Welcome to Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other you’ll read before the 2016-17 season tips off. The premise is simple. We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
The Atlanta Hawks head into the 2016-17 season as both a known quantity and a question mark. With the loss of former “pretty dang good but not transcendent” cornerstones Jeff Teague and Al Horford, the Hawks have rolled the proverbial dice by signing hometown anti-hero Dwight Howard to perhaps shake things up to avoid a winning season that ultimately ends in a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Hawks roll through their first six games, winning the games they are supposed to win and putting an embarrassing scare into the Cavaliers before being bailed out by an almost casual three-point buzzer beater courtesy of the newly inked J.R. Smith.
This first stretch of games is proof that like his mentor Gregg Popovich, Mike Budenholzer can adapt, even with the loss of trusted personnel like Horford. The inclusion of Howard has destroyed the elegant spacing of the Hawks, and his crafty screens are missed by the German rascal, Dennis Schroeder, who struggles early on to find a rhythm with Howard. However the offense still hums and the defense is good enough, and steadily improves throughout November until it hovers just outside the Top 10.
Kent Bazemore has made a huge leap offensively, posting the best shooting percentages of his career. The Hawks, long considered something of a finesse team, start to grind out ugly wins, in large part due to the unexpectedly good chemistry between a Dwight Howard desperate for redemption and Paul Millsap, who is having another All-Star trending season. In December, in a bizarre turn of events, newly added reserve guard Jarrett Jack averages 25 points for a six-game stretch, which is eventually dubbed Jack–Sanity. However, he soon reverts back to being the usual Jarrett Jack, but Atlanta keeps winning.