As the Atlanta Hawks 2012-13 season came to a close, the emotions of the fanbase ran the full gamut. On one hand, the pure emotion of losing a brutal series (at home, no less) is never a pleasurable one. Despite the fact that the Indiana Pacers are a better basketball team than this version of the Hawks (look at the numbers if you don’t believe me), the last loss of the season is always accompanied by lackluster feelings. On the other hand, however, this was always supposed to be a “rebuilding” or “retooling” season for Atlanta, and with it out of the way (along with what seems like a full roster of expiring contracts), the future is potentially exciting for this franchise.
Today, we’ll take a look at what the season looked like for this roster, and we’ll do so by “grading” the players one-by-one.
Jeff Teague: B
Speaking of contract years, Jeff Teague just completed an under-the-radar walk year, but he did so with the best season of his young NBA career. Teague finished the campaign by averaging 14.6 points, 7.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game while shooting a ?45/36/88 slash line for the year. There is some debate about Teague’s ceiling, but he ranked #20 among NBA point guards (including all qualified players) in PER this season, and it was certainly an improvement.
On the other hand, Teague did pull his disappearing act at times this season (admittedly, it was less often) and there wasn’t the full-fledged “breakout” that some fans/pundits were calling for. He is a limited offensive player because of his inconsistent jump shot, and he also struggles defensively against big, physical point guards.
As far as ceiling is concerned, Teague is probably near it, but if you compare his performance this season to reasonable expectations, it was a nice year for the young point guard.
After the leading trio, it was an interesting year for the rest of the Hawks core. There were two huge injuries (Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia), a fantastic year from Kyle Korver, and some interesting emergences.
Devin Harris: C
Before I talk about Devin Harris, let me remind everyone of one thing. The Marvin Williams-for-Devin Harris move would’ve been a fantastic one even if Harris was terrible. Williams was owed nearly $17 million for 2 years, and Utah inexplicably flipped Harris’ similar one-year contract for Williams straight-up. That was a fantastic coup for Ferry even before the season began.
On the court, Harris was solid, but unspectacular. Gone are days when he was a 20+ point scorer (21 ppg average in 2008-2009 with New Jersey), and he was stuck in a difficult position on the roster. Harris is a guy who needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and he was often deployed a slot-in shooting guard next to Jeff Teague. As a result, he shot a lot of spot-up threes/jumpers, and ended the year by shooting 44% from the field and 33.5% from three-point land while adding just 3.4 assists per game.
With the caveat of a role that he wasn’t particular suited for, I thought Harris was just fine. He’d have to take a massive pay cut to come back next season and I don’t see him returning, but he’s still a solid, low-level starting point guard in this league and, at worst, he’s a very good 3rd guard who can run the show with the second unit of any NBA team. He was a valuable, valuable asset.
Kyle Korver: A
When Kyle Korver was acquired from the Bulls (for virtually nothing, by the way), it was seen as a fantastic move league-wide. Korver has a reputation for being one of the game’s best shooters, and on a team starving for outside accuracy, his acquisition was a God-send. Then, he somehow exceeded all of my expectations.
Korver finished 2nd in the NBA in three-point percentage (46%), 4th in total three-pointers made, and did so without taking anything off the table. No one in the league is better at coming off of screens and/or knocking down kick-out jump shots, and it’s a pleasure to see him shoot. His shooting displays are the stuff of legend, but it was really the ability to play better defense than I thought (and most people thought) that made Korver infinitely more valuable than I had previously believed. With the exception of Paul George (who torched him), Korver proved to be more than “just” a shooter throughout the year, creating his own offense at times, and providing league-average defense.
In short, the Korver move was a great one for Danny Ferry, and he should be one of the only guys that this regime targets as a potential candidate for next year’s roster.
Josh Smith: C+
In his contract year, it was a total circus for Smith. He posted his always-balanced defensive numbers (8.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.2 steals per game), but on the offensive end, it was a bit of a mess. His 46% field goal percentage was woefully under what it should be, and his free-throw numbers (52%) were frankly an abject disaster. Much of Smith’s inefficiency can be tied back to his sometimes-atrocious shot selection, and while we could be here for days, I will simply point out that he took a career-high 201 three-point attempts (30.3%) and a staggering 3.8 long, two-point attempts between 16-23 feet per game (31.6%). Until he decides to stop taking these shots at this pace, he’ll never be the player that he could be, but for the purposes of this exercise, we can and will hold his inability to command reality against him.
On top of his lackluster shooting numbers, he managed to cause a circus around the trade deadline with a semi-demand of a trade followed by a back-off before Danny Ferry elected to have him play out his contract (and rightfully so, in my opinion). It’s always difficult to compare on-court performance versus off-court distraction, but the controversy around his future certainly didn’t impact the team in a positive way.
