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2011-2012 Atlanta Hawks Full Season Review: 5-On-5

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With the Hawks’ season in the rearview mirror, all 5 SDS staffers look back at the whirl-wind total of 72 games and look ahead to an equally crazy summer.

1. Who Was the MVP for the Hawks this season?

Daniel Christian (SDS Co-Lead Blogger/ Editor): Josh Smith and there’s really no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If anyone has any qualms with this answer, they need to have their eyes checked. Smith was brilliant all season long, averaging 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, along with shouldering a frighteningly large load on both sides of the floor as he mitigated a seriously dilapidated Hawks front court (although it’s no secret his defense was weaker than usual. Maybe that can be attributed to bearing such a heavy burden without Horford. Am I reaching here? Maybe.) His importance to this year’s team cannot be overstated. Yes, he shot more 16-23 foot jump shots than anyone in the league not named Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki, but he also had a direct impact on nearly every single thing the Hawks did right this season. Hats off to Smoove for the season of a lifetime. We haven’t seen anything better than that since maybe Dikembe Mutumbo (I guess the early Joe Johnson years, but even he didn’t have the do-it-all game that Smith flaunted this season.) Yet still, he was not an All-Star… ridiculous.

David Menze (SDS Co-Lead Blogger/ Editor):The Hawks MVP was Josh Smith. In a shortened and unpredictable NBA regular-season that was riddled with wounded Hawks, J.Smoove was surprisingly the most productive and consistent player for Atlanta playing in all 66 games this year and averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game — the best season of his eight year NBA career. In the playoffs Smith posted a double-double in four  of the five games he played in — he missed Game 3 due to injury — including a phenomnial 22-point 18-rebound performance in Atlanta’s Game 1 victory. He finished the post-season averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds per game.

Bo Churney (SDS Staff Writer): Josh Smith. He played in every game in the regular season, picked up his rebounding in Horford’s absence, and seemed to play as the emotional leader of the team. He still had his faults; he hoisted too many jumpers and probably played the worst defense of his career this year. However, no one else really wanted to usurp the leader role, so it was exciting to at least see him try.

Brad Rowland (SDS Staff Writer): The MVP of the season was undoubtedly Josh Smith. I’m an unabashed Smith detractor, but there’s no denying his impact on a season that included the Hawks playing 55 regular season games without their best player (Al Horford), and Smith posting team-highs in points, rebounds, blocks, and PER. There’s no argument that Smith should be a better player than he is if his decisions didn’t boggle the mind on a daily basis, but he was far and away the most valuable Hawk in 2012.

Wesley Morton (SDS Staff Writer): I have to go with Josh Smith. After the injury to Al Horford, the frontcourt was dependent on the scoring and defense from the 8 year pro. Night after night, he filled up the box score with a career high 18.8 PPG and 9.6 RPG. Also, he and Jeff Teague were the only two Hawks to play all 66 games in this condensed season. Despite low shooting marks, he has proven himself as a top 25 player in the association, regardless of whether he ever makes an NBA All Star team or not.

2. On a Scale of 1-10, explain why the Hawks bench deserves a —

Christian: I’d give the bench a 7. Considering my expectations heading into the season, they performed quite admirably. Their limitations can’t be directly attributed to them as a collective group because the defective assembling of this rag-tag bunch wasn’t on them—it’s on management, which has been atrocious as of late. I get that surpassing the luxury tax is a scary thing, but for goodness sake, how on earth are we supposed to have a truly strong bench if we’re signing 7 or more players to a veteran minimum contract? Those players that were signed, bless their hearts, played their tails off and actually churned out solid production, but if this ownership wasn’t so cheap in all the wrong areas, we could have gathered more formidable players for a bench. Either way, I was pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of this group. Willie Green and Jannero Pargo had career years, and both Kirk Hinrich and Marvin Williams (whichever one was the 6th man that game) often provided a necessary jolt.

Menze: I would say an 8. As I alluded to before, the Hawks had numerous players hurt this season, most notably all-star center Al Horford who missed 55-of-66 games due to a left pectoral injury that required surgery. Horford was playing fairly well in his first 11 games averaging 12 points and seven boards per contest — after he got hurt Zaza Pachulia stepped into the starting role and without missing a beat produced 8-point, 8-rebound games every night. Not too shabby for a backup.

