FanHouse Preview: Hawks
FanHouse previews all 30 NBA teams in advance of the 2009-10 season.
The Atlanta Hawks are almost always identified by the always overused phrase, "upside." Well, that and passing on Chris Paul way back when they had a chance to become an elite franchise and egged by taking Marvin Williams (I'm sorry -- I'm not even a Hawks fan and I can't write about the Hawks without getting angry over that whole thing).
Now, that's kind of unfair to Williams, who posted this line last season: 13.9/6.3/1.3/0.9/0.6. Now, that's pretty daggum decent, but, yeah, it's not worthy of the No. 2 overall pick, especially when it could be, at least in some areas, be considered a regression from the year before.
Fortunately for Williams, the Hawks did the opposite and managed to improve from the team that provided a thrilling opening round, near upset bid of the Celtics two years ago to the team that shocked (relative to being the favorite in a 4-5 matchup) Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in the first round before getting s-canned by LeBron in the second round. Trust me, as negative as that ended up sounding, it was an improvement.
So, the Hawks went out and landed Jamal Crawford (a viable early contender for the Sixth Man Award), Jeff Teague (a steal at No. 19 overall; kid is ridiculously talented) and Joe Smith (who will just not go away). None of those guys will start, but they will be tremendous difference makers for the Hawks, who now have a ton of bench depth, including Zaza Pachulia to backup Al Horford.
Taking all of that increased depth and likely progression of talent by different members of the starting five -- Josh Smith, Horford and Williams all still have puh-lenty of room for growth -- means guaranteed improvement, right? Well, yes, kind of; see, the Hawks will be a better overall team. They will win more than 50 games for the first time in over a decade.
But will they find themselves anywhere other than the fourth seed again this year? Doesn't seem likely. The Cavs, Magic and Celtics are all going to be better teams, and provided that LeBron doesn't manage to regress with Shaquille O'Neal on board, the Hawks seem poised, yet again, to eek out a first-rounder against the Heat only to get overwhelmed by James and Co.
Is that a bad fate? Of course not -- and it's not necessarily guaranteed either. Rainn Wilson could accidentally dice Dwight Howard's hamstring, or Braylon Edwards could finally have a legit, non-Twitter-controlled freak out and take his revenge on LeBron. Or the Celtics could get old. Really, there are tons of possibilities for the Hawks to advance, but none of them are guaranteed quite like a middle seed and a five to 10 win bump in the final standings.
The good news, of course, is that because of the personnel assembled in Atlanta, getting to watch the Hawks is all but guaranteed to be more exciting than "middle seed in the East" actually sounds.
Last Season By the Numbers
Record: 47-35 under Mike Woodson. Finished 2nd in the Southeast Division, tied for 4th in the Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Cleveland (4-0) in the Conference Semi-Finals.
Offense: 98.1 points per 100 possessions, 19th in the NBA. 9th in shooting, 8th in turnover rate, 19th in offensive rebounding, 13th in free throw rate.
Defense: 96.5 points per 100 possession, 10th in the NBA. 11th in shooting defense, 14th in opponent turnover rate, 24th in defensive rebounding, 5th in opponent free throw rate.
Top Performers: Joe Johnson, the "franchise player" for the Hawks, led the team in scoring with 21.4 points per game while fantasy basketball porn star Josh Smith clocked in second at 15.6. Johnson also paced the Hawks' passing game with 5.8 assists, although "true point guard" Mike Bibby also averaged an even five dimes. Future dub-dub machine Al Horford cleaned up the glass to the tune of 9.3 boards per game. And obviously, J-Smoove led ATL with 1.6 blocks per game and 1.4 steals. <3 him.
All statistics via Basketball-Reference.com.
Player to Watch
FanHouse's Matt Moore and Tom Ziller preview one player to watch from each team. Here's a snippet of Moore's post on Josh Smith.
Forget the out-of-this-world athleticism. Forget the alley-oops (difficult, I know), forget the jumping out of the gym, and forget the slam dunks that make you think "You know, I wouldn't necessarily give a T-Rex the edge in a fight with this guy." Forget the worrisome shot selection and coach clashes and the immature behavior. Forget all that for a second and get used to a new set of ideals.
Josh Smith is turning into a pretty great basketball player. And he's only 23.
See Moore's full post on Josh Smith.
IN: Jamal Crawford (trade), Jeff Teague (draft), Joe Smith (free agency), Sergey Gladyr (draft).
OUT: Acie Law (trade), Speedy Claxton (trade).