After years of struggle, the Hawks have made the playoffs every year since 2007. Making the playoffs isn’t the Hawks’ biggest struggle, though. They have yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs, and the moves they made this offseason don’t suggest things will change.
The biggest offseason movement Atlanta made came in July, when they traded overpaid shooting guard Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson and two other players (Jordan Farmar and Jordan Williams) who are no longer with the team. Then, they traded away former No.2 pick Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz for Devin Harris. I am guessing that Williams didn’t become the player the Hawks thought he could become, averaging 11.5 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game in the seven seasons he spent in Atlanta.
Making those two moves left the Hawks without a “true” scorer. However, the next day, Atlanta signed former Philadelphia 76ers sixth man, Lou Williams to a multi-year contract. Adding Williams added another point guard to the mix of Harris and incumbent point guard Jeff Teague. Some argue that Williams is a better shooting guard, because he can score, than he is a point guard. But even in late-game situations, having Teague and Williams on the floor at the same time will make things difficult, defensively, for the Hawks.
The Hawks still feature forward Josh Smith, who still gets little respect because he thinks he can shoot jump shots at crucial times in the fourth quarter. Even though his poor selection is enough to make a coach pull his hair out, Smith is an excellent defender, willing rebounding and smooth passer. People don’t call him “J-Smoove” for nothing. It would be nice if center Al Horford could stay healthy this season, because Atlanta will need his low-post production. He has proven to be a very efficient scorer, shooting 53.7% from the field in his career and he is also a solid rebounder. Atlanta is very thin when it comes to solid low-post players, Smith and Horford are really the only players who have proven to be productive at this level.
The Hawks will have a lot to prove this season, especially Smith since it’s basically his team now. They will need a lot of production from players other than Smith if they want to contend in the Eastern Conference. However, no matter how great a season Smith has, the Hawks are a long way from contending. Let’s check out their probable lineup.
Point guard(s) – Jeff Teague: After the season Teague had last season and despite the additions of Harris and Williams, he should be the starting point guard. He is quick, athletic, and has improved in his first three seasons. He is a solid defender (1.6 steals per game) and Atlanta prides itself on playing solid defense, and he is also a good shooter from the field (47.6% last season). Atlanta will need him to make a big leap this season in terms of production (scoring) to make-up for the loss of Joe Johnson. I think Teague has a chance to be the Most Improved Player this season.
Devin Harris and Lou Williams will back up Teague.
Position Grade: B-
Shooting guard(s) – Anthony Morrow: Atlanta has options at shooting guard, but I think Morrow has the best chance to start, at least at the start of the season. Free agent signee Kyle Korver and draft pick John Jenkins will battle Morrow for minutes, but I think that Morrow is more proven than both players. Korver is used to coming off the bench because he did that the last few seasons with the Chicago Bulls and I don’t know how much faith coach Larry Drew has in Jenkins, even though he is a terrific shooter. Morrow is a good shooter in his own right, but I look for these three players to split the playing time.
Kyle Korver and John Jenkins will back up Morrow.
Position Grade: C+
Small forward(s) – Damion James: The team’s only legit small forward is James, a two-year man out of the University of Texas. He spent the past two seasons with the former New Jersey Nets, but was hurt most of last season when he played in only seven games. What James can do well on the floor, I don’t know because he hasn’t played much. Avoiding injuries should be his main concern this season because I believe he is at the end of his rookie contract. He will get the default start because I don’t see another small forward on this roster.
I don’t know who will back up James, possibly James Anderson, who came over from the San Antonio Spurs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anderson started the season starting at small forward, especially after training camp convenes.
Position Grade: C
Power forward(s) – Josh Smith: Smith is an underrated player for what he is able to do. He can score, rebound, pass, and defend. It still bugs me that he is a poor free-throw shooter and thinks he is a capable three-point shooter. He is a career 67% free-throw shooter and 27.8% three-point shooter. He is a slashing-scorer, not a jump shooter. He throws down highlight-reel dunks and makes big-time defensive plays. He is one of the most athletic players to ever play the power forward position and I think he could be in for a big season.
Ivan Johnson and rookie Mike Scott will compete for back up minutes.
Position Grade: B
Center(s) – Al Horford: When healthy, he was one of the most efficient big men in the game. He is solid on the blocks and has the ability to hit face-up jumpers with relative ease. With career averages of 12.8 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game, I expect Horford’s numbers to increase this season because there will be more available shots because of the void Johnson left. Horford has averaged 9.9 shots per game for his career, but he is a 53.7% career shooter from the field. If Horford averages 12 shots per game this season, provided his shooting % stays the same, he will average 14.8 points per game. Now if he can increase his free-throw attempts and makes by 25%, he will average 17.3 points per game. In other words, he is capable of becoming an All-Star center this season.
Zaza Pachulia and Keith Benson will compete for minutes to back up Horford. I expect Pachulia to get the bulk of the minutes, though.
Position Grade: B
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Jeff Teague
G: Anthony Morrow
F: Damion James
F: Josh Smith
C: Al Horford
Starting Lineup Grade: B-
G: Devin Harris/Lou Williams
G: Kyle Korver/John Jenkins
F: Ivan Johnson
F: Zaza Pachulia
Bench Grade: C+
Coaching Grade: B- (Larry Drew)
I think the Hawks will drop-off a bit this season. I don’t know what they exactly have, but I think it will be good enough to make the playoffs. I am predicting the Hawks will claim the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference, despite finishing second in the Southeast Division.