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).
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.
May 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
He would help the defense, but I’m not sure about the fit.
May 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
May 28, 2015, 2:55 AM EDT
This is where the week off until the Finals tip off benefits the Warriors.
May 28, 2015, 1:49 AM EDT
Houston won 56 games, secured No. 2 seed in powerful Western Conference and won more playoff series than its previous 17 years combined
May 28, 2015, 12:39 AM EDT
The Warriors don’t care how it looked, they will take it.
Dwight Howard elbows Andre Iguodala but avoids flagrant foul and suspension – for now, at least (video)
May 27, 2015, 11:50 PM EDT
Rockets center elbowed Andre Iguodala high
May 27, 2015, 11:36 PM EDT
That sounds bad. Is that bad?
May 27, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT
“Hey!” -Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, probably
May 27, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT
Will it stand?
May 27, 2015, 9:51 PM EDT
Who will it be (if anyone)?
May 27, 2015, 8:59 PM EDT
First Kobe, now Melo – Dudley goes scorched earth
May 27, 2015, 8:12 PM EDT
The Cavaliers are allowing 98.5 points per 100 possession in the playoffs, the best of the four teams to reach the conference Finals
May 27, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT
Will he become Anthony Davis’ next head coach?
Stephen Curry feels like there’s a bruise ‘all the way up and down’ his body, will likely wear arm sleeve in Game 5
May 27, 2015, 6:28 PM EDT
Warriors guard says he shot well with sleeve in shootaround
May 27, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT
If they want him gone, they just have to pull the trigger on the firing. Otherwise, bring him back.
May 27, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
The Hawks had an exciting season, they filled an arena that in past years felt like a mausoleum, they played beautiful basketball for months at a time.
May 27, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
May 27, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT
Free agents will still come to the Lakers, but their pool may be smaller than some other teams because of Kobe.
May 27, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
There were plenty of rumors to the contrary.
May 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
Suns don’t need any more young players.
- Dwight Howard: “I’m still a champion. And I won’t let anyone tell me anything different.” 7
- Rockets had an excellent season. Are they content with that? 7
- Harden struggles, Warriors role players step up leading team to Finals for first time in 40 years 19
- Dwight Howard hit with suspension-triggering technical foul 6
- PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ improved defense helps them to Finals 8
- Reports: Bulls getting closer to firing Tom Thibodeau 23
- PBT Extra: Despite ending, Hawks had season worth celebrating 3
- Bucks’ Jared Dudley: “Most guys don’t want to play with Kobe” 64