In the late 80s, the Atlanta Hawks mattered. The TBS "Superstation" aired most, if not all of their games, and if you were a complete basketball junkie like myself who would watch every game aired, you watched the Hawks often. That was not such a bad thing. They were exciting. They had all world-scorer Dominique Wilkins, still the best basketball player born in France. They had Doc Rivers running their offense, Tree Rollins and Kevin Willis up front, and the exciting gravity defying Anthony "Spud Webb" off the bench. From 1985 through 1989, they had 4 consecutive 50+ win seasons and were a threat to knock anyone out of the playoffs. Even through the 90s, then-coach Lenny Wilkens kept them in the playoffs far more often than not. But the new millennium has been lest kind. Were they still forced upon us by Turner's broadcasting might, they still weren't worth watching.
Well, they weren't worth watching until the last two seasons. Things have changed for the better in the ATL. With back-to-back playoff appearances and a young talented core, the Hawks are once again worth tuning in.
Find out more about the Hawks, after the jump.
Coming off of 47 wins and a 2nd place showing in the Southeastern division. Last year they took Cleveland to a 7th game in Eastern Semis. That's the sort of thing that you can do with a talented group of athletes who show no fear.
The improvement in the ATL really goes back another season when the upstarts took eventual champs Boston to 7 games as well. Increased efficiency from the amazingly athletic combo forward Josh Smith and the increasingly steady and productive Marvin Williams, coupled with a solidly productive if not particularly flashy post play from Al Horford helped steer the Hawks skyward. Joe Johnson's scoring totals (despite rather average scoring efficiency) draws considerable attention as well. Mike Bibby, on board for the whole season after being acquired mid-year in 07-08 rounded out a potent starting 5 with no glaring weaknesses, a squad to underestimate at your own peril.
There is little reason to believe that the Hawks will falter this season. Smith, Williams, and Horford are young, and still in the ascent of their careers. Johnson is still at the top of his game and remains an exceptional distributor from the off guard position. Bibby enjoyed a solid season after being freed from Sacramento's increasing irrelevant position in the NBA world and should once again keep th Hawks in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
How much better than this they can do depends on overcoming their Achilles Heel: rebounding. While Horford commands and deserves respect on the glass, neither Smith nor Williams adequately support him in the endeavor, and even with Johnson's usual size advantage over other guards, the backcourt was strictly average. The Hawks were regularly beaten on the boards. While Smith's athleticism, shot blocking and rare commitment to to the cause anchors a defense that should be in the top 3rd in the Association, unless they can turn more opponent missed shots into defensive stops, the Hawks will not be able to challenge the Eastern Conference elites. Considering how weak Atlanta was on the defensive glass (24th out of 30) their 12th place finish in total defensive efficiency is actually quite remarkable.
Unfortunately, there's little reason to believe that the rebounding will improve significantly this year. Every minute new acquisition and Warrior connection Jamal Crawford plays will make this even more difficult. Jamal's rebounding phobia may not have been formerly diagnosed by his physician, but it has been evident throughout his decade in the league, and there is no known cure. The more he plays, the less likely Crawford will end his personal playoff drought. The draft similarly does not appear to have addressed this issue in number 19 pick Jeff Teague. Teague hails from Wake Forest but he is unlikely to become another Chris Paul, and more closely resembles former Demon Deacon Randolph Childress (also taken with the #19 pick in the 1995 draft), another combo guard with a less than impressive pro career. Rounding out the significant new faces with the Hawks is the now well traveled Joe Smith. Signed to the vet minimum, Joe Smith adds depth as a backup "big", but history suggests that his contribution will be modest at best. His best asset may be spelling the other, more significant Smith.
Not enough has changed. There are worse fates than being saddled with a starting lineup that, top to bottom would be tough to upgrade, but the flip side is that there's no real reason to believe that these Hawks are poised to join Orlando, Boston or Cleveland as serious title contenders. Adding two former Warriors is not a good omen. Think they'll help? Me neither. Yet the core remains intact with Bibby returns on a new 3-year deal. To make big strides, Horford, Josh Smith and Williams will have to step things up. Last year all three missed at least 10 games with injuries. Good luck with health may allow them to squeeze out a handful of additional wins.
49 wins. 2nd round exit from the playoffs. Jamal should finally get a taste of the playoffs and once there, no one wants to see the Hawks in a short series. In the playoffs, a young, athletic team like the Hawks, a team that shoots the long ball often and shoots it well, can scare (and possibly upset) anyone in a short series. Tune them in when they're on the tube. You will be entertained.
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