Skip to content

NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Oct 4, 2012, 3:58 PM EDT

Josh Smith

Last season: Just another Hawks season.

That’s the best way to put it after a year where despite losing Al Horford for the vast majority of the season, Atlanta managed to land a top four seed in the East. They had this bizarro season underneath the headline of “Boring.”

They would look awesome one night, as Josh Smith played at an elite level, and the team really gelled for long stretches. But then they would hit national TV and things would happen like the Heat not playing the Big 3 and still beating the Hawks, at home. It was like they were intentionally trying to look horrible at home.

Everyone was tired of the Hawks by season’s end. The inconsistent play, the isolation offense, the general blaise. The fans, the media, no one cared about them. They were supposed to lose in the first round, and they did.

But snuck under the talk of Ray Allen‘s injury and Paul Pierce battling an MCL sprain along with a one-game suspension for Rajon Rondo was this: the Hawks played Boston tight. They were in that series, but the emotional lift from losing Rajon Rondo put a fire under the Celtics, and when they come out like that, they’re extremely difficult to beat. Meanhwhile, the Hawks’ bigest advantage against the Celtics was their size… and yet Horford took a few games to get back and then wasn’t 100 percent, and Zaza Pachulia, who always causes the Celtics issues, wasn’t around at all.

It was the kind of misfortune that creates a facade of failure. The Hawks were better than most people thought they were, but never good enough to matter, still.

Something had to change.

Key Departures: Joe Johnson has been an All-Star six times. Straight. Most people don’t really catch that, but it’s true. And Danny Ferry happily traded him for almost nothing after he took over the team as GM.

Johnson is an elite defender and at times can be a great scorer, but he’s also heavy on the isolation and not as efficient as he once was. Most importantly, the Hawks threw a max contract at him to keep him in 2010 that the Nets will be paying for at roughly the cost of the GDP of a small nation.

Ferry moved Marvin Williams to clear even more space, getting one of the most disappointing draft picks in team history and getting the memory out of people’s minds.

Jerry Stackhouse was let go, and Willie Green released in a sign-and-trade. Jason Collins was a very useful center the past two years but he also was not retained in free agency. Vlad Radmanovic, AKA VladRad, AKA Space Cadet, went to the Bulls.

Key Additions: In return for Johnson, Ferry took Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, and some filler, most of which has been waived or won’t see much time this season. The idea was clear. Create space from a team with none by any means necessary. Adding Morrow does give them a crack shooter, however.

He traded for Kyle Korver to add yet another shooter to a team that had very little last year and now has a ton.

For Williams, Ferry landed Devin Harris, giving him a capable backup point guard behind Teague, or a replacement if Teague doesn’t make the required leap.

The team signed Anthony Tolliver as a free agent to give them another stretch four and brought in Lou Williams to replace Willie Green.

They drafted John Jenkins who showed a lot of promise in Summer League.

Three keys to the Hawks season:
1) All-The-Time Teague: I’ve started referencing the phrase “Playoff Teague” the past two years because Jeff Teague is an entirely different player when the playoffs begin than during the regular season. He makes bigger shots, plays faster and harder, and blows you away with his athleticism and big-play ability. So why doesn’t he do that throughout the year? Why did he so often lose his job to Kirk Hinrich when Hinrich was healthy?

Teague has to become a consistent star this season, not something that’s easy for point guards in a point-guard dominant league. He has better shooters to drive and kick to, and will have a lot more freedom in the offense now that ISOJoe is working in Brooklyn. But Teague stil has to take every game as crucial and really lead this team. They can’t afford to just care about the big games, because they’re not going to win a lot of them with this crew.

Teague has to convince himself every game is on the big stage.

2) Is Josh Smith ready to be the guy? Josh Smith is in a contract year. He’s been passed over for All-Star spots despite being more than deserving, has been ridiculed for his penchant to take long-twos, and largely overlooked. He’s also played out of his mind the past two seasons.

Without Johnson, this is Josh Smith’s team. Al Horford will play a big role. Jeff Teague will direct the offense. But this is Josh Smith’s team now. He has to be more efficient, take a bigger load, and be willing to act as more of the finisher than set-up guy.

And, as always, stop with the long twos. For the love. The man is dominant in the post. This mid-range tyranny must end.

3) Will Drew open up the offense? He has a lightning-fast point guard who can drive and dish. He’s got a set of dominant post players in Horford and Smith. He’s got shooters galore with Morrow, Korver, and others.