Churney: I give the bench a 9. It really was a solid bench, but it seemed like Larry Drew constantly misused them, either deciding to never play them or deciding to play the entire bench against the other team’s starters. That said, both Willie Green and Tracy McGrady had career shooting years from 3, and Ivan Johnson provided a tantalizing hustle when LD let him play.

Rowland: I’d give the bench a 5. The rag-tag bunch of Zaza Pachulia, Willie Green, Jannero Pargo, Tracy McGrady, Vladimir Radmanovic, Ivan Johnson, Kirk Hinrich (or Marvin Williams) and Jason Collins (sort of) did yeoman’s work this year. Could they have achieved a rating above a 5? Probably not, because the roster construction is the problem, not necessarily the output of the players in this year compared to previous seasons. Pachulia and Green played the most minutes, and both guys managed to post their highest individual PER in the last 3 seasons with Green inexplicably shooting 47%from the field and 44% on threes. The McGrady signing (for the minimum I remind you) wasn’t a complete disaster, as his body failed him on a few occasions, but he was a near league-average player when he played (14 PER) and you’ll gladly take that from a vet-minimum guy. Ivan Johnson was a revelation at times as he rebounded with ferocity, and provided a needed spark. The Hinrich/Williams duo both underperformed with respect to expectations, but with the way they were utilized/deployed (see Drew, Larry), it’s tough to expect much more. I don’t believe that his unit could have been reasonably expected to produce more than they did, so the ceiling is on Rick Sund.

Morton: The bench was filled with many veterans looking to buy into Larry Drew’s motion offense. Jannero Pargo and Willie Green, like Ronald “Flip” Murray and Jamal Crawford before them, benefited from the ability to fire up rhythm shots with the ball in their hands. Tracy McGrady was able to play point forward at times, but his health negatively affected his ability to score with any regularity unlike earlier in his career. Kirk Hinrich and Marvin Williams had their moments and Ivan Johnson played big even though he gave up inches to every team’s center. Considering the circumstances of the salary cap and injuries, I give them a 6 for their occasional ability to pick up the starters.

3. What was the biggest disappointment for the Hawks this season?

Christian: The easy answer here is Al Horford’s regular-season ending injury, and while that’s what this season will ultimately be remembered by, I’m going to branch out and the say the biggest disappointment was Larry Drew’s handling of rotations. That bench score might have been a little higher if Coach Drew knew what the heck he was doing out there. Several of his baffling choices made little to no sense as he seemingly did not understand the limitations of his players. His erratic power plays with Ivan Johnson (and Jeff Teague, too) were perplexing, especially in the playoffs. I refuse to believe that April’s Rookie of the Month could not produce more than Jason Collins or Erick Dampier, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I never quite understood how LD reasoned that taking out the hot hand and never even going back to that hand in the second half was a good strategy. I also didn’t get the Pargo infatuation. You’re telling me that Jannero Pargo was a better back up point guard option than Hinrich was in the playoffs? Come on. Pargo is fine to spell starters some regular season minutes, but letting him run the point when the season is on the line makes me scratch my head. Just think—we get more of this next season!

Menze: The biggest disappointment for the Hawks this season had to be Game 2 of the playoffs when they lost at home to Boston without Rondo in the line-up. Rondo had to serve a one-game suspension for making contact with a ref after he was accessed a technical foul late in Game 1. His absence from Game 2 was a tremendous opportunity for Atlanta to seize the game and go up 2-0 in the series — but that didn’t happen. Paul Pierce was Hercules in Game 2 and powered the Celtics to victory.

Churney: Larry Drew’s coaching. With a deep bench and Teague starting, I thought he’d really take a step forward in his coaching after his first year; didn’t happen. He still doesn’t have a hang onto proper substitution patterns, appears to have something against Jeff Teague by constantly sitting him for no reason, and continued to run iso-Joe into oblivion. (We also got to see iso-Kirk and iso-Willie at times; these are things I never want to see again. Ever.)

