Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Photo Edit by: Payton Wales

The Atlanta Hawks spent 2011-12 in self preservation and survival mode. When the summer began with the trade of Joe Johnson, shortly after new Hawks GM Danny Ferry was hired, the Hawks direction became clear: This is Josh Smith and Al Horford's team now.

Atlanta Hawks Roster - 2012-13

Team Roster
11James AndersonG236-6215Oklahoma State$854,389
13Keith BensonF246-11230
0Devin HarrisG296-3192Wisconsin$8,500,000
15Al HorfordC266-10250Florida$13,000,000
8Damion JamesF246-7225Texas$854,389
12John JenkinsG216-4215Vanderbilt$1,204,560
6Carldell JohnsonG295-10180UAB
44Ivan JohnsonF286-8230San Bernardino$962,195
26Kyle KorverF316-7212Creighton$5,000,000
0Anthony MorrowG276-5210Georgia Tech$4,000,000
0Ismail MuhammadNA296-6228Georgia Tech
0Zaza PachuliaC286-11275$5,248,750
0Johan PetroNA267-0247$3,500,000
32Mike ScottF246-8237Virginia$473,604
5Josh SmithF266-9225$13,200,000
0DeShawn StevensonG316-5218$2,240,450
0Jeff TeagueG246-2181Wake Forest$2,433,077
4Anthony TolliverF276-8240Creighton$854,389
0Louis WilliamsG256-1175$5,000,000

Coach: Larry Drew

Additions: Louis Williams (FA from Philadelphia), Anthony Tolliver (FA from Minnesota), Anthony Morrow (trade from Nets),  DeShawn Stevenson (trade from Nets), John Jenkins (Draft), and Devin Harris (trade from Jazz). James Anderson (FA from San Antonio).

Subtractions:  Joe Johnson (traded to Nets), Willie Green (traded to Clippers), Marvin  Williams (traded to Jazz), and Tracy McGrady (not resigned).

The  clear problem with the Hawks now is what happens next? And that's really a question that cannot be answered until next summer. In the meantime, a season must be played.

Now,  obviously, this team still has talent with Smith, Horford and the likes of Jeff Teague, Zaza Pachulia and Anthony Tolliver (a rather underrated pickup IMO), Louis Williams, Kyle Korver, Devin Harris, Ivan Johnson and even rookie John Jenkins (although I'm not as sold on him as others are).

A starting lineup very well could be something like: Zaza Pachulia at C, Al Horford at PF, Josh Smith at SF, Louis Williams at SG and Jeff Teague at PG. One could easily argue that is certainly a playoff team in the East with no clearcut bottom half of the playoff bracket.

Al Horford

Horford had an injury plagued season a year ago with a pectoral issue that now seems recovered. If that's the case, the Hawks have at least one likely All-Star in Horford who has done nothing short of be exactly what he is all his career: Successful, steady, and reliable. There is no reason to expect that wouldn't be the case again for Horford barring injury.

Josh Smith
Smith is poised to have a strong season, as he did last season resulting in what many thought should have culminated in an All-Star bid, and hopefully make the coveted East All-Star team. Whether Smith or not makes it could depend on the season the Hawks themselves are having. Either way, along with winning a championship, that is about the only thing Josh Smith has not yet done in his NBA career.

The only real question is whether or not Josh Smith can focus on his career with the Hawks, and get past any trade rumors and/or Free Agency talk that will certainly be around both Smith and this Hawks team all year long. For a transition year, and it seems sometimes for franchises like the Hawks they are all transition years, this Hawks team could make something interesting out of the season. Much of that hinges on Smith to adapt and enlarge his role from years past. Can he do it? 82 games of the upcoming season will likely tell us that answer.

