Is making the Atlanta Hawks ‘Warriors-East’ the right move?

Photo by Kevin Liles/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Kevin Liles/NBAE via Getty Images /

The Atlanta Hawks front office has taken steps to mold the franchise in the image of one of the best teams in recent NBA history. Will it work?

In many ways, the NBA is a copycat league. You could probably use that critique to describe a bevy of other sports leagues, but it’s the truth. When team executives look at the success of their contemporaries, they often want their own version of what made that club great, be it a certain player, coach or scheme.

For the Atlanta Hawks, the current object of their envy is the Golden State Warriors. Atlanta’s apparent desire to turn this franchise into a doppelganger of the team that has won three of the last four NBA championships led them to hire former Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk to make basketball decisions. That was just the beginning.

If Schlenk’s appointment didn’t make the team’s intentions clear, the new GM’s decision to use two first round picks in the 2018 NBA Draft to bring in Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, who have drawn many comparisons to Golden State guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, definitely did.

After getting Young and Huerter, the “Hawks are trying to be the next Warriors” takes began to fly in. Hawks guard Kent Bazemore certainly sees the resemblance (h/t to CBS Sports‘ Justin Herbert):

"“And there are a lot of comparisons. Kevin is feeling his way around. Trae is a dynamic scorer. Omari Spellman may be the biggest steal of this class when we look down the road three to five years, and then you look at a Draymond Green — we came out together, he’s definitely the biggest steal in my class if you look at it. You can go down the list; you see a ton of different looks and a ton of different comparisons. Travis knows the model of what it took to get to where they are and I’m sure he’s following it step by step.”"

If you squint really hard, you can see how this Hawks team sort of looks like a version of the Warriors. Not a good version of them, but a version nonetheless. Schlenk and the rest of the Hawks brain trust believe that building the team in this fashion will lead to sustained success and championships. But will creating a virtual clone of the Warriors work out the way they hope?

For one thing, making your team “Warriors-lite” operates under the premise that the Dubs front office had some sort of pinpoint foresight when they constructed their team. Sure, Warriors owner Joe Lacob may want everyone to think that the executives knew what they were doing, but luck has played as much of a role in the team’s success as anything else.

Take Curry for instance. In order for the Warriors to draft Curry in 2009, they needed six other teams to pass on him. Fortunately for them, the combination of more highly regarded prospects at the top (Blake Griffin, James Harden) and Curry not wanting to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves led to the prodigious shooter falling into their laps.

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You could use the same logic to describe the drafting and development of Thompson, who became a defensive stalwart under Mark Jackson before Jackson wore out his welcome in Oakland. Or Draymond Green (a draft decision that Schlenk played a big role in), who only became the starter because of a David Lee injury in 2014. Or the hiring of Steve Kerr as head coach, who likely would’ve taken the New York Knicks job if it weren’t for the frugality of owner James Dolan.

How about the team having the cap space to sign Kevin Durant, which only happened because of an aberrational salary cap jump during the summer of 2016?

Yes, the Warriors have done a great job of developing their homegrown talent. And yes, you could make the same “luck” argument about a bunch of other teams, past and present. But the Hawks aren’t trying to be like those other teams. They want to be like the Warriors and for that to happen, they will need some good fortune to go with some sound planning.

Primarily, the Hawks need Young and Huerter to develop into something resembling two of the greatest shooters in the history of the sport (with one of them being one of the league’s best defensive players). Imagine being drafted by a team that expects you to have nights like this on a semi-regular basis:

Asking Young and Huerter to become Curry and Thompson is a fairly steep ask. Even if they reach that plateau, the Hawks still need another star or two to come close to the long-term goals that they have set for themselves. They basically need the perfect storm of talent, scheme, trust and continuity to pull this off. How often does that happen?

Honestly, we won’t know whether the Hawks made the right move by the time the season ends. We certainly won’t have any definitive answers after Wednesday night’s opener against the Knicks. It will take several years to figure out whether passing on the more heralded prospect in Luka Doncic for Young was the right choice. We will need time to see if Huerter can develop the defensive tenacity to become a great two-way player. This won’t happen overnight.

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For Schlenk and the Hawks’ master plan to come of fruition, they need to have the right mix of good scouting, patience and luck. After all, that’s how the Warriors became the team they are today.