Ranking the best international players in Atlanta Hawks history

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 23: Al Horford
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 23: Al Horford /
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 9. Toni Kukoc (Croatia)

The Croatian forward spent his prime as a Chicago Bull, winning three NBA championships and becoming one of the best European players of the 1990s. After 6 1/2 seasons with the Bulls, Kukoc was dealt to the 76ers, where he spent the second half of the 2000 season and the beginning half of the 2001 season.

As a Sixer, Kukoc averaged just under 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game, but his trade value was high enough for the Atlanta Hawks to trade for him in the middle of the 2001 season. The Hawks received Kukoc, Nazr Mohammed, Theo Ratliff and Pepe Sanchez in exchange for Roshown McLeod and Dikembe Mutombo.

Mutombo was named Defensive Player of the Year at the conclusion of the 2001 season, and was Allen Iverson’s sidekick for the eventual Eastern Conference Champions.

Meanwhile, Kukoc was dealt from a conference powerhouse in the 76ers to a woeful Hawks team who finished 25-57 in the 2001 season. Kukoc played 17 games during the 2001 season, and the Atlanta  Hawks went 5-12 in games he played in. Both with and without Kukoc, the 2001 Hawks’ win percentage hovered around 30 percent.

In comparison, Kukoc’s 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ win percentage was just under 88 percent. Kukoc only failed to score in double digits twice in his debut 17 games as a Hawk.

The next season, Kukoc was only 32, but his NBA career was on a decline. He started in only 9 of his 59 appearances, the lowest total since his rookie season. His 9.9 points per game also marked the first time that Kukoc failed to average double-digit points over a season. After the 2002 season, Kukoc was dealt to the Bucks, where he played the majority of the final stages of his career.

8. Pero Antic (Montenegro)

In only two seasons, Antic left an impact on all Atlanta Hawks fans. As a 31-year old rookie, Antic was forced to start in 26 of his 50 games, replacing All-Star center Al Horford. Horford’s torn pectoral muscle left the Hawks without their star center, who was averaging a career-high 18.6 points per game.

The Hawks experimented with starting Elton Brand on December 28th, 29th, and 31st of 2013, where he averaged 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. As the Hawks were still in contention for a low playoff seed, less than 5 points from a starter was an inadequate output. Antic started 26 of the 29 regular season games he participated, averaging 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

In the 2014 playoffs, Antic’s abysmal play arguably prevented the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks from upsetting the Pacers, who eventually advanced to the Conference Finals. Over 7 games, Antic shot 7-42 from the field, ending the series with a disastrous 16.7 percent shooting percentage.

Antic played at least 20 minutes in each game, yet scored 4 or fewer points in 4 of the 7 games. Outside of what may be the worst playoff performance in Atlanta Hawk history, Antic is remembered for being a great reserve for the best teams in franchise history.

7. Alexander Volkov (Russia)

Volkov was selected by the Hawks in the 6th round of the 1986 NBA Draft, as a 6’10 player whose skills allowed him to play potentially four positions on the court. The Soviet Union restricted Volkov from arriving to the Hawks until 1989, as the country would only allow its players to play NBA basketball if they also made a pledge to play internationally.

By the time Volkov was allowed to play for the Hawks, he was 25 years old, with nine years of professional play under his belt. His role on the Hawks never truly developed, as his 3-year NBA career coincided with veteran-laden, successful Eastern Conference contending teams.

Behind Moses Malone, Kevin Willis, Cliff Levingston, and Jon Koncak in his rookie season, Volkov played only 937 minutes as a rookie. He did not play a game during the 1991 season due to an injury, but was given playing opportunity in the 1992 season. Volkov started 22 games for the 1992 Hawks, who finished with a 38-44 record, mostly due to Dominique Wilkins missing 40 games due to injury.

If Volkov hadn’t been restricted by the USSR’s rules on allowing their players to play NBA basketball, he could have ended anywhere as high as third on this ranking, based off projections from  knowledgeable basketball minds of the time.