Atlanta Hawks: Offseason moves provide flexibility for Lloyd Pierce, Travis Schlenk

Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The 2020 offseason makes for greater lineup flexibility for the Atlanta Hawks

At first glance, the 2020 offseason for the Atlanta Hawks was a bit perplexing. Particularly, signing Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo was met with some confusion amongst fans and analysts.

With Trae Young gobbling up 35.3 minutes per game last season at the PG slot, there’s theoretically only 12.7 minutes left for a backup point guard. Dunn and Rondo both are good enough to be a backup one.

Dunn started in 32 games for the Chicago Bulls last season, Rondo came off the bench for the now defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

So, why get both?

Flexibility, that’s why.

Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo provide the Atlanta Hawks with plenty of flexibility

Trae Young is not, and probably never will be a serviceable defender. No matter how hard he tries on that end of the floor, his lack of size will always make him a target.

Young, though, has already shown the propensity to be a star, getting named to his first All-Star game in 2019-20. Building a team around Young (who also flirted with the top of both the assists per game and points per game leaderboard in 2020) is the way forward for Atlanta.

Part of that is gaining players that naturally fill in around Young and complement his skills, and part of it is getting players that mask his deficiencies. Those are not always synonymous.

As mentioned, Young is not a good defender, posting one of the worst defensive RAPTOR ratings per FiveThirtyEight in 2020 (-3.3).

Dunn will help mask that and as a backup one can have the opposite effect of the blistering hot scoring Young brings to the table. He posted a +4.1 defensive RAPTOR rating in 2020, the best among point guards (and one of the best in the league at-large).

Dunn will plug holes in the ship like a cork on the defensive end, part of the reason he gained a very favorable grade as an offseason signee. Even better, he can serve as a complement in some situations as a sixth man playing as a shooting guard alongside Young.

While not his most comfortable position, he did play a significant portion of his minutes (19 percent) at shooting guard in 2020 and 2019 (39 percent).

Dunn is a defensive weapon that gives head coach Lloyd Pierce his best defensive piece yet, something that will surely allow him to roll out a new, defense-first lineup that the Hawks haven’t seen in years (especially once draftee Onyeka Okungwu is healthy and playing).

Rondo, like Young, isn’t a great defender, but can still move the ball well and score (his 12.5 points per 36 minutes was his best scoring rate over the last six years). Furthermore, Rondo is a two-time NBA Champion and is a 3X assist champion.

While he has lost several steps on defense with age, he was once a great defender, posting a 2.6 defensive box plus/minus in 2008 (Dunn put up a 3.1 in 2020, for comparison) and was a steal champion in 2010.

With a frame almost identical to the 6-foot-1, 180 pound Young, Rondo will not only serve as an occasional boost off the bench, but a great mentor for Young as he aims to find his way on the defensive end and in the league at-large.

Rondo proved to still have “playoff Rondo” in his bag in 2020, too, improving his box plus/minus from -1.3 throughout the regular season to 3.6 in the postseason. His true shooting percentage went from to 49.4 percent in the regular season to 55.3 percent in the postseason.

With the Hawks likely to make a push toward the postseason in the near future, the veteran presence and proven ability to play up to the moment is something that will be useful for the team.

Rondo isn’t just a player-coach that can share some wisdom here and there, he’s still very playable.

And if Rondo proves to be purposeless, he’ll still be extremely tradeable. Like Dunn, he makes for some lineup flexibility, but also gives Travis Schlenk one of his best trade pieces yet.

And finally, an abundance of guards won’t be the worst thing for Atlanta. Young was 10th in the league in minutes played per game. In his youth, there’s no reason to think he can’t handle that, especially when other stars are in the same ballpark of 35-37 minutes per game, but the luxury of being able to rest Young when needed is great for the Hawks.

Need defense? Go Dunn. Need offense? Go Young. Need both? Go with Dunn/Young. Need tons of offense? Rondo/Young. Need a mentor? Rondo.

Versatility and the room for contingency plans means the Hawks are going to be a whole lot better next season no matter what is thrown at them.

Arguably, a lack of flexibility sent the Hawks stumbling last season. When John Collins was out for 25 games due to a suspension, the Hawks went from 3-3 to to 6-24, including a 10 and 7-game losing streak. All from losing one crucial piece.


Oh, and by the way, the Danillo Gallinari signing certainly helps ameliorate things if Collins is to go out for an extended period of time.

The Hawks are making sure that, regardless of which personnel they have available, they’ll be able to win games and stay competitive.

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