As far as the positives go, Smith turned himself into a defensive stopper at times during the season. His on-ball defensive numbers were the best of his career on the perimeter, and Larry Drew’s decision to deploy him on Paul George in the Indiana series made the match-up much, much competitive. In the end, Smith was (as always) a very valuable player, but we have to dock him on the grading scale due to his refusal and/or inability to adapt his game.
Al Horford: A
I’ve chosen to go with Al first, and I’ve done so for a variety of reasons. First, I believe he is the team’s best player. He led the team in PER (19.8), rebounds (10.2 per game), field-goal percentage (54.3%), and estimated wins added (12.7) while being the backbone of the defense and, in my view, the team’s best leader. My affinity for Horford is well-documented, but there’s no denying that he made another leap this season.
It was an absolute career-year for Horford from start to finish, but he played the best basketball of his life in the second half of the year. After the All-Star break, Horford averaged nearly 20 points a game (19.7) and over 11 rebounds per contest while shooting an absurd 55% over that window of time. If this is a new baseline for Al, he is probably a top 15-20 player in the NBA, and he is the one member of the roster who is a consistent performer from night to night. I could go on all day about Al, but he deserves the team’s highest grade.
John Jenkins: B+
With a late 1st-round pick, the Hawks may have secured a rotation player for a long time. Jenkins appeared in 61 games (including 2 starts) and performed very well, shooting 38% from three and averaging 6.1 points per game in 14.8 minutes per contest. The end of his season fell flat as he was basically buried for the playoff series, but Jenkins shot the ball well, and that’s the reason why he was picked.
The move to secure Kyle Korver (and Anthony Morrow, who was later dealt) probably didn’t help the growth of Jenkins with on-court time, but he seemed to improve vastly in coming off screens as the season went along. On the defensive end, he’s certainly a work in progress, but reports of his inability to guard anyone (true in college, by the way) were slightly overrated. It’ll be important for Jenkins to improve on defense and in creating his own shot, but his rookie success was an unquestioned success in the time he was allotted.
Mike Scott: B+
For the life of me, I can’t understand why Mike Scott didn’t garner more playing time as the season went along. He posted the 4th-highest PER on the entire team (16.3), scored at a 18 points per 36 minute pace, and grabbed over 11 rebounds per 36 minutes on the year. In addition, Scott was quite efficient, shooting 48% from the field, and could have provided another legitimate front-court option (i.e. bigger than Tolliver) once Pachulia went down.
The concern with Scott is on the defensive end, and while he’s pretty athletic for a 4, he lacks in size to be effective in the post. He’ll need to improve in that area to become a legitimate rotation guy, but for a 2nd-round pick, his offensive arsenal is very nice, and he’s a commodity to be tracked.
Deshawn Stevenson: C
There was a lot of Deshawn Stevenson. Despite not being an effective NBA player for a period of years, Stevenson appeared in 56 games, made 31 starts, and averaged 20.7 minutes per game. He shot a better-than-expected three-point percentage of 36.4%, and as a result, didn’t completely murder Atlanta. With that said, he’s a terribly limited offensive player (shooting under 40% and being unable to create a shot inside the arc) who’s defensive accumen is pretty overrated. Stevenson carved out playing time on the back of the fact that no other Atlanta wing could defend the opposition’s best scorer, but when Jones arrived and Larry Drew began to trust Korver defensively, Stevenson’s minutes evaporated.
Frankly, it isn’t Stevenson’s fault that he played so many minutes (which is why he gets a C), but this should be the last time in his career that he plays this level of time.
Anthony Tolliver: C
Speaking of excess playing time, Anthony Tolliver falls into the same category. He grabbed an affinity from Atlanta fans with some big, big three-pointers during the year (including during the Indiana series), but overall, he was a pretty lackluster option the majority of the time. Tolliver played 15.5 minutes a game, but shot only 38% from the field for the year and is basically a zero defensively. He does provide some nice size from the 3/4 spot, but as a whole, he’s probably a net-negative (and his 8.4 PER illustrates that).
With that said, his effort level and professionalism are tremendously high, and all reports are that he was a tremendous veteran in the locker room. This is a similar situation to that of Stevenson in that it simply isn’t his fault that he played so many minutes, but Tolliver’s contributions should have been limited more by Larry Drew. A “C” seems fitting, as he did exactly what I thought he would do coming into the year.
Ivan Johnson: B+
Ivan is incredible to watch. He plays the game with a reckless abandon, and generally terrifies the opponent to the point of noticeable fear. With that said, it is easy to ignore that he’s actually a very effective basketball player and a tremendous 4th big. Ivan put up a 18/10 line per 40 minutes (6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game this year) and when Zaza went down in a heap, Ivan filled in admirably.
