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Optimism Ranks – Part 4

If you missed the full criteria primer, please check it out here. There are many elements you could argue are important to a team’s future, but I believe the seven I have chosen encompass the essentials for believing in a team’s outlook. Some of these certainly matter more than others, so additional weight (3 tiers of importance) has been given to the more important categories. As we reach the finish line of this series, let’s take a look at the brightest of the Eradicated Eight’s futures under a microscope, concluding with the top two teams: Atlanta and Golden State.

2) Atlanta Hawks 

Prospects (9)

Atlanta is stocked to the brim with capable, solid, and amazing young talent, depending on which one you are talking about at the moment. Trae Young was scintillating this season, averaging just a hair under 30 points and 9 assists a game in just his age 21 sophomore season. He started in the All-Star game and surpassed even the highest of expectations on offense. Watching Young drain 30 foot threes and dice up defenses with his vision and passing were nightly occurrences for Hawks fans. The fly in the ointment is his defensive aptitude, or lack thereof, but it’s something you can live with when it comes with that much offensive impact. Trae is going to be a problem for defenses for the next decade to come.

Outside of Trae, the Hawks still have a trio of young wings in Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, and Kevin Huerter, plus standout big man John Collins. They truly do have a collection of young talent spread across the positional spectrum. My favorites of these four are Reddish and Collins. Reddish had a dreadful start to the year but really excelled after the New Year. He basically got better across the board, but he went from bad to more than respectable from downtown (38%) and jumped up from bottom of the league to league average in effective field goal percentage. I also believe he can be a plus defender, which was reflected a bit by his block and steal rates in his rookie year.

Collins also really impressed me this year, albeit in a shortened season due to suspension. He boasted an incredible 66% True Shooting, partially on the legs of improving to 40% from three-point land. He is also a vicious dunker and a great lob threat who can thrive while Trae commands so many eyeballs when he has the rock. Similarly to Young, his area needing development is his defense, but he really balled out during his 41 games this year.

The Hawks almost have an embarrassment of riches in terms of under 24-year olds (all under 23 in fact), but now it will be up to the front office and coaching staff to see if they can take all of that potential and maximize the final products.

Recent Performance (4)

The Hawks are similar to the Bulls in that they have a history of sustained success fairly recently, just not in the last few years. Atlanta just finished their third straight season with a win count in the 20s, but this came after 10 consecutive postseason appearances. They even went to the Eastern Conference Finals as recently as 2015 during their magical 60-win season. 

Star Power (6)

Some may say it is too early, but I think Trae Young is already a star. If you flirt with 30 points per game, start in the All-Star game AND get selected to play in the Hiatus Horse competition, you know you’ve made it. Throw in Vince’s swan song season and you have more than enough star power to fill an arena.

Free Agent (4)

I judged this before the latest Lou Williams development so it might be a touch low. Sporting the best “wings” in the nation is certainly a feather in Atlanta’s cap for any future free agent. They did score big once upon a time with then-premiere free agent Joe Johnson, and the team struck gold on Paul Millsap earlier this decade, but they haven’t really garnered much attention lately for attracting or even getting meetings with any of the biggest stars.

Overall Organizational Competence (6)

Unlike some of the other non-bubble teams, Atlanta hasn’t really blundered their way into the news recently. They had the Danny Ferry email incident but that was way back in 2014. They have mostly stuck with their head coaches for sustained periods, as you have to go all the way back to 2011 to find the last Atlanta coach who lasted less than five seasons (Larry Drew). Travis Schlenk and company have had a mixed bag of front office moves lately; trading away the rights to Luka Doncic being chief among them.

They also moved a lot of draft capital to land De’Andre Hunter, who doesn’t exactly scream the star you want in a fourth overall pick. Still, drafting John Collins, Trae Young (setting the Luka swap aside), and Reddish were all big hits in my opinion. They also have made some shrewd trades, like getting Jeff Teague for nothing, and getting two first round picks just for taking on Allen Crabbe. I also think they landed Clint Capela at a very reasonable price.

