NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Last Year: 38-44 for 4th in the Division, 1st round playoffs loss to the Pacers;  Leading scorer—Al Horford (18.6), Leading rebounds—Paul Millsap, Leading assists—Jeff Teague

Changes: Added—Adreian Payne (draft), Dexter Pittman (signed), Jarell Eddie (signed), Kent Bazemore (signed) Lammar Patterson (draft trade), Thabo Sefolosha (trade) Walter Tavares (foreign draft); Resigned—Elton Brand, Mike Scott; Lost—Antawn Jamison (waived), Cartier Martin (free agent), Gustavo Ayon (free agent), John Salmons (waived), Shelvin Mack (free agent)

Positions

Point Guard: Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder, Shelvin Mack

Teague is a solid option at starter here. Having survived with the squad through the Joe Johnson/ Josh Smith era he has grown into his game and projects to be an above average starting point this year. If Atlanta continues with the 3 point assault they displayed in last year’s playoffs, this could prove to be a revelation in the league. Teague’s grown from .219 up to .340 at the three so even

Schroder is athletic and young.  His shooting stroke needs to improve, but he has a lot of promise going forward. He should see a lot more minutes this year, and with young, developing players more minutes is a good thing.

Mack is a decent bench player– good 3 point percentage in his 20 minutes per game last year. He may push Schroder for playing time, which I think would be a mistake in the early season.  He’s a more polished backup, but not a world beater by any means, and I think long term the Hawks would be better off feeding minutes to the higher ceiling player.

Shooting Guard: Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore

Korver is one of the best 3 point shots of all time. I described Teague’s 34% as good (considering the volume).  Which puts Korver’s 47% last year in the range of “ridiculous”. Korver lead the league in that category last year, so in a system where the three ball will be featured prominently this will be a key weapon for the team.

How ridiculous was Korver’s 3 point percentage last season?  .471 according to Basketball reference was good for 27th all time.  #1 all time in a single season?  Korver in 09-10 for Utcah at 53%.  But last year Korver attempt 384 3 pointers, whereas in Utah he attempted only 188 that year.  Similar results for most of the other single season totals above 47%– in fact only two better percentage seasons featured over 300 attempts– Joe Johnson with the 04/05 Suns (47.8% on 370 attempts) and Dale Ellis with the 88/89 Sonics (47.8% on 339 attempts).  Yes, I would say Korver’s 47.2% on 392 attempts qualifies as really, really good.

Bazemore has spent the last few years as a deep reserve, averaging no more than 10 minutes per game, though leading the league in bench dancing. The only look he got at long minutes in LA’s super depleted season he showed 13 points her game and 37% 3 point shooting, so he should do well in a smaller than that but larger than he had previously role here, and teams won’t be able to ignore him standing in the corner when Korver needs a rest.

Small Forward: DeMarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha, John Jenkins

DeMarre Carroll leaves a lot to be desired in a starter at a position as deep with stars as small forward. Would it shock you to know that he shot 36% from three last year though?  Almost as if the Hawks are building a team to value a certain skill from all their perimeter players (which they are.)  That 36% was only on 162 shots, but Carroll isn’t going to be a high usage player, Teague and the other front line players will be handling the ball so what the Hawks will expect DeMarre Carroll to do is space the floow out and keep teams honest– they won’t be able to close out/double up on the side of the floor with Korver because Carroll has a decent 3 point shot himself.

Sefolosha will provide a defensive boost, and he is going to be plugged into the game to guard the most devastating forwards in the league.  His shooting percentages aren’t bad, but he won’t be taking passes from Durant and Westrbook this year– Teague is a definitive downgrade from from Westbrook, and there is no one on this roster in the MVP caliber of Durant. The Hawks, however, are buying low on Sefolosha here– after his playoffs where he looked hesitant to shoot (a death knell for a catch and shoot player) they got him and cash for swapping two foreign prospects, which seems like a low payment since neither of those players will necessarily even ever come over to the NBA, much less progress into a quality role player which Sefolosha already is.

Jenkins hasn’t earned much playing time through two years with the Hawks organization, so barring injures I doubt he will get much burn this year either.

Power Forward: Paul Millsap, Mike Scott, Elton Brand, Adreian Payne

Millsap was an All Star last year, and the deal that the Hawks got him on by out-waiting the free agency market a year ago and signing him to a savvy two year deal near the end of that period looks like a serious steal now. Millsap will score a lot this year, and his near-20 PER put him the discussion of best power forwards in the league– if you exclude small forwards playing up and players who are natiral centers playing down this position is somewhat weak across the league right now, but Millsap is on the short list along with Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LMA, and Z-Bo.

Mike Scott was efficient and competent in 18 minutes backing up Millsap last year and there is no reason to suspect he will do any less this year.  Brand is at the end of his career, but the 15th year veteran can bring some experience and spot minutes off the bench– though at this point he falls much closer to the “locker room guy” kind of role than the All Star starter he was 7 years ago.

Payne will see very few minutes barring injuries, but the Hawks didn’t grab him with the 15th overall pick to contribute this year, and being mentored in the position by Brand and Millsap he should get a chance to develop in his Rookie year, and possibly step into a larger role in a year or two.

Center: Al Horford, Pero Antic, Mike Muscala

Horford was out last year with injury, but so long as he returns healthy this year he should be one of the better centers in the league.  Combined with Millsap few other teams can claim as potent a combination of big men as potent (Chicago, Memphis, and maybe Dallas?) Of those, only Memphis really has the scoring punch in the front court that Millsap’s 18 and Horford’s 22 per game bring. Those two pounding the ball inside and kicking out to the perimeter 3 point shooters the Hawks will present a challenge to defend around the league. Horford isn’t a slouch on the defensive end either.

Despite this being only his second NBA Season, Pero Antic brings veteran savvy from overseas. He’s strong and has solid skills, if not high scoring. Muscala played only 10 minutes on average last year when Horford was out for the season, he does not project to play even that many if both Horford and Antic are available.

Outlook: the 8th seed from last year gains, perhaps the third best player added to any East team this year with the return of Horford (behind Lebron to the Cavs and Rose returning in Chicago.)  They should vie for a home playoff series and a division title.  I expect the second round in the future for these Hawks, despite whatever is going on with the ownership and front office.

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