In honor of the Atlanta Hawks’ six straight playoff berth, and SDS expanding to a six-person staff, our team answers six important questions about the Hawks’ first round matchup against the Indiana Pacers.
1. How would you rate the Hawks’ regular-season?
David Menze (Editor-In-Chief): I would give the Atlanta Hawks’ season a B+. After trading away the team’s best scorer in Joe Johnson and best wing defender in Marvin Williams back in July, no one really expected too much of the Hawks this season (like always). But yet here there are again, back in the playoffs for the sixth straight season — tied for the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference along with the Boston Celtics. Al Horford rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011-12 campaign in which he only played three games and has had a stellar 2012-13 season, averaging 17.4 ppg and 10.2 rpg, while posting 43 double-doubles — sixth best in the NBA. Josh Smith had a few up-and-downs but has played pretty well overall, Jeff Teague continues to improve, rookies John Jenkins and Mike Scott are developing, and the bench steadily gives the team key contributions. Winning 44 games in a “rebuilding” year is pretty damn good too.
Wesley Morton (Senior Writer): The Eastern Conference was essentially wide open after, aside from the championship Miami Heat. Had the Hawks found the same consistency they had through the first 30 games, they would have held onto a top 4 seed. Injuries to Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia among others derailed those plans but also the defense had many more breakdowns during the second half. Still, given the situation with the whirlwind offseason and low expectations, I’d say the Hawks succeeded in staying relevant and remained an entertaining team to follow. It’s hard to ask for more.
Brad Rowland (Featured Columnist): I would give this Hawks’ regular season a “B”. The fact that the Hawks managed to grab the #6 in a “rebuilding season” is a testament to the core that Danny Ferry and Larry Drew have put together. Without Joe Johnson, this was still an extremely competitive unit, and I firmly believe that if Lou Williams (the team’s 3rd-best player in my opinion) hadn’t been lost for the season, Atlanta would’ve challenged for home-court in the first round. It’s certainly hard to complain about the performance, but with a 6th-place finish, an “A” seems too strong.
Josh Lane (Staff Writer): I would say we had an above average season and probably a B+. We clearly overperformed in my eyes its just the rough stretch after June is why I cant give this an A.
Brandon Barnes (Staff Writer): B-. Going into the season, I pictured them dropping off a touch with an offseason of trades and signings. They showed, in stretches, that they are a team to be reckoned with. However, they continually played down to the level of their opponents, losing games to Cleveland and Phoenix to name, just to name a couple. The focus and energy just hasn’t been there consistently.
William Perry (Contributing Writer): B+. A 44-38 record against the tough Eastern conference is definitely a commendable feat.
2. What are your expectations for the post-season?
Menze: The expectations for the post-season are just to play hard and give Indiana all they could handle, while winning a few games of course. Most people don’t think the Hawks can get the upset against the Pacers, but if the guards can get out in transition, and Josh Smith and Al Horford utilize their versatility, they’ll create big problems for Indiana.
Morton: All that should be asked of is for the Hawks to put up a fight. Results do not matter frankly but a lack of effort and execution would simply be a poor display on a national stage. The Hawks are far too injured and undermanned to put together a competitive championship run. However, if young players like Jeff Teague, John Jenkins and Mike Scott can play well on a large stage, it will bode well for the future of the franchise. A decent 6 or 7 game fight with the Pacers is all that should be expected, regardless of the result of the series.
Rowland: Compete. With a different match-up (i.e. Brooklyn), I would’ve been more optimistic about the possibility of stealing a series win, but against Indiana, all I’m “expecting” is a competitive effort. I’m not saying that the Hawks have zero chance (that would be foolish), but anyone with the expectation that Atlanta is going to win this series is probably either overestimating Atlanta or underestimating just how good Indiana is. It would be fantastic to look back at the series and not have a game to point to where the Hawks pulled a no-show.
Lane: I honestly am not expecting much, but in the very least I expect the Hawks to win a couple games in this first round.
