The Atlanta Hawks were pretty good last season. By pretty good, I mean they finished with a 47-35 record, which was enough to net them home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They were 10th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency – a solid, but not elite club. They beat the Miami Heat in the most unwatchable 7-game playoff series in NBA history and then were handily swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We all knew they had no chance against Cleveland. The Cavs were dominant in the regular season and were the favourites to win the title. Atlanta, being a sub-elite team, shouldn’t have been expected to win a game against any of the legitimate title contenders last year. After the moves they’ve made this summer, I don’t expect things to be any different next year.
Let’s look at these moves then, shall we? The Hawks re-signed Mike Bibby, Zaza Pachulia, and Marvin Williams; they acquired Jamal Crawford for Acie Law and Speedy Claxton; and they drafted Jeff Teague out of Wake Forest. What do I think of all of this? Blah. Blah, blah, and blah. Okay, fine – I love that they held onto Marvin Williams, but the organization really hasn’t done anything exciting here.
It’s not that they won’t improve. Joe Johnson should sustain; Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams should get better; Crawford should be a slight upgrade over Flip Murray; and Teague should be better than Law. Being a better basketball team than last year doesn’t guarantee they’ll win 47 games again, though. Orlando, Cleveland, and Boston all could win 60-plus games next season. Washington, Chicago, and Toronto could make significant leaps from where they were last season. Philadelphia, Detroit, and Indiana could make minor jumps, too. The Hawks are capable of getting that 4th seed in the East again, but they’re going to have to work for those wins.
If the Hawks are going to make a big splash next season, it’s going to be because of superior play from their young core. Marvin Williams needs to get the ball more and he needs to be more aggressive. He’s an efficient young player, but he doesn’t assert his will on the game often enough. Al Horford is also an efficient guy, but he needs to improve his post game – offensively and defensively. He did improve in his sophomore season, but didn’t make the jump some people that he would. Now is his time. As for Josh Smith, um… He needs his own paragraph.
Josh Smith is one of the most intriguing (and exciting) players in the game. He has ridiculous athleticism and displays extreme aggressiveness at times when he attacks the rim like a crazy person and blocks shots with the strength and power of a dunk. At other times, though, he settles for low-percentage jumpers on the perimeter. He does have some guard skills and he seems to like the ball in his hands, but on a team like this, surely he’s most effective on the inside. With all the ball-handlers on the roster, Mike Woodson and his coaching staff need to make a commitment to teaching Smith how to play off the ball and play the pick-and-roll game. I have no doubt that the Hawks will improve if he plays more like a young Amare Stoudemire than a Chris Bosh-type, offensively.
I’m not sure whether to bet on the Hawks improving or not. If we see some growth from within and an inspired coaching effort, then it’s possible. If not, then it’s going to be the same old story and, if I was a Hawks fan, I’d be demanding some bigger changes next summer.