Roster Flexibility (10)

This is another area where the Hawks really shine. The Hawks have an abundance of cap space this summer fall, as they only have two players scheduled to make over 8M a season next year on their entire roster. A byproduct of having a lot of rookie scale deals, they are flush with ammunition in the form of cap space. They will have more than any other team this offseason. They even have the option to roll over nearly all of the cap space one more year to 2021-22, provided they don’t sign any multi-year deals or give John Collins a large extension in the meantime. The Hawks have put themselves in the coveted position of having a good amount of talent in tow already and still a plethora of cap space to make another splash to the roster.

Draft Assets (6)

The Hawks have all of their own first round picks going forward, and a future protected first from the Thunder. Their pick this year is slotted 4th in the lottery, which could give them yet another young talented prospect, should they choose to keep the pick.

Overall Indexed Score – 64.4

Coming into this exercise, I was fairly certain it would be a two-team race between this team and the Warriors. While they were edged out for first, the Hawks beat out the other six teams by a landslide, as the 3rd place Bulls finished closer to the last place Hornets than they did to Atlanta. The Hawks really are oozing with optimism everywhere I look. They have a 21-year old breakout star in Trae, a very talented young core of recent draftees around him, and a solid young center that they haven’t even tried out yet in Capela.

They have a gigantic amount of cap space – the most in the league – which they can choose to use how they wish in any one of the next two years. They don’t have the richest free agent history, but money talks, and Atlanta is often a city brought up as one of the better NBA locations. They also have a lot of draft capital to massage trade talks with if they decide to go that route. The future is bright in Atlanta.

1) Golden State Warriors

Prospects (2)

The Warriors spent this injury-riddled season in the cellar, which gave them the opportunity to give some of their young players some extra playing time, as well as cycle through a bunch of 10-day contracts. It’s unclear to me if these guys can actually make an impact on a winning team in the near future, or if they just merely cashed in on heavy opportunities. Eric Paschall is probably the brightest of the bunch, as he put up 14 points a night and excelled as an isolation scorer. I’m not as high on him as a lot of analysts seem to be, but on an extremely team-friendly deal, Paschall was definitely a hit in the 2nd round.

Jordan Poole was their 2019 1st round pick, and he struggled across the board, especially from three (28%) which was billed as a strength for him coming into the draft. I don’t think we can write him off after just a year, but initial results were uninspiring. The Marquese Chriss reclamation project was a success in my opinion, as I believe he finally found his footing in the league on his fourth team in just his age 22 season. He probably isn’t a surefire starter for the Warriors long-term, or even next season, but I think he can feel good about establishing himself as a rotation piece as an interior big who can go get a lob and create a little havoc in defense when the effort is there. The Warriors also got some flashes from Ky Bowman, but I’m not certain he will find himself many minutes with the NBA club next year.

Recent Performance (10)

I am guessing we are all pretty familiar with the Warriors historic dominance as of late. If you are new to the NBA, the Warriors have been pretty good lately. They went to five straight Finals, winning three of them, and they averaged over 64 wins a year in the regular season. If that doesn’t get you a perfect ten, I’m not sure what would.

Star Power (9)

The main reason the Warriors have been so dominant can be attributed to their core stars. Steph Curry has made six straight All-NBA teams, and is the greatest shooter in NBA history. Klay Thompson is the other half of the splash brothers, and has been a potent two-way weapon at SG for this entire run as well. Draymond Green has a few All-NBA honors, as well as five straight trips to the NBA’s All-Defensive team. They would have been a 10 if not for Klay’s ACL tear, and Curry’s shaky health history. Further, Draymond Green either mailed in the season (likely) or has begun to slip a bit with age. 

Free Agent (10)

The Warriors have used free agency to really push their teams over the top this past decade. First, they were able to ink Andre Iguodala, the invaluable swiss-army knife versatile wing defender, in 2013 which helped escalate their winning timeline for their first few title runs. Just three years later, they landed the former MVP Kevin Durant, which caused a seismic shift in the league, giving them an unassailable squad that coasted to three more Finals. It is nearly impossible for them to land any free agents in the upcoming years (without unloading multiple huge contracts) but they certainly have proven the ability to snag the best of the best on the open market.