Barnes: Call me pessimistic, but my expectations for the postseason aren’t exactly fan-friendly. There’s a chance that the Hawks struggle with Indy’s defense and if that happens we’re toast. I’m hoping for a plethora of players to play aggressively and that they give the Pacers a great series.
Perry: High but realistic. The Pacers are a really tough draw for the Hawks, as they are one of few teams that can exceed the athleticism and hustle that Atlanta relies on.
3. How can the Atlanta Hawks beat the Indiana Pacers in the first round?
Menze: The Atlanta Hawks can beat the Indiana Pacers if they’re able to get out in the open court through transition and space the floor for their jump-shooters. If Jeff Teague and Devin Harris can do a good job of pushing the tempo, it mitigates one of the best things about Indiana which is their tough defense. Pick-and-rolls will also be crucial as Atlanta’s speedy guards will be able to take the Pacers’ bigs off the dribble on a switch or dish it to Josh Smith and Al Horford who can both knock down that mid-range pick-and-pop.
Morton: If the Hawks can make a commitment to attack the Pacers in transition, they may just have a shot. The Pacers lock down on three point shooters, holding them to 32.7% shooting for the whole season from long range. It will take pull up three pointers in transition to knock down the Pacers and force Indiana to rely on their shooters to pull back into the game.
Rowland: Shoot the lights out. Indiana’s defense is absolutely elite, and the only way I can see Atlanta winning this series is with a big-time shooting effort from the perimeter. Kyle Korver is the obvious X-factor, but I would include Jeff Teague, John Jenkins and Devin Harris in this discussion as well. In addition, Josh Smith HAS to be the “good” Josh for the great majority of the series, leaving his jumper at home in favor of positive, all-court play.
Lane: We can beat them if we push the pace with every opportunity and if we defend the pick and roll/pop. Also if Josh can player under control I can see us pulling this off.
Barnes: Don’t let Roy Hibbert dominate inside, both offensively and defensively. He had a rough 1st half the season and is coming into the playoffs playing solid basketball. With ZaZilla out, the Hawks can’t afford to let the former Hoya “go hard in da paint”.
Perry: Spreading the ball out and limiting Josh Smith’s control on the offense. If they run the half court offense through Horford and let Teague do his thing on fast breaks, there is no reason they can’t beat the Pacers.
4. Which player will have the biggest impact for the Hawks?
Menze: Kyle Korver. In both Hawks wins during the regular-season, Korver averaged 14.5 points on 50 percent shooting from deep. He’s Atlanta’s main perimeter scoring threat and will need to hit his jumpers in order to free up the inside for Josh Smith and Al Horford to do damage in the paint. Korver is also a very underrated defender and will have his hands full guarding the dynamic Paul George or speedy Lance Stephenson on defense.
Morton: Jeff Teague and Josh Smith have to maintain consistency on both ends of the floor. Teague cannot let George Hill into the paint on pick and rolls with West and Hibbert, for it comprimises the Atlanta bigs’ ability to stay home on the impact Pacers post players. Similarly, Josh has the ability to exploit the Pacer’s lack of quickness close to the basket and utilize his spin moves from to the post in order to draw double teams. This can open up Kyle Korver or John Jenkins in the corner for easy points.
Rowland: Josh Smith. When I think “impact”, I don’t always think of purely positive play, and Josh Smith is the X-factor for this team. I expect good/great play from Al Horford, but with a guy like Smith, his highs and lows range wildly, and because of that, his impact is huge. The runner-up would be Jeff Teague, as he is the perimeter key and the only guy with a real threat to break down the vaunted Indiana defense.
Lane: I think Jeff Teague should have the biggest impact. Jeff to me is the best pg in this series and if he pushes the pace at every opportunity then he will not only wear down the Pacers guards, but also their bigs for chasing him around. Also it helps that he will be playing in his home state so hopefully this gives him that extra boost.
