The Hawks open training camp on Monday, their fourth under coach Mike Budenholzer. There are changes this season with a new starting point guard and a new center. Also, with 15 roster spots available, the Hawks have 16 players under guaranteed or substantially guaranteed contracts. The training camp roster also includes two invitees with NBA experience.
Budenholzer sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in advance of training camp. Here are excerpts of the interview:
Q. In the past, the biggest question going into training camp was who will make the team. This year, with 16 contracts, the biggest question is who will not make the team. What are your thoughts about this training camp and how it might play out?
A. It feels like, watching the team and watching the players through September and all the individual workouts, and other things we do, it just feels like it’s set up for a really competitive camp, from top to bottom, everywhere you look. I think there is enough continuity and enough change where the guys who are coming in new, they are hungry. They want to establish themselves, the young guys, including the rookies. Their competitiveness is showing through. Whether it’s who is on the team, who is playing, it just feels like there is more opportunity for true genuine competition. I think that is good.
Q. Is that a key on successful teams that you have been a part of in the past? That kind of competition, including the players you brought in on training camp deals with NBA experience?
A. To the last part, I do think between a Ryan Kelly and a Will Bynum, guys who have been in the league and are established, it may be a little out of the norm of who we’ve had or other teams may have in camp. I think they are going to push it. As far as it being a key to being successful, I don’t know, because some teams are very set and everybody knows their place and their role. I think some of those teams are wildly successful. Even on those teams, guys push themselves naturally or guys behind them are pushing them and there is more competition for the role spots. I don’t know that it’s a must because I’ve seen it, even us, it feels like there have been established roles in years one to two to three. It usually is a great thing and makes for a great camp. If you have the right kind of guys who are pushing each other, and at the same time supporting each other, it’s pretty cool.
Q. As camp is about to begin, can you give me injury updates on Tiago Splitter?
A. With Tiago, everyone is really happy with his progress. With the hip, if you are just talking specifically about the hip, everybody feels like it couldn’t be going much better. Now, it’s getting all the muscles and everything that goes into being ready to play up to speed. We are expecting him to participate in camp, maybe not at 100 percent participation, but significant. I think more of the scrimmaging and real basketball stuff, to see how he is doing and be conscientious that whenever we use him, it’s in real live basketball environment.
Q. How about Jarrett Jack?
A. He is doing well. You always are optimistic that (recovery time) is on the shorter end. I’ve told him, and he knows, we always err on the side of caution. Easing him into camp and easing him into exhibition games. To some degree the next week to 10 days will tell us more. He is going to be, I would say, not a full participant starting in Athens, but he will do some things.
Q. There are a couple of major changes to your starting lineup this year, with a new point guard and center. First, with Dennis Schroder running the point, what is your biggest expectation? Concern?
A. I think the great thing about Dennis is he has been with us for three years. As far as starting, that’s going to be a new experience and a new role. For me, there is a lot of comfort that he knows what we expect of him as a point guard and how we play on both ends of the court. The biggest expectation for Dennis is that he keeps that competitive fire, that competitive spirit, that makes him a little bit unique. I would say that makes him special as a competitor. Continuing to grow as a leader and a teammate. I think if he focuses on really being a great defender, making all those competitive type plays with loose balls and rebounds. I think he is naturally gifted offensively. He obviously has the speed to attack and get to the rim and the paint. I think he sees the floor well. I think continuing to improve as a shooter is always going to be an important thing. He has to fight through if things aren’t going his way or the team’s way. That’s really the challenge for all of us. He and I have this great pull and tug about how competitive he is and still be focused on the next play or his next assignment. He gets it. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be that guy.
Q. Second, with Dwight Howard at center. You said earlier this summer you might be more comfortable with a traditional center. How do you expect the offense to be different? What about the defense?
A. The physicality and the force that Dwight brings to both ends of the court, I think is going to be a welcomed addition. If you take his skills, and part of that is his physicality and force, and incorporate that into a lot of the things we’ve done since I got here three years ago, I really think that’s an area where we’ve had success, but that’s probably an area (to improve). A lot of people focus on a specific thing, but I think the physicality and the force, you have a player who is going to cover up some of the things, whether it’s rebounding or getting hits or screens and those type of things, it comes naturally to him. It will feel really different for us and our team.