Around the NBA: Atlanta Hawks




This off-season an era came to it's end in Atlanta, as long time face of the franchise Josh Smith left the team for Detroit as a free agent. The era was much more successful than most people seem to realize, as it included 6 straight playoff berths and 3 straight trips to the second round. The Josh Smith era was mostly viewed in less than glowing light, though, as the Hawks have become synonymous with also ran playoff teams. However, I think the vast majority of middle to small market team would have traded their last 6 season with the Hawks in a heartbeat.

2nd year general manager Danny Ferry is now given a chance to mold the team as he envisions, and so far the return seem to be fairly positive, Ferry was at the helm of the most successful stretch by FAR in Cleveland's entire NBA existence (granted, it's a bit easier when you have Lebron James. ) and as a guy who's been in and around the Spurs organization a lot, he seems to bring a good dose of that with him.

Atlanta finished last year much like it did in the previous 5, a pretty solid regular season followed by a decent but not particularly inspiring playoff performance (they did take the Pacers to 6, whom came pretty damn close to beating the Heat.) however, despite the departure of it's most high profile player, and almost it's entire supporting cast, the turnover doesn't feel quite as extreme as their entire core outside of Smith remained.. they do have a new coach, as Ferry brought another Spurs organization guy Mike Budenholzer to replace Larry Drew, who now takes the helm in Milwaukee . And Ferry made perhaps the mostly wildly valued signing in the entire off season by inexplicably grabbing Paul Millsap at just 2/ 18.

The Hawks will return with a new coach and without it's franchise player, but surprisingly, a lot less has actually changed than it appears, but the team may be just as good if not better than before, and probably on a better long term track.

The Core:

The mantle of the team now clearly passes to Al Horford, who has developed into a very good big that no one seem to have really noticed. He has been a bit miscast in Atlanta for most of his career as a C, as his offensive skillset is clearly that of a PF, but he is big enough to at least not embarrass himself against other centers. The configuration of the team remains very similar to last year, which means Horford still need to start at the C, however it feels likely that the Hawks would try to swing for a more legit C to change this dimension . The most logical move that comes to mind is trading newly signed PF Paul Millsap for Houston's Omer Asik , though this can't happen until around the end of the year at the earliest, so both teams still have a few months to see if their pieces really fit.

Horford brings a very versicle offensive game, he can shoot,drives, and he can even dribble on his own a little, he's pretty close to the ideal do it all PF as your going to get. the problem remains that he's being asked to be the center a bit too much in Atlanta.

Supporting Horford on the front lines would be Paul Millsap, the veteran (who's actually only a year older than Horford) has basically been the best player in Utah since Deron Williams left, and brought them to 2 pretty solid season while carrying a team of Al Jefferson and his non-defense with a bunch of scrubby vets and inexperienced youngsters, this is actually more impressive than it seems given the extreme competitiveness of the Western Conference, the Jazz have finished the last 2 season with very similar record to the Hawks (the Jazz won a total of 5 less game in those 2 season.), but it's pretty obvious that they had the weaker supporting cast.

In fact, one can easily make a case that Paul Millsap is probably a better player than the man he's replacing, Josh Smith, given that in the last 2 season he has EASILY beaten him in both winshare and RAPM. he's a much more efficient scorer who doesn't take those dreaded awful shots (in fact, he's been know to be a very clutch shooter, he takes very few 3s but a ton of them are buzzer beaters for example.), and while not nearly as physically gifted as Smith, good things tend to happen on the defensive end when he's on the floor. in short, he's basically inverse Josh Smith, not super physically gifted (for an NBA player that is.) , but makes the most out of his ability. it would be interesting to see if this carries on in Atlanta, I feel pretty confident that it will, as Atlanta doesn't really lack guys that can score a little. letting Millsap be what he is best at, a super do everything glue guy. I think you can basically say he's David West, and with the way Atlanta kinda want to build a Pacer like team with no clear super star, having him may mean all the world to them.

Also joining them is 2 guys returning this year after having their contracts renewed by the Hawks in the off season, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague , We all know what Korver is, he is one of the most dangerous shooter in the league, probably top 3 with Stephan Curry and Ryan Anderson, it's not just that he hits a ton of 3s, its that he like those 2 can hit them even while being badly pressured and with only a little daylight. Of all the player last year with over 1000 minute of playing time, Korver was #4 in True Shooting percentage, (the 3 guys ahead of him was Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Lebron James , so yeah... that's kinda good. and Korver's the only guy in this that doesn't go the basket or really draw fouls ). Granted, the actual usefulness of a player like this overall can be debated, as we all realize that Steve Novak for example isn't actually good, but Korver is much better than Novak, and certainly any team playing the Hawks need to keep one of their better defenders on him 24/7.

Then there's Jeff Teague, whom for a moment in the off season look like he might be leaving the team, but in the end the Hawks matched his 4/32 offer sheet from the Bucks, and he looks like he'll be manning the point for the Hawks for at least a few more years.