Barnes: This question is hard to answer directly, so I’ll split it up. Offensively, its Jeffrey Demarco Teague. He’s got to push the tempo of the game and force the Pacer D into tough situations. I’m expecting a playoff average of at least 15 pts/10 ast from Teague if the Hawks want to win. Defensively, its whoever is currently guarding Paul George. He is one of the front-runners for Most Improved Player and, with Danny Granger out, he has taken over the responsibility of being the “go-to scorer” for the Pacers. Limiting him will be key.
Perry: Al Horford. He shot 58% against the Pacers in 4 games this season and has a knack for stepping up when needed.
5. Which player will have the biggest impact for the Pacers?
Menze: Paul George. He’s the most dangerous player on Indiana’s roster and a matchup nightmare for Atlanta. In the two wins against the Hawks this season, George averaged 21.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
Morton: The obvious answer is Paul George. Despite not being a prototypical point forward, he has taken the role of facilitating the Pacer offense with 4.1 assists a game. He’s a streaky shooter and a long and pesky defender. He will be felt on both ends of the court.
Rowland: Paul George. If he plays at his best, Atlanta has no chance. Elite-level wing players are one of the biggest “kryptonite” factors for the Hawks, and George has made the leap this year. If he averages 20-25 points a night while playing his stellar defense on the other end, it’s really bad news for Atlanta. Roy Hibbert is another big-time key for the Pacers, as his shear size could cause big problems for the smaller Horford and the Pachulia-less Hawks.
Lane: David West has killed us regularly and he should have the Pacers biggest impact. We are terrible at defending plays coming off screens and West is an excellent shooter. I expect to see him run the Pick and Pop multiple times through out the series.
Barnes: 5. As I said earlier, Roy Hibbert will have a big impact for the Pacers. Offensively, his production will come largely off of dump-off passes and putbacks. Also, I’m told he’s made a request to go on TLC’s show “Strange Addictions”. His addiction? Glass-eating.
Perry: David West. He’s a seasoned vet that has the experience to control games through the post.
6. What’s your prediction for the series?
Menze: Hawks in 6. Atlanta and Indiana met four times in the regular-season and split the series 2-2 with the home team winning each game. If the Hawks can steal one of the first three in Indy and take care of business at home in Games 3 and 4, they’ll have the opportunity to win the series back at home in Game 6. If that happens, Philips Arena will be rocking and I like the chances of them closing the deal and rewarding the fans with a trip to the second round.
Morton: It’s a shame that Zaza Pachulia had to end his season early, since he’s the perfect candidate to handle Roy Hibbert’s big frame in the post without limiting the Hawks’ offensive options. Instead the Hawks are left with either going small (Al Horford, Ivan Johnson, etc.) or extending Johan Petro for many important minutes, which could prove costly as he’s a certain liability on the offensive side of the floor. I don’t see the Hawks being able to penetrate the Indiana steel wall that boasts the best defensive efficiency in the league with so few offensive options. The Hawks will hang tough as they have all season long but come up just short. Pacers in 7.
Rowland: Indiana in 6. I know you’re thinking, “Hey, that means Atlanta has to be eliminated at home!!”. Yes, yes it does. I think the Hawks go down 2-0 in Indiana, hold serve at home to even the series at 2-2, and then lose the final two, culminating in a disappointing home loss in Game 6. Indiana is significantly better than the Hawks (take a look at the big-time disparity in the advanced metrics), and while I certainly don’t think the Hawks are getting swept, I don’t think they’re taking it to 7 games either. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Lane: I really hope that Atl can pull of the upset but this is the top defensive team in the league we are going up against. If this series comes down to defense because we know cold stretches will come then Pacers will win. Pacers in 6.
Barnes: While I’m hoping its not the case, I think the Hawks could get stuck working around Indy’s defense. I’d love for them to advance, but as of right now I have the Hawks falling just short. Indiana in 6.
Perry: Pacers in 7.