May 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer shakes hands with general manager Danny Ferry after being introduced during a press conference at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Hawks Venture Into the Unknown

Dec 14, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) drives past Atlanta Hawks power forward Mike Scott (32) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 111-106. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 14, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) drives past Atlanta Hawks power forward Mike Scott (32) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 111-106. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The search for knowledge has arguably been the main driver of forming society throughout history. The Ancient Romans and Greeks before them advanced the areas of mathematics, commerce, architecture, agriculture, philosophy and far more. But what do we really know? Can we really rest solely in tautologies or is there another layer to it?

One quote speaks to recognition of what is known particularly well. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was cited regarding the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in post 9-11 Iraq during a 2002 news briefing and gave this soundpiece:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

Sidestepping the quote’s wordiness and its political implications of the last president’s regime, his words sparked a philosophical debate about knowledge and the awareness of that knowledge.

As the NBA speeds past multi-billion dollar revenues, and analytics not only becomes more prevalent in organizations’ day-to-day operations but also closer to the common fan seeking more information, the spectrum of our basketball consciousness must be constantly examined. What factors are most important to win the most games in a grueling 82-game season? How does an organization develop and fit players with different talents coming from different reaches of the basketball universe into one cohesive mold?

The span of what we know is somewhat limited. Evaluations of players has reached new heights as the age of in-arena cameras logging large amounts of data is upon us. Even scouting has reached a truly global level with many teams pulling in useful players from previously untapped international sources.

The Atlanta Hawks have employed the services of Macedonia power forward/center Pero Antić, and before going down to a lower body stress fracture injury, he made league-wide noise with his long-range shooting as a 31-year-old rookie.

Beyond individual talent evaluation, there have even been attempts to quantify cohesiveness of an entire team as a unit. But in total, there still exist many widely unforeseen acts in the league, not the least of which including the Phoenix Suns’ surprisingly competitive team this year.

It suffices to say that the Hawks have not reached their pre-season expectations thus far. No prediction exists in a vacuum with anything close to certainty, but in most cases, the NBA teams know in which echelon they will exist in the upcoming season: contenders and non-contenders. Put simply, the city of Atlanta did not have plans to close off Peachtree Street for a championship parade in June 2014.

However, at a record of 26-29, this is uncharted territory for the Hawks. The team is in jeopardy of falling out of playoff positioning in an incredibly weak Eastern Conference. Only one player remains from the Hawks’ last losing season: Al Horford, who was drafted that 2007-08 season, while none remain from the last non-playoff season.

Many erroneously claimed the Hawks would tank intentionally. Purposefully putting the team in a less than optimal situation has never been the aim of this recently installed front office; it has even become a more accepted idea that tanking often fails to produce a path to contention.

Make no mistake about it, the future of the club has become murkier than it was just six months ago. The Hawks’ offseason strategy has been to build around known commodities and fill the rest of the roster with players on low risk deals. Al Horford, Paul Millsap, and Kyle Korver are all known commodities. That trio is as close we can come to a known known in the NBA, although the wildcard of a torn Horford pectoral threatens this status. Those three have had very little variability in sustaining a high level of production so betting on the future of them is as safe a proposition as a general manager could find.

There have been mixed results with the latter category, however. All started out as unknown unknowns upon being drafted when projecting their play at the next level. One member of the two-person 2012 Hawks draft class has been a huge offensive boost to the club, playing in a team-high 53 games and scoring at a rate of almost 20 points per 36 minutes on an impressive 55.4 eFG% and 59.2 TS%. The other, a one-trick pony as a shooter, has 40 points. Total. For the season. As an outcome, first-rounder John Jenkins’ future with the team is now dicey while second-rounder Mike Scott has become a universally wanted asset.

The 2013 draft class has yet to escape being an unknown unknown, as two of the three players are playing professionally overseas, while the third has just recently become a constant member of the rotation with the big club.

Jeff Teague, on the other hand, resides in the “known unknowns” region. This is his fifth year with Atlanta but he’s still a volatile contributor and with trade rumors circulating at the last trade deadline, his future with the team is very much up in the air.

All this is meant to look at progress of the players and team as a whole, given what we can project with a high amount of certainty and what projections come with low certainly. These assessments in turn determine a desired direction of the franchise. Too many question marks on the same team is asking for trouble. Conversely, if a team that ranks as merely average with a high amount of certainty and little upside, then it may be time to hop off the treadmill of mediocrity.

In the offseason, the Hawks chose a path that requires the confidence to successfully develop players into future contributors on a contending team in the heart of the South. And although there was no anticipating the multitude of the injuries the team has suffered, the Hawks have the required stability to move forward in their retooling process. The roster consists of players of all background, from all ends of the Earth and ranging from players in their rookie season to the seasoned 15-year veteran Elton Brand.

Despite losing their best player to a second freak pectoral injury in three years, Atlanta’s positives have been found. The salary cap situation is such that the Hawks can seek help in the offseason and there is talent in the pipelines. Every team banks their hopes in some amount of unknownness but the Hawks will have to embrace it in the form of youthful development.

New obstacles often present themselves at inopportune times and complications can arise from this development. It’s a never ending path of unanticipated unknowns. The best way to combat this is to remain flexible on a player, coach, and financial level and gather information to decipher what lies in the path toward the top. For what is known is little but what can be is greater than we can ever imagine.

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Tags: Al Horford Atlanta Hawks Jeff Teague John Jenkins Kyle Korver Mike Scott Paul Millsap

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