If you didn't already know, we invite you to check out our other End of the Hawks Decade articles:
A Decade of Hawks Aughts (and Aught-Nots),
Top Hawks by Statistical Category
THHB's Top 10 (and more) Hawks of the Decade, #10, #9, #8
Our next entry is a player that was undoubtedly the face of the Hawks in the 90's, post Dominique. His presence, statistical acumen, and unique personality carried him through the last days of Lenny Wilkens and into the dawn of the Lon Kruger era.
Our Number Seven Hawk of the Decade is:
When folks think of Dikembe Mutombo, they usually conjure up the image of a blocked shot followed by a wagging finger followed closely by a variation of his signature Cookie-Monster like voice and laugh. What THHB remembers about the 7'2 giant is his tremendous productivity as one of the best ever to play for the Hawks.
Those who read us regularly know of our fondness for the shot-blocker---that's no lie---and Mutombo was terrific at it. Even though he was 33-34 years old during the first two years of the aughts, Deke's block rate was still top 10 in the L. For his career, Mutombo has the eighth best block shot rate, the seventh best blocks per game, the second most blocked shots total. He was a massive deterrent inside; his presence alone made driving opponents think twice while they shot inside against Dikembe.
Man did not fly in the House of Mutombo.
While his shot blocking was all-time level, what made Mutombo statistically special was his outstanding rebounding on both ends.
Mutombo easily distanced all Hawks in the aughts in Defensive (31.9) and Total Rebounding Rate (21.9). In the two seasons in Atlanta that decade, Deke led the NBA in DRR in '99-'00 and won the rebounding triple crown (ORR, DRR, and TRR) in '00-'01. For his efforts, Mutombo won the Defensive Player of the Year Award for 2000-2001.
Included in that terrific '00-'01 campaign was Deke's fourth trip to the AS game as a Hawk. In that game, Mutombo helped the East overcome a (19) point fourth quarter deficit to win the game in Washington DC. In it Mutombo blocked (3) shots and grabbed an astounding (22) rebounds. The performance complimented the scoring of Sixer star Allen Iverson and was played out in front on then-Philly coach Larry Brown.
The Hawks in 2000-2001 were clearly in a rebuilding period with the purging of Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock before the previous season and Mutombo had over (30) million dollars coming to him in his Age 35 and 36 seasons in the two years left on his contract. Those variables plus the impression Dikembe left on Larry Brown made it no surprise when the Hawks dealt Mutombo to the Sixers for Toni Kukoc, Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed, and Pepe Sanchez--just (11) days after that AS game.
Kukoc was tailing off already after years of pro ball dating back to his teen years and battled back problems up to the point where he was dealt in the Glenn Robinson deal two season later. Ratliff blocked shots like Mutombo, but wasn't near the rebounder the Hawks had come to know in Dikembe. Mohammed became a solid piece and tied for #10 on our All-Decade list.
In the end--understanding how it all played out--it would have been nice to be able to keep Mutombo around as a defensive presence and rebounder--even into the early part of Josh Smith's years--but it's unlikely the big man would have signed with the rebuilding Hawks, especially as the team shuffled through the Kruger and Terry Stotts years. Still, his presence here would have held down the since hard to staff position of center and personally given Dikembe significant momentum for his own Hall of Fame chances.
Mutombo's fantastic production and like-ability was sensational for his time with the Hawks, but is ranked seventh here due to the brevity of his time as a Hawk in the Aughts (131 games). Had he continued---he may have been number one.
Here is a reminder of the fun that was watching Mutombo--the greatest free agent signing ever for the Hawks:
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