likely to have more chances to score in the half court instead of mostly just cleaning up at the rim.
“It’s very new coming from coach Bud last year,” Collins said. Pierce is “very high-paced, very fast-paced. He wants to get the ball moving. He’s all about the good-to-great passes, he calls it. Making the extra pass and trying to find those open guys.”
Pierce wants everyone, including longtime reserve center and new Atlanta starter Alex Len, shooting 3s. Young can’t wait to fire away.
“Yeah, for sure,” Young said. “He wants to get off a lot of shots, definitely a lot of 3s, so that’s definitely exciting. We’ve got to do it in the right manner and try to do it the right ways.”
That doesn’t mean Young isn’t going to dribble into the paint and dish off.
“Whenever you’re aggressive towards the rim, a lot of people suck in to towards the paint and then you’re able to get open shots around the perimeter,” Young said. “When you’re attacking and getting to the free throw line, it forces the defense to be more aggressive, so you get more open 3s.”
Lin missed all but one game last season in Brooklyn because of knee injury. The Hawks are his seventh team in nine seasons.
“I’m very familiar with new starts,” Lin said. “I’ve played on many teams. It doesn’t really feel like I’ve ever had some type of strong consistency through my career, so it’s not that weird for me I guess.”