“New-look” would be an understatement when describing the Atlanta Hawks roster for the upcoming season. Of the 13 players currently under contract, only 4 players were on last seasons team. Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Zaza Pachulia all return, but the rest is all fresh blood.
With the expectation that the playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference is in for a minor shakeup this upcoming season, where the Brooklyn’s and Orlando’s should be swapping places, where do we see the Atlanta Hawks?
For now, we have to do a lot of assuming. First, that their starting lineup will end up being Al Horford, Josh Smith, Devin Harris and some combination of Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson or Jeff Teague. Second is that Lou Williams will stick to his sixth man, bench-scoring specialty (he led the entire Sixers team last year at 14.9 ppg). No matter the collection of starters, this team will lack size in the starting lineup with Horford at center. If there was ever a time for Josh Smith to make an All-Star team, it’s this year. This is his team now. Expect 35+ minutes per game and a solid 20 and 10 from Smith. Horford is absolutely solid, but his offense is not at the elite level needed to compete with some of his defensive-minded inter-conference counterparts like Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert and now, Andrew Bynum. As for the backcourt, the Hawks should feel obligated to start Devin Harris, whether at point guard or in combination with Jeff Teague, who started all 66 games for the Hawks last season. I think Anthony Morrow, a relatively efficient shooter, deserves at least a change to start in the league, so why not with the “new” Atlanta Hawks?
When it comes to team depth, well, there isn’t much. They will be relying on a few rookies and the likes of Johan Petro to hold down the second unit. As mentioned earlier, Lou Williams will be THE first guy off the bench and provide that spark. Kyle Korver should slide into the same role he occupied in Chicago as the spot-up outside shooting threat. Petro, Pachulia and first-year man Jordan Williams will provide size, though they really lack any kind of valuable skill. DeShawn Stevenson will provide some adequate defense and neck tattoos, but little else. Then they have rookies John Jenkins and Mike Scott, who have potential, but are ultimately questions marks as to how much they’ll contribute in their first seasons. Hopefully they can bring back Ivan Johnson, a surprisingly effective role player last year.
With Orlando (book it) and Chicago (it will be closer than people think) possibly dropping outside the playoffs, the competition will be even great for the 5th through 8th seeds in the East. How Atlanta even finished 40-26 last year is beyond me. The Hawks are certainly not a better overall team than the Bucks, who just missed out last season and I think will make the cut this year. I’m penciling in the Heat, Pacers, Celtics, Sixers, Knicks and Bucks as playoff teams, theoretically leaving only a couple of spots to fight over. This year Brooklyn and Milwaukee will be pushing hard for those final spots and who knows what we might get with the potentially-improved Pistons, Raptors, Cavaliers or even Wizards.
Will it all come together?
Without “true” scoring outside of Josh Smith and Lou Williams (Horford and Harris need to step up), I can’t see them having a record at .500 or better and will likely resemble the Pistons from last year. They have some specialized pieces, but just not enough fire power to compete with even some of the bad, but improving East teams. The only chance I think they have is if they truly take advantage of their division matchups against the now-lowly Magic and the dreadful Bobcats. I’m down on the Hawks and think they really have NO shot at the playoffs this season. But I also thought the same thing last year, when they showed me up with a .606 winning percentage. That’s why they play the games.