Overall Organizational Competence (10)

Light. Years. Ahead. What more do you need to know? Jokes aside, the Warriors have set themselves up for greatness throughout all the avenues of team building. They nailed the draft with Curry, Klay, and Draymond (even Barnes). They struck gold in free agency with KD, Iguodala, and even Boogie (though he didn’t pan out). They even have a well-known declined trade offer on their resume in Klay for Kevin Love. At the time turning that deal down was highly debatable, but it turned out to be clearly correct.

They also sent some shockwaves when they ousted Mark Jackson, despite improving their record three straight seasons under his lead, and only falling in a grueling game seven loss to the Clippers. But of course, it’s the Warriors, and this move paid immediate dividends as Steve Kerr helped coach the team to 67 wins and a title the very next year. More recently, the Warriors pulled off an incredible pivot once learning that Durant was on his way to Brooklyn, as they managed to turn that into a sign-and-trade to land D’Angelo Russell, which eventually became a very lucrative future 1st round pick from Minnesota, as well as Andrew Wiggins. The Warriors have been pushing all of the right buttons over the past decade.

Roster Flexibility (2)

The Warriors roster was a tricky evaluation, as it has a unique set of components to it, specifically this offseason. They have a 17M traded player exception, which the Warriors can use to take on a player into the slot that Andre Iguodala held a year ago, depsite the team being way over the salary cap. The exception expires on October 24th, giving the Warriors just under a week after the NBA draft to utilize this exception. Aside from that, they have zero ability to take on players in free agency, besides the taxpayer mid-level exception, which is smaller than the full mid-level that most teams will have. They are likely to have the most expensive roster in NBA history, with four players making over 22M.

While their core three are still great players, it’s hard to even tell if those are valuable contracts on an open market. John Hollinger recently ranked Klay Thompson’s deal as one of the worst in the entire NBA, partially due to the uncertainty his ACL recovery presents. Everyone knows the Wiggins deal can’t be traded without attaching assets to it, and Draymond is on the wrong side of 30 coming off of probably his worst season since his rookie year. Despite the amount of high end talent, it might be pretty difficult for the front office to reshape this roster, but given the success of their core three guys, why would they want to?

Draft Assets (8)

On top of having a stud-filled roster, the Warriors also are sitting in pole position for the August 20th lottery for this year’s draft. If you go to five straight Finals, and then have one bad year, should you really be eligible to ding the #1 overall pick? That’s probably a question for another day, but as it stands today, the Warriors have the best chance of any team (though it’s just 14% thanks to the recent lottery reform). On top of that, they will have the aforementioned Minnesota 2021 1st round pick (top-3 protected) or their unprotected 2022 1st.

Given the tremendous strength of the Western Conference, and the less-than-illustrious winning culture in Minnesota, this might be the top draft asset that any team is owed in the entire league. As a result, Bob Myers will likely have a pair of lottery picks, potentially both in the top 10, and he has to be salivating at even more valuable resources to improve their roster.

Overall Indexed Score: 70.5

As if winning three out of five titles wasn’t enough, the Warriors dropped down and grabbed the inaugural #1 slot in the 2020 Optimism Ranks. Can’t they let some other franchises do some winning? Other than having a stacked roster, the best shooter in the NBA, the best draft assets the next two seasons, a traded-player exception that they can utilize to add another key contributor, a good coach, an ownership team flush with cash, and a new arena, there isn’t much to be excited about in Golden State. It probably wasn’t even fair for them to be compared to the other franchises in this bunch, but that’s the way it broke.

They did have a dismal 15-win season, and I’m sure the new San Francisco ticket holders didn’t exactly have a fun year. They also have age creeping up as a factor, with all of their core stars over 30 now, so it’s by no means a lock that they jump back into title contention. With all of the other ways they  have to improve their roster, and the recent track-record the front office has, I would be confident that the Warriors will figure out a way to return to their winning ways, as early as next season.

Part 3 – Chicago & Detroit 

Part 2 – Minnesota & Cleveland

Part 1 – New York & Charlotte

Sam Johnson

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