Oct 1, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
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.
Dec 18, 2013, 2:49 AM EST
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while salivating over the idea of a “Rounders” sequel. Or wincing at the idea. (Count me with the latter group.) Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers. Two clutch game winners in a row. Tuesday night he had 23 of his 36 points in the second half…
Dec 18, 2013, 1:15 AM EST
To me, that looked like the start of a punch that Jordan Hamilton thought better of before it landed but couldn’t stop. And Hamilton is going to get suspended for that. Less than a minute into the fourth quarter of a game where the Thunder were in control (up 10), the Thunder were heading back…
Dec 17, 2013, 11:10 PM EST
This is the one thing that is certain: Omer Asik will get his wish and be traded in the next 48 hours. Houston still plans to move him by Dec. 19 — after that date and they can’t flip any of the assets they get at the trade deadline. Where he is going to land…
Dec 17, 2013, 9:39 PM EST
Just two nights ago, Damian Lillard hit the game winner in overtime to lift the Blazers over the Pistons. Tuesday night he was playing the hero again. The Blazers and Cavaliers were tied 116-116 with 7.1 seconds left and Portland inbounded the ball and went with the simple 1-4 flat play and let Lillard create. I’m…
Dec 17, 2013, 8:17 PM EST
San Antonio’s ability to be without a player, just plug in another guy and make it work is the stuff of legend. However, it’s a lot harder for them to do this with Tony Parker than anyone else — he is the focal point of the offense. Yet that’s what the Spurs are going to…
Dec 17, 2013, 7:13 PM EST
Because the Knicks don’t have enough other issues to deal with… Mike Woodson said on Tuesday afternoon that he could be without Amar’e Stoudemire for a while — with Kenyon Martin out too Tyson Chandler can’t bet back fast enough (likely Friday). Here’s Woodson’s direct quite, via ESPNNewYork.com. “Amar’e’s going to be out a while,”…
Dec 17, 2013, 6:01 PM EST
You need to go back seven seasons to find one where at least one NBA coach wasn’t canned before Christmas. Right now we are eight days away from Santa’s visit and it looks like he once again may not bring any pink slips in his bag. If that changes, it’s because of the Knicks. While…
Dec 17, 2013, 5:04 PM EST
It’s been known for a while the Cavaliers have been testing the trade market for Dion Waiters. We told you last week that there was buzz the Sixers could look to move Evan Turner — he leads them in scoring and as a free agent this summer could draw a bigger contract than they want…
Dec 17, 2013, 4:17 PM EST
Golden State is just one more loss away from being a .500 team — for all the sexy play of their sharpshooters they are not playing good defense anymore not winning games (6-9 in last 15, with the 17th ranked defense in the league). Who they miss is Andre Iguodala — and they could get…
Dec 17, 2013, 3:47 PM EST
UPDATE 3:47 pm: It didn’t take long for multiple quality sources to shoot this idea down. Spoke w/source moments ago who said the latest Rajon Rondo rumor that he will be traded to the Sacramento #Kings, is "not happening."— A. Sherrod Blakely (@SherrodbCSN) December 17, 2013 FYI re: Rajon Rondo rumor, Celtics & Kings have…
Dec 17, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
Google search records are not the best way to test the popularity of something, but it is a pretty democratic way. Bottom line is you find out who people want to find out more about. As a fun little NBA treat, Google released Tuesday their most searched NBA players… and if you have to guess…
Dec 17, 2013, 1:59 PM EST
Last we checked on Brian Shaw, the Nuggets coach was blaming his team’s slow starts on pizza and nachos. But replacing the junk food with healthier options hasn’t turned Denver’s fortunes early in games. The Nuggets have lost all eight first quarters this month, though they’ve gone 5-3 in those games. The issue isn’t isolated…
Dec 17, 2013, 1:25 PM EST
If you still want to buy Michael Jordan’s home you can — it’s still on the market. Jordan has been trying to sell his Chicago compound — which has 9 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, a dining room table that is like a grid of the city of Bagdad, a pool with a grass island in the…
Dec 17, 2013, 12:57 PM EST
Chris Kaman, after doing it with the Mavericks last season, knows playing on a one-year contract comes with all kinds of complications. Before the season, he said: There’s just so many things that can happen, and the biggest one is that you’re on a one-year deal and you’re worried about it the whole time and…
Dec 17, 2013, 12:22 PM EST
There wasn’t much to see after halftime of the Heat’s easy win over the Jazz — Utah got the ball inside and scored on second chance points in the first half, but talent wins out in the NBA and Miami has much more than Utah. Miami turned this into a rout. However one potentially important…
Dec 17, 2013, 11:44 AM EST
Alec Burks scored a career-high 31 points against the Heat on Monday night, so let’s all overreact. That should be easy for Marvin Williams, who’s been overreacting to his Jazz teammate’s good play for a while. Via Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune: “He had a hell of a game,” Utah forward Marvin Williams…
Dec 17, 2013, 11:15 AM EST
The NBA warned Tony Wroten for flopping, and he deserved it. Here’s video (hat tip: Ben Golliver of Point Forward): Wroten was wide open when he shot, and he still fell. He clearly stuck his foot out to either draw contact or lose his balance. It’s the type of play that could get someone injured.…
Dec 17, 2013, 10:41 AM EST
He was simply having a wonderful Christmas time. As part of his holiday festivities Paul McCartney — That would be Sir Paul McCartney to you, the legendary Beatles singer, founder of Wings, followed by an amazing solo career — went to the Nets-76ers game Monday night in Brooklyn and didn’t sit hidden away in a luxury…
Dec 17, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
The Knicks recently elevated Pablo Prigioni’s role, and they were better for it. In the three games prior to Monday’s contest against Washington, Prigioni played 31, 39 and 31 minutes – his first 30-minute games since a season-opening win over the Bucks. And he produced: 16 assists, one turnover and eight steals in the three…
Dec 17, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
The Knicks’ latest setback, a home loss to the Wizards, does what every New York loss does: It intensifies the public scrutiny on Mike Woodson. But within the walls of Madison Square Garden, that’s not necessarily the case. First of all, who knows what James Dolan is thinking? There’s little sense using logic to guess…
- Tuesday night NBA grades: Damian Lillard is clutch 0
- Nuggets Jordan Hamilton ejected for striking Thunder’s Steven Adams (VIDEO) 3
- Asik trade update: Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland and Philadelphia most likely destinations 6
- Another day, another Damian Lillard game-winning shot 10
- Spurs’ Tony Parker out at least two games with shin injury 2
- NFL legend Jim Brown takes shot at Kobe Bryant, Kobe fires back (104)
- Report: Heat have interest in Celtics’ Jordan Crawford (50)
- Deserving or not Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade among All-Star starters in early voting returns (48)
- Pau Gasol expresses frustration with D’Antoni offense. Lakers have to think trade. (46)
- Mike D’Antoni to Pau Gasol: “There’s no reason to not play hard” (45)