He’s a limited player and he did show that at times this year. Defensively, he lacks the height to guard legitimate centers (see Hibbert, Roy) and offensively, he falls in love with a maddeningly inconsistent jump shot, but when he’s doing the things that he does well, it’s a joy.
Johan Petro: B-
As some of you may have noticed, I was quite a bit critical of Petro’s inclusion in most lineups during the playoffs. While I don’t believe he should’ve been deployed in crunch-time situations (outside of emergency), this was not a criticism of Petro’s level of play versus what was expected of him.
Coming into the year, Petro was a 3rd-team center at best, and he performed admirably in that role. His PER on the year (11.0) is respectable for that kind of player, and he was able to add nearly 4 rebounds per game in his 11 minutes a night. Once Pachulia exited with injury, Petro was thrusted into a more prominent role, and frankly, he isn’t suited for it. With that said, his effort was always there, and his offensive production is actually solid from that position. He leaves a lot to be desired defensively for a 7-footer, but there are far worse options as a 3rd center in the NBA (and they’re employed), so Petro’s contributions were just fine.
Zaza Pachulia: B
The love affair that Hawks fans/pundits have with Zaza is well-documented. He is the clear fan favorite, and with his hard-nosed/aggressive play, you can certainly see why. On the court this year, Zaza produced just about what you would expect (6 points per game, 7 rebounds per game, 47% field-goal percentage), and when he exited for the season with a blown achilles, it was a huge blow an already-depleted front line.
There are many teams that would love to have Pachulia as a “third big”, and he provided Larry Drew with the ability to move Al Horford out of the 5-spot freely when needed. He certainly isn’t a star and he’s probably not even a legitimate starting center, but the loss of Pachulia was felt in a huge way when Johan Petro was forced into action in the playoffs on Roy Hibbert. It is not unreasonable to think that Pachulia’s impact could have changed the complexion of a game or two in the playoffs, and for that, his absence will be remembered.
Lou Williams: A- and/or Incomplete
Sigh. When Lou Williams exited with his season-ending knee injury on January 18th, the Atlanta Hawks were sporting a 22-16 record. After that? The team spiraled a bit to the finish, going just 22-22 without him, and lacking the shot creation (and free throw aptitude) and creativity that he produced.
Before the injury, Williams averaged 14 points and 4 assists per game, while shooting an efficient 55.5% in true shooting percentage and attempting a much-needed 3.1 free-throws per game. He provided the best crunch-time option at the two-guard position, and was frankly better than Devin Harris in just about every aspect of the game. With his contract (very, very cheap) and a solid rehab, he’ll be a valuable piece on next year’s roster, and if he can duplicate his production from this year’s small sample size, I believe that Danny Ferry and company would be thrilled.
Anthony Morrow/Dahntay Jones: C-
I’ve combined these two vastly different players into one because they were traded (straight-up) for each other midseason. Morrow was brought in as a sharp-shooter, but once the Hawks grabbed Kyle Korver in the offseason, he was almost immediately relegated to emergency duty. In his limited time, Morrow shot 39.5% from three, and I always believed that Larry Drew should have deployed him more at the shooting guard spot instead of Stevenson (we’ll get there). With that said, he only played 24 games in Atlanta, and really, his grade should be an “incomplete”.
After Jones arrived, expectations dropped a little bit from this spot. He is a completely different player in that he can’t shoot… at all, but is more of a defensive stopper in the mold of Stevenson (but better at it). He was buried a lot down the stretch of the season, but in his time, he provided exactly what you’d expect from him in giving the Hawks top-flight defense and just 39% shooting. Hilariously, he’ll be remembered most as a Hawk for the controversy surrounding Kobe Bryant’s ankle injury at the buzzer of the Lakers only visit to Atlanta.
There you have it. I took the liberty of leaving off the Jannero Pargo/Jeremy Tyler/Shelvin Mack trio, as they didn’t garner enough time on the roster to contribute in a significant way, but that is the extent of the roster. As the off-season approaches, it is time for roster evaluation, and Danny Ferry will have his hands full with the amount of decisions (i.e. Josh Smith, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague extension) that he has.
Stay tuned for some additional wrap-up material in the coming days.
Topics: Al Horford, Anthony Morrow, Anthony Tolliver, Atlanta Hawks, Dahntay Jones, DeShawn Stevenson, Devin Harris, Ivan Johnson, Jeff Teague, Johan Petro, John Jenkins, Josh Smith, Kyle Korver, Lou Williams, Mike Scott, Zaza Pachulia