Zaza Pachulia
Pachulia has spent most of his career in Atlanta, and most of that time Pachulia has been a very servicable big man. Between playing defense, rebounding, and mostly doing much of the dirty work and glue guy stuff, Pachulia has found a role for himself on the Hawks front line for much of the past half decade. It stands to reason that with Smith and Horford taking a more prominent role, Pachulia might as well have to contribute more too. That said, given Pachulia's limitations I wouldn't expect much. Getting the career norm from Pachulia should be what the Hawks head coach Larry Drew is expecting at this juncture. There are no surprises with Pachulia, and given Pachulia's stature that's the way it should be.

Jeff Teague
This is a big year both from a role and franchise standpoint for Jeff Teague, and it's also a big year from a financial standpoint as Teague cculd enter the summer Free Agent bonanza of 2013 as one of the biggest winners if a big season occurs before said FA bonanza. (Just a touch of sarcasm there.) That said, despite the lack of glorious names on the Free Agent market next summer, Teague due to his age, production over the last season and half (along with the upcoming season), could stand to make a much bigger payday than what some fans right now might be expecting. Like most things with this Atlanta team, just how much can be expected of Teague?

The answer to the previous question is that Teague will certainly have to shoulder a heavier load as befitting last season's ascension and significant improvement for Teague on both the offensive and defensive end. Can Teague continue to grow and develop under the tutelage of Larry Drew? That is one of the most important questions for both the short term success of the 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks as much as it is for the long term success of the franchise as well.

Louis Williams
In a season where Louis Williams where led the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring despite not starting a single game, Williams is likely to come off the bench again this season for the Hawks. Part of that is that Williams' scoring will be needed for a bench unit that will have more hustle than scoring punch, and part of that is that Williams and Teague do not seem like a natural fit together despite whatever is said by all parties on the situation. While Williams has some security in receiving a new 3 year deal this past off-season unlike Teague who will be looking for longer term security this upcoming summer (or earlier if the Hawks and Teague can agree to an extension), Wiliams is also like Teague in that a successful season for the Hawks could result in Atlanta making the Eastern playoffs for the sixth season in a row.

The Bench

The bench  is made up of some solid and potentially dangerous veterans. Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver have all started games at various stops they've all made in the NBA, and this year is no exception. Unlike the Hawks in some years previously, there is some depth that could absorb an injury in the backcourt especially.

On the frontline, Anthony Tolliver and Ivan Johnson are minor names that only NBA coaches and hardcore junkies really know, but are very solid and underrated players. Given any NBA teams need for depth on the front line, this could be a major issue moving forward. Having said that, just having those 5 players off the bench (or Morrow and/or Korver starting and Williams coming off the bench) could be a major boon for the Hawks if need be. If not, little is lost as all of them (minus Williams) could be coming off the Hawks cap come next July.

Looking at the Hawks schedule, it seems like a quick start is not only possible but likely. With Houston, Portland, Golden State, Sacramento and Charlotte in the first month alone, the Hawks seem poised to do well during this time frame. The problems may come after that, and may determine the playoff fortunes for these Atlanta Hawks. While questions will abound this team with so many future FA's on the roster, and with a lot of cap space to spend next summer, the Hawks will spend all season talking about focusing on the game at hand. In the longer picture, it's guaranteed few in the long run will even care. In the interim though, the players and coaching staff (along with management) will focus on making the playoffs because that's what professionals do.

If that seems like a strange way to write a preview, well I'm sorry. Next time I'll have to pick a team that their future isn't in current limbo and has as much to do with what is transpiring on the court as it is off the court in boardrooms and conference calls.

Having said all that, if I were a Hawks fan, I would be disappointed (especially since it's not believed there is a true franchise changing player in the upcoming 2013 draft) if this Atlanta Hawks team with the talent both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench doesn't make the playoffs. My prediction for this 2012-13 Hawks squad: The playoffs as a 6 or 7 seed.

In case you disagree with me, feel free to tell me why in the comments, on email evilcowtowninc(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter (at)Kingsguru21.


Jacob Noble said...

This might have been the best preview so far! Good shit Nate!

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