Teague is interesting, most PG in the league can be described as "Young guys who have some things going for them but also very significant flaws that prevent them from being great until they can overcome it." For example, our own Rubio can really defend and has some pretty crazy passing, but he really can't shoot the ball anywhere except at the free throw line, Jeremy Lin actually got to and finish at the basket at basically the same rate as Tony Parker, but he has a pretty suspect handle of the basketball and is average to below average in most other aspects. Brandon Jennings can really shoot from 3 and keep the ball well, but was simply god awful defensively last year and can't finish around the basket at all. Jrue Holliday is a lot Rubio in that he has terrible scoring efficiency, as if all successor of Allen Iverson must not be efficient.

But then, you have Jeff Teague, whom if you look at his numbers and tapes, there's nothing that really stands out to you on either end. he's pretty decent defensively, but nothing world beating, he has decent scoring efficiency, but not particularly good at either 3 or drive or anything. his Assist to turnover is solid but not particularly great either as he's abit above average in assist but also coughs it up a bit more than most. he doesn't really run the pick and roll that well (the Atlanta system last year was a lot more pick and pop.. or just pop.) he's fast but he's not Derrick Rose, more tellingly, his best games are nowhere near that of say a Jeremy Lin dropping 38 on the Spurs or Jrue Holiday dropping 33-14 on the Raptors. )

To me, Teague kinda embody the Hawks in the last few years, he's not really bad at anything, but he's not really good at anything either , where as most young PG have extreme peak and valley, he's pretty steady where he doesn't have any dominant game but also not nearly as many stinkers. The upside of this seems limited, but for a team that simply want a steady PG who won't mess things up that badly for you, he's ideal.

The rest:

The 1 starting spot that seems somewhat up in the air is the shooting guard position, its probably between Lou Williams and 2nd year player John Jenkins, I guess Lou's going to get it if only due to seniority, but one should note that Jenkins like most other rookies really didn't know how to defend at all last year (despite a decent WS/48, his RAPM was simply horrendous. even worse than the undersized Williams.) , so while his size is a bit more ideal for the position he needs to take a step forward for him to really take the job.

Jenkins had a decent enough rookie season especially for a late first rounder, he manged close to 15 min a game and even got 2 starts. he did what a SG was suppose to do, shoot the basketball at a good clip. it remains to be seen if he can handle the defense part, but certainly looks like he'll probably end up better than most later 1st rounders.

The Hawks drafted 3 guys this year but only 1 will be on the roster in the up coming season, as Lucas Nogueira is heading back to his Spanish league team for another year while 2nd rounder Mike Muscala is also being stashed over seas.

I for one, am deeply sadden that we need to wait at least another year before we see Nogueira, because quite frankly, who DOESN'T want to see this?



(he'll probably block some shots simply with his afro!)

Somewhat surprisingly, it's the youngest of the 3 pick that's going to be on the roster, 19 year old Dennis Schroder from Germany , the scouts are in love with his tool and he did have a pretty solid showing in the Summer league unlike most of the guys drafted ahead of him, but it really remains to be seen what exactly can he do in the NBA.

The Hawks also signed veteran Elton Brand as their backup, if this was a few years ago obviously Brand would be a star, but after his injury he has been reduced to a much lesser player, though he was reasonably effective last year on the Mavs. you could do much worse for a 3rd big.

Outlook and System:

The most interesting thing of this up coming year is what the Hawks system will be like under Budenholzer, will they stick with the Drew system or will their be a lot more changes. the Hawks offense was pretty uninspiring last year despite having Horford and Korver, the main problem is as I brought up a bit earlier in the discussion on Teague, their go to play seem to be pick and pop, and that pop is usually a long 2 , though they do hit them at a decent rate for that sort of shot, it's still a pretty dumb play to have as your main go to scoring device. which explains why despite having the 7th best FG% AND 3P% , they were 18th in offensive efficiency. and 14th in actual points per game. they really didn't maximize their offensive potential at all. the most telling part is that they were bottom 5 in free throw attempts, which isn't a surprise when your popping 18 footers all day long.

In short, they need less of this

and more of these

(though even in these, you can see that almost all of them were designed as pick and pop plays.)

And another issue is , with the cast of guys they had, they REALLY should have ran much more than they did, they finished with a middle of the pack pace, but when you have Smith / Teague / Horford and generally a smaller lineup WHY ARE YOU NOT RUNNING THE OTHER TEAMS INTO THE GROUND DAMNIT, THERE'S NO RULE THAT SAYS EAST COAST TEAMS HAVE TO PLAY SLOW.

Defensively, they were above average, though considering that they don't have a true center and have some pretty suspect defensive players (Korver / Williams ) out there a lot, it is something you have to give credit to Larry Drew for, they played like a team defensively and did about the best you can realistically hope for that cast. it would be a little bit worrisome this year with their best pure defensive player gone and a new coach what this would be like. If the Hawks don't do well this year while not suffering a serious injury, it would be because their defense system didn't come together quickly enough.

I'm actually very optimistic on the Hawks, I say they still finish with the 6th seed with fairly similar records to last year, with an outside shot of gaining a little bit and finish 5th if one of the 5 teams ahead of them (Heat / Bulls / Pacers / Nets / Knicks ) implode for some reason (*cough* Knicks). I think they're offense will improve this year due to Millsap's better decision making and a generally better offensive scheme. but yeah, they're still in the same spot as last year, likely candidate for a first round exit, however, the future looks more interesting for them now certainly.

(Comments / critique welcomed, would also love to see what Hawks fans think, as this is more of an outside observer look at them or talke to me @RollingWave0720 .)