Rowland: It would be easy to say the Al Horford injury, but because we all know what happened there, I will say the performance of Kirk Hinrich. I have an affinity for Hinrich that goes back a long way (back to Kansas, in fact), but there’s no denying that he hasn’t reached the production expectations that were expected of him following the acquisition from Washington. His PER of 9.3 for 2012 was easily the worst of his career, and when you combine that with 41% FG, 35% 3-point FG (both career lows), 2.8 assists (career low), and 6.6 points per game (career low), you have issues. Larry Drew is partially (or more than partially) to blame for this valley in production, as he repeatedly played Hinrich with poor lineups while jerking his minutes around wildly and utterly refusing to use him as the primary backup PG in favor of the significantly worse option in Jannero Pargo. That said, Hinrich’s performance didn’t exactly inspire confidence, and even though he’s easily the best defender at the guard spot on the team, the return hasn’t matched the trade investment.

Morton: Al Horford going down with a pectoral tear ultimately doomed the Hawks season. In a season with many important injuries to star players, his was particularly disappointing as the Eastern Conference was left wide open. They finished 2 games behind the 3 seeded Pacers, a team the Hawks owned a 2-1 record against, and were hamstrung for most of their first round matchup with the Boston Celtics. Horford’s stellar play in Game 5 and 6 of that series only left Hawks fan wondering what could have been.

4. What was the single most memorable moment of the Hawks’ season?

Christian: If you’re talking about a particular play, then one clearly sticks out above the rest. It was the perfect embodiment of both Josh Smith and the Hawks: an air-balled jumper, followed by a botched Marvin Williams lay up, followed by a scrappy Pachulia rebound and pass, all of which led to a vicious Smoove tomahawk slam over Serge Ibaka. Air Congo met J Smoove. Air Congo was grounded. If we’re talking in general terms, I have to say it was Horford’s performance in Games 5 and 6. The guy just has the heart of a lion and he reminded everyone of just how good he is. When he’s healthy, he’s the best player on this team, and it really isn’t all that close. His impact was certainly palpable late in the Boston series, and had he played the first 3 games, there is a legitimate chance the Hawks advance to the second round.

Menze: The single most memorable moment of the Hawks this season was Jeff Teague’s amazing block on Keyon Dooling in Game 2 of the playoffs against Boston. Teague tried to intercept a pass intended for Kevin Garnett but was unsuccessful, then sprinted the width of the court to get to Dooling in the corner behind the arc and blocked the shot into the fifth row. I thought the play was actually symbolic of how far Teague has come in my opinion in just his first full-year as a starter. He still needs to get better on the distributing end, but it’s easy to see how much effort and hard work Teague has put in this season and I believe he shown he has a bright future in Atlanta.

Churney: Horford’s injury. Whenever I think back about this year, that’s all I’ll probably remember. While the Zaza played valiantly in his spot, there was no way the team was going to be able to replace what Al does both on and off the court in terms of his emotion and calming consistency. If Al had been healthy the entire year, the Hawks could have been looking at their first Eastern Conference Final’s berth.

Rowland: May 10th, approximately 10:15 pm, 9 seconds on the game clock, and Josh Smith rises up for a wildly contested 23-foot jump shot with the Hawks trailing 80-79 in Game 6 of the 1st round of the playoffs. I realize this is a negative response to the question, but when I’m asked for a “memorable” moment in the season, this is the first one that comes to my mind. In a single moment, every frustration of the Josh Smith era came together at once as he hoisted a horrendously forced shot that didn’t “run the play” (as Larry Drew later stated) and ultimately sent the Hawks home with a 1st-round loss. Can the game 6 and series defeat be placed on Josh Smith? Absolutely not. Atlanta could have won Game 3 if Smith didn’t get injured, he averaged 17/14/5 in the series, and the Hawks collectively crapped the bed against a Rondo-less Celtics team in Game 2. There’s no denying any of that, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be seeing visions of that 23-foot jump shot in my head until November.

Morton: For me, it’s a tie between the quadruple overtime win against the Jazz and the fantastic win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, both coming in the Highlight Factory. The Utah-Atlanta matchup was the first to go to 4 overtimes since 1997, and it saw 8 players log more than 50 minutes on the court. That included a team high 55 from Joe Johnson, who added onto his list of 2011-12 clutch shots with a 3 pointer in the waning seconds of the second overtime. The Thunder game was played at a high energy level and may have been the Hawks most impressive win this season. They dunk of the year was made by a Josh Smith hammer over a helpless Serge Ibaka.