But Larry Drew has stuck to the grind-it-out offense that kept his team mired in the mud. The team has athleticism and skill, and needs ball movement. There are no Kobe Bryants on this team, no LeBron James. But they have speciality players who can play well in their roles. This team may only go as far as Drew lets them. There has to be some imagination and push in the way the offense is set.

What Hawks fans should fear: Smith’s not elite. And without that, this team could fall prey to the “good enough to not be terrible, not good enough to do anything of note.” But then again, that’s where they’ve been for three years, so really what’s the difference?

The Hawks are moving towards an all-out rebuild eventually. This is the year in-between. But if the opportunity to snag a lottery pick comes available, bet that the Hawks will jump on it. Ferry knows he needs a new, legit star. He won’t hesitate to go get it via the draft.

How it likely works out: The Hawks could honestly wind up making the playoffs. They have good skill players, some athleticism, a good to great defensive coach and shooters. But they lack in total star power, we don’t know what Horford will look like after injury, whether Josh Smith will buy in, if Teague will make the leap, if Drew will open the offense up.

The Hawks won’t be terrible, but they may not be good either. This is one where we have to see what happens when you put all the ingredients in the oven.

And again, don’t discount the possibility of a midseason tank job. Ferry knows the long-term game here.

Prediction: 43-39, they’ll be right there for the eighth seed. Atlanta has a good set of players but not enough to be in the elite category. A long losing streak could be followed by a long winning streak, and much will depend on the health of their shooters. But Drew coaches defense so well, and Teague-Smith-Horford is enough to carry them to at least .500.

  1. tcclark - Oct 4, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    There’s a lot of wins being thrown around in these Eastern predictions. just two years a go the Hawks were 44-38 and 5th in a much weaker East. Now they’re only one game worse without Joe Johnson? I think the Hawks will make the playoffs, but i think 43-39 is a little generous. There aren’t many easy wins in the East this year. Orlando and Charlotte, and that’s about it. Then when you look at the top of the conference with Miami, Boston, Indiana, Philadelphia, and the New Yorks, there are a lot of losable games in the East this year. Not to mention the games they play against the western conference. i expect them to make the playoffs, but 2 years ago the Pacers made the playoffs winning only 37 games. That might be a little more realistic. The wins have to come from somewhere and they’re gong to be a lot harder to come by this season.

    Also, Jason Collins PER last year was 3.76. That’s hardly “very useful.”

    • passerby23 - Oct 4, 2012 at 8:33 PM

      Good points. With all the improvement of the East and Atlanta getting weaker, it’s hard to imagine just dropping one more win from their total. With Joe Johnson gone and the new personnel in and Teague running the show, I would expect that they will open up their offense more. I predict somewhere around 40-42 or 41-41 and they grab the 8th seed (followed by getting swept by the Heat).

  2. mungman69 - Oct 4, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    It looks like another year of good but not great. I never liked their offense and even with these “shooters” I think that the Hawks won’t break .500. There’s just nothing to see here.

  3. thatstinks - Oct 5, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    The Hawks are filthy ! We are winners if only because we won’t have to watch another season of Iso-Joe . Go Hawks !!

  4. dysraw1 - Oct 5, 2012 at 7:35 PM

    these guys are gonna have more than their share of problems this season, if Ferry has clean house hat on J-smooth could be gone before the trade deadline. clearing cap space in a rebuilding effort.an that’s all she wrote.

  5. KOBEshigawa - Oct 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    Damn—Atlanta definitely got worse in the offseason, but I don’t think there’s one team more optimistic about their future. Joe Johnson is gone, but the team now might be able to build a future with cap flexibility and more importantly, guys with upside. Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson were all they were ever going to be, while Lou Williams, Josh Smith and Al Horford can still grow. They just don’t have enough depth to make a run past the first round this year, but they’re for sure a playoff team.
    http://thegreatmambino.blogspot.com/2012/09/gm-danny-ferrys-makeover-of-mediocrity.html

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

Will LeBron get booed Christmas Day in Miami?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. K. Love (3779)
  2. D. Rose (3214)
  3. T. Young (2539)
  4. K. Bryant (2479)
  5. L. James (2459)
  1. K. Irving (2335)
  2. A. Davis (1930)
  3. G. Hayward (1848)
  4. R. Allen (1782)
  5. E. Bledsoe (1724)