1. Al Horford- Al Horford will be essential to the Hawks defensive success this year more than ever. With a guard heavy line up, Larry Drew will be hard pressed to stop teams from penetrating the paint. At 6’10, Horford is quick enough to guard smaller players on the perimeter, while strong enough to keep damage on the low block to a minimum. Horford should also receive more touches on offense, as Drew will be running a much simpler pick-and-roll, in and out style of play. Horford has shown success with a two man iso offense in the past, so he should be able to showcase his offensive skills now more than ever. All that said, when Atlanta fans look back on his torn pectoral muscle last season, they know Horford must be healthy for this team to succeed.
2. Josh Smith- In a recent interview with Alex Kennedy of hoopsworld, Smith actually seemed enthusiastic about the Hawks future.
“Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve always been about winning,” Smith said. “I want to one day be able to play for a ring. I want to give myself the opportunity to do that. With a good GM like Danny Ferry and everybody else, I think this organization is heading in a positive direction.”
While this doesn’t exactly scream I want an extension, it’s certainly more optimism then we have seen from him in the past. Fortunately for Smith, the man orchestrating the excess of cap space next summer seemed rather fond of J-Smoove’s game in a recent interview with Jeff Shultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Smith has always been a premiere talent with limitless upside, a truth which has been hindered by a shaky relationship with the franchis . That said, a renewed investment in Atlanta should significantly bolster Smith’s performance and in turn keep the Hawks squad a viable playoff contender in the East.
3. Jeff Teague- The Wake Forest product, until further notice, is the Hawks starting point guard. After riding backseat to the underwhelming careers of Mike Bibby and Kirk Hinrich in Atlanta, Teague flourished within the starting role far more then his predecessors. And seeing as he is the only primary ball handler familiar with Larry Drew’s offensive schemes and the tendencies of Atlanta’s front court, his continued development is crucial. Teague’s tremendous first step and solid decision making within the pick and roll, should keep defenses collapsing for the Hawks three point shooters. Don’t be surprised if Teague makes some noise for the leagues most improved player this season.
4. Lou Williams- The runner up to the 2011-12′ sixth man of the year award will return to the warm embrace of his hometown this season. Nevertheless, it’s an embrace that will come with expectations, as he is now the best pure scoring guard in Atlanta after the loss of Joe Johnson.Among point guards, Lou Williams ranked ninth in the league with a PER of 20.22. With increased playing time, and a larger role in the offense, we should only see those numbers improve.
5. Anthony Morrow/Kyle Korver- Widely considered two of the best pure three point shooters in the league, Korver and Morrow will be the beneficiaries of a bevy of slashing guards. Morrow, a native Georgia Tech product, has seen a steady decrease in his three point percentage throughout his career. As a rookie, Morrow shot a sizzling 46% from deep, as opposed to a less than desirable 37% last season. While this might appear discouraging, Hawks fans can take refuge in knowing Morrow doesn’t rely solely on that component alone. He is fully capable of creating for himself, having a quick first step along the baseline and a smooth pull up jumper. Korver on the other hand, has remained a sturdy outside presence through the years, shooting 41% from deep for his career. While he lacks the lateral quickness to keep smaller guards on the perimeter and the strength to keep larger forwards off the baseline. He has a keen understanding of the games intangibles, always giving a hundred percent effort on the floor and has an inclination for knocking down clutch shots. One of these two players needs to have an efficient shooting year to keep opposing defense honest.