5. What Hawks offseason storyline are you most interested in? How do you see that storyline playing out?

Christian: Again, an easy answer would be tracking the potential Josh Smith trade saga, but I’m not going with that one. I’ll say following this whole GM scenario is the most important thing the Hawks face this summer. If Atlanta re-signs Rick Sund, that numb feeling of mediocrity will sink its teeth further into my skin, but if Sund decides to head in a different direction, there will likely be some major roster moves in the near future (Atlanta will retain him if he wants to come back), one of which could be dealing Smith. Regardless, I see Smith being traded by the All-Star break of the coming season. He’s made it clear he wants out, and it would be foolish to lose him for nothing. I’m interested in seeing just what the market is for him. Another storyline to track is that of the ownership, the Atlanta Spirit Group. If they’re looking to sell again and they get a deal done that works… ice cream party for everyone!

Menze: The storyline I am most interested in this off-season is what’s going to happen to Josh Smith? He’s a free agent at the end of next season and has expressed a desire to move on from Atlanta in hopes of playing in a so-called bigger market. Smith’s storyline is comparable to Dwight Howard’s in Orlando. Both players are soon to be free agents and said they wanted a trade from their current teams. But what exactly will the Hawks do? Trade Smith before the deadline because you don’t think he will stay and it makes sense to get something for him rather then see him walk out the door and have us be the one who gets left empty handed? Or dont trade him at the deadline and hope he comes back for an extension? Who knows…

Churney: I’m interested in whether or not Smoove gets traded. He’s the Hawks best and most marketable player. (Although Al could usurp that position) The team will never get equal value if they do trade Josh, but a new GM (if Sund isn’t retained) could be more interested in moving Josh and getting some decent pieces to start rebuilding. Personally, I think that the team will hang on to Smoove and re-evaluate his and the team’s status at the trade deadline next season.

Rowland: With the news of the Larry Drew re-upping (a column for another day), my focus has turned exclusively to the roster composition, and that ebbs and flows with the Josh Smith trade watch. I’ve spent an inordinate of time discussing him in the answers to these 5 questions, but with his “standing” trade request combined with the fact that he’s really the only movable contract asset, the roster will likely depend almost entirely on whether Smith is traded in the off-season. I’m in favor of dealing Smith to shake things up, but not in favor of a straight give-away. For example, would a package of expiring contracts and a “re-boot” interest you? I would say no because Josh Smith comes off the books after the 2012-13 season anyway so if you’re going that route, why not just sit on Smith and let him expire? Also, that move has no long-term advantage really because Joe Johnson’s contract albatross isn’t moving, and cap room isn’t within reach without multiple contract-shedding moves. So what that means is that unless you can retain close to fair value (i.e. two or more young, cheap assets or an established upper-tier player), you’re almost forced to hang on to him, hope you hit with your #1 pick, and continue to peddle Marvin Williams for potential flexibility. There’s an established ceiling with the roster as it is currently constructed, and a healthy Al Horford only changes that ceiling from 1st-round exit to 2nd-round exit. Keep an eye on Josh.

Morton: Last year, the big story was the assumed sale of the team to Alex Meruelo, a Los Angeles businessman. However, that transaction fell through, leaving the Atlanta Spirit Group to continue operating the franchise. Will they try to sell the team again? Also, along the same lines, will that affect the decision to find a General Manager to replace Rick Sund if he leaves? There’s no way to speculate the possibility of selling the team, or the identity of the interested party on the buying end. However, I think Rick Sund will remain the GM of the team, in a similar move to retaining Larry Drew as the coach.

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Tags: Al Horford Alex Meruelo Atlanta Hawks Atlanta Spirit Group Boston Celtics Bruce Levenson Dikembe Mutombo Dirk Nowitzki Dwight Howard Erick Dampier Ivan Johnson Jannero Pargo Jason Collins Jeff Teague Jerry Stackhouse Joe Johnson Josh Smith Keyon Dooling Kirk Hinrich Kobe Bryant Larry Drew Marvin Williams Michael Gearon Oklahoma City Thunder Orlando Magic Paul Pierce Rick Sund Serge Ibaka Tracy McGrady Utah Jazz Vladimir Radmanovic Willie Green Zaza Pachulia

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