Atlanta Preseason Report
- By Ed Latham, Day 1, 2023
Atlanta Devils pre-season outlook:
With four picks in this years draft and two free agent signings, fans will see a number of new faces especially in rotations at every position. Let’s take a look at each position to see what we might expect.
PG: Thomas continues to provide veteran leadership but he has had injuries in each of the last two years. Those injuries happened during hot streaks and the team has floundered a good deal when he was out. The drafting of Deron Jamson aimed at offering support a the point. Deron’s critics point to how he is slightly undersized, but all can agree that he was a defensive spark plug in college. Last year’s draft had Atlanta picking Vince Stalings who is even shorter than Jamson and fans are anxious to see what Vince has to offer. With only 7 minutes averaged per game last year, we really are not sure what Atlanta got when they picked up Stalings. It is expected that Stalings and Jamson will be duking it out in training camp to become the back up to Thomas.
SG: Javion Edwards has had two seasons with Atlanta and started at SG for almost 75% of the games last year. He did not consistently excel as a starter in his second year which caused the Devis to draft Domique Harmon who is projected to play at both SG and SF this year to find his professional position. Harmon is an instinctive scorer but he may struggle with defending against some of the stronger offensive SGs in the league. Atlanta can also play Cortez Ellison at SG, but it is unclear if they will be keeping Cortez at SF or having him work at SG this year. To add in even more flexibility, the Devils have Peter Williams (2nd round pick two years ago) available to offer competition at the SG rotation behind whomever ends up starting.
SF: Much like the SG position, Atlanta is poised to have many possible players make an impact at SF. They drafted Cortez Ellison last year and he had a nice rookie season. Coaches expect him to be even better this year, but there seems to be some discussion about whether he plays at SG or SF. With Atlanta picking up Ellison’s college team mate, Dominique Harmon and with second round pick, Ellis Neely being drafted this year, it appears the coaching staff is approaching both wing positions in a similar way. Throw a number of players into both positions in training camp and see who wants the playing time more. With six players that can play SG or SF on the roster, there will be lots of competition for sure!
PF: Slattery remains the core of the team this year. With Ellington gone through Free Agency, questions remain about the back up situation when Taquan (Slattery) leaves the court. The Devils did draft Andrew Fishback at the position but it would be surprising if that pick up really turns out to be an adequate fix at back up. A better option would be newly acquired Free Agent Dashon Scott who is projected to get some time at PF. The best option, and the one fans expect to be the main rotational player at PF is to have James Spencer slide over to PF at points during the game to give the team’s all star a breather.
C: As just mentioned, James Spencer was re-signed during Free Agency. He is a vital part of Atlanta’s front court and the team is expecting a break out year for the young man. He sure is getting paid like a break out player and looking at the team needs, he will have many opportunities to prove he is worth it. Coaches have been very pleased with the development of Connor Maitland (late 1st round pick last year) and he is expected to compete with Ivan Vujosevic (1st round pick 2 years ago) for back up time behind Spencer. Vujo really has not received significant minutes with the team, but with this year's need in the front court, we could even see Vujo in the PF position for a few games. His defensive and altheliticism may be a great complement to Slatterly at PF or to Spencer at C.
With all of the starters returning, it is evident that Atlanta spent much of this off season working to boost the depth of their bench. Some players are made to start and some excel off the bench. Will Edwards (SG) and Ellison (SF) be able to hold onto their starting roles or does one of the new kids step in and Edwards or Ellison become a 6th man type player that gets just as many minutes from the bench? Does Atlanta have enough talent in the bench to replace Ellington at the PF position? With Thomas as the only veteran PG, will the back ups at PG develop fast enough to step in and make positive contributions when Thomas is not on the court?
The players are not the only area of turnover this off season. The team has two new assistant coaches this year. Scott Simpson from the Knights brings a disciplinarian approach to help the large number of young players on the team get into a routine and stick to it. Jeff Tate has come over from the Lightning to also add an element of discipline to the team. Both coaches will help the team get better at Man to Man defense, which was an area the team struggled with a bunch last year. Some times the team just has to line up one on one with people and the Devils really struggled in those defensive sets last year.
Atlanta improved last year in winning almost 60% of their games which was 14% better than the year before. With all the starters returning, and many teams in the conference experiencing transitions, hopes are high that the stability of the team, the wealth of new young talent on the bench as well as the new discipline-centered assistant coaches will all help this team be a bit more successful this year. I project the team to have just a 4% increase in wins this year and the team will likely be fighting for a home playoff series at the end of the season. The team still has to learn how to play defense and they need to build their winning on the road.
Training camp is right around the corner and everyone is excited to see how the competition at both wing spots as well as the back up rotational players at C and PF shake out. If all this young tallent finds their groove early, Atlanta could have a very deep team with much flexibility to adjust to each team it plays this year.