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ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Atlanta Hawks

Oct 1, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT

Last season: It was the end of an era. Josh Smith‘s final season in Atlanta ended the only way it really could: with plenty of ill-advised shot attempts, tons of highlight-reel plays, and probably most importantly, another early playoff exit. After a first round loss to the Indiana Pacers in six games, it was fair to yet again classify the Hawks as a very good team that just didn’t have enough weapons to hang with the league’s elite in the postseason.

Signature highlight from last season: Jeff Teague summons Spud Webb. Nastiness ensues.

Key player changes:

IN: Paul Millsap (Jazz), Elton Brand (Mavs), Dennis Schroeder (17th pick), DeMarre Carroll (Jazz), Gustavo Ayon (Bucks),  James Johnson (Kings), Jared Cunningham (Mavs), Damien Wilkins (76ers), Pero Antic (Greece).

OUT: Josh Smith (Pistons), Devin Harris (Mavs), Ivan johnson (China), Dahntay Jones (Bulls), Zaza Pachulia (Bucks), Johan Petro (China), Anthony Tolliver (Bobcats), Deshawn Stevenson.

Paul Millsap should be able to replicate Josh Smith’s offensive numbers with shots from smarter locations, but replacing Smith’s rim protection and defensive abilities will be a much tougher task. To help Millsap out on that end, the Hawks brought in quality defenders like Brand and Carroll to help fill the void. Schroeder, meanwhile, should quickly cement himself as one of the best on-ball defenders in basketball. He’s a weapon in the mold of Avery Bradley defensively.

Although Smith was a highly underrated passer, Hawks GM Danny Ferry made sure to bring in big men highly capable of operating from the high post, which should be a great fit if new head coach Mike Budenholzer’s offensive system resembles what the Spurs ran while he was in San Antonio.

Keys to Atlanta’s season:

1. Can San Antonio’s blueprint work in Atlanta?

The Hawks have moved on from a period defined by stagnation to become “Spurs East” with Ferry and Budenholzer at the helm. Financial flexibility has been at the heart of most of the major decisions thus far, but the Hawks have still managed to do a fantastic job molding a team in the Spurs vision on the fly. Jeff Teague’s raw speed and ability to score in the paint with floaters is reminiscent of Tony Parker, and Al Horford‘s bankable production and reliable 18-footer are a little Tim Duncan-esque. You don’t have to strain much to see the similarities.

It’s no wonder why after 17 seasons under Gregg Popovich, this was the team and situation Budenholzer left the nest for. The Hawks have the shooting with Kyle Korver and John Jenkins to spread the floor for their multi-talented big men, which could make this offense dynamic — particularly if sixth man Lou Williams comes back healthy off a torn ACL.

2. Can the Hawks defend well enough to take down the beasts of the East?

The East is littered with great defensive teams like Chicago, Indiana, and Miami. Will the Hawks defend well enough to approach that level of play? Ferry loaded up on intelligent players this offseason, but there will certainly be challenges on the defensive end. Can Millsap help protect the rim? Can the wings (Korver, Jenkins, Williams) close out against shooters after finishing 28th in three-point percentage allowed last year?

The Hawks did finish 10th in defensive efficiency last season, but the system this year will have to be greater than the sum of its parts. Depending on size and athleticism to clean up the messes simply won’t cut it anymore.

3. Can Jeff Teague make the big leap?

With the ball in his hands more than ever before, Jeff Teague enjoyed the best season of his career with averages of nearly 15 points and 7 assists a game. Is an even bigger breakout year on the horizon?

If you believe in the Parker comparison, the answer is yes. Through four years, Teague has put up nearly an identical PER as Parker did (15.6 to 15.5) along with a better true shooting percentage and a better assist percentage. Parker really blew up in his fifth season, however, earning his first All-Star bid while shooting a ridiculous 54.8 percent from the field.

Asking that of Teague is a little much, but the dynamite young point guard could be in line for a big leap this year. For the Hawks to really contend in the East, they’ll need it.

Why you should watch the Hawks: Korver’s jumper belongs in a textbook, Millsap and Horford’s post passing will be a treat, Teague’s crazy athleticism will make for plenty of highlights, and Schroder’s minutes will be must see TV. The Spurs play beautiful basketball, and so should the Hawks. If you get only five League Pass teams this year, make the Hawks one of them and thank me later.

Prediction: 49-33. This is an extremely intelligent basketball team that should be able to recognize and account for shortcomings elsewhere. With solid depth, good specialists, and a core that could be in line for big improvements in a new system that should better accentuate specific skills, I’m bullish on the Hawks improving from their 44 wins last season.

  1. 2016olympics - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    49-33…that’s more than “a little bullish”. Prediction…Hawks miss the playoffs this year, see: (Bulls, Heat, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Wiz, Pistons, Bucks).

    • whereyaat - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:31 PM

      Not sold on the Pistons, who have a horrible guard situation. Will Billups play at all?
      Not sold on the Wiz, who already have injury problems with their big men, and their key backup (Seraphim) is a horrible FT shooter.
      The Bucks will not make the playoffs, due to a total lack of defense and clutch scoring.

  2. ryanrockzzz - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    2016- I think the Hawks have enough talent to make it in. I love Millsap. He’s an offensive upgrade over Smith, who can take his game and put it into that mess they’ll have going on in Detroit. I think Horford will have a breakout year, and Schroeder was a shrewd draft choice, and he played well in the Summer League. I like the depth this team will have once Lou Williams comes back at the PG position, and their bigs should be enough to get em there as a 5-7 seed.
    Not so sure about the Wizards- they have to hope John Wall can duplicate what he FINALLY showed last year. Still not sure if that team is deep enough, or healthy enough to make over the entire season. I think the Hawks will be better than the Pistons ( serious questions about how that spacing will work) and Bucks (Sandars has to prove it over 82 games again, and not sold on Knight).

  3. philaw123 - Oct 20, 2013 at 4:34 AM

    The top 5 teams should be a lock to make the playoffs even if they get hit by injuries. These are the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Nets and Knicks in no particular order. The Hawks should have a chance to sneak in to the 4th or 5th slot if things roll their way and have a good shot at making the playoffs no matter what happens. 6th looks good. If everything turns out well for the Cavs, they have a shot at 4th too, but that’s a big IF and given how the preseason is turning out, they’re more likely to be fighting for a 7th or 8th seed. The Wizards are once again a mediocre team fighting for a playoff seat and given the injury situation in the front court, look to be in the hunt for the Wiggins lottery. Bucks should be fighting for the 8th seed but that’s about the best (or worst) that they can hope for. The Pistons’ backcourt is a mess and their front court ain’t all that cos they don’t have a midrange game but they should be fighting for the 8th seed too. It looks like their offensive strategy is going to be chuck and hit the glass. Toronto is another team that looks like it has a shot at making the playoffs, but only the bottom half at best and most likely as a 7th or 8th seed should they get in. Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando and Charlotte are vying for the most ping pong balls. The way I see it, Cavs and Raptors make the playoffs while Bucks and Pistons fall short (which should be a good thing).

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