To call the Hawks’ past 14 months a transitioning of eras would be shortchanging wholesale moves that have been made to eventually create a more efficient and winning franchise. It’s a long process and it will require patience from Atlanta Hawks fans but already there has been positive talk about the new culture in the heart of the South. It’s talk like this that allows Paul Millsap to take a team friendly deal in order to play with Al Horford, Kyle Korver and other reputable teammates that make a cohesive unit.
General manager Danny Ferry has taken control of the organization and spearheaded an attempt to maximize all scouting and analytics. That has taken the form of increased international scouting, a la the drafting of Lucas Nogueira and Dennis Schröder, and using the numbers to judge otherwise overlooked prospects. For example, the drafting of Mike Muscala was mostly driven by his impressive efficiency numbers at Bucknell, according to comments made by Danny Ferry after draft day, as a four year starting do-it-all workhorse in the Patriot League.
Head coach Mike Budenholzer has filled out the bench not only with free agent players but also free agent assistant coaches. He has brought in Darvin Ham, a long time player and budding assistant coach, Quin Snyder, a top assistant in the Euroleague, among other notables.
The demise of the NBA offense flowing primarily through the post has been well-recorded and possibly greatly exaggerated. There’s no doubt that the Hawks two best players last season resided in the painted area, aside from Smoove’s occasionally forays toward the arc.
The only constant in this year’s frontcourt as compared to last season is Al Horford. Originally drafted in 2007 3rd overall coming off of two NCAA championships in Florida, Horford is the last remnant of the first of 6 straight Hawks teams to make the playoffs.
Barring his injury-shortened 2011-12 campaign, Horford has increased his per game scoring average every season he’s been in the Association, topping out at 17.4 points per game last season. Under the same stipulation, he has never averaged under 9 rebounds per game. He has perfected the art of slipping high screens and knocking down mid range jumpers. Fans can see the confusion on the countenances of opposing centers. Horford will now look to be the centerpiece of a new Hawks offense, something he excelled at toward the end of last season. There’s no doubt Horford will look forward to being the go-to man and shoulder the burden of credit or blame handed to this team come October.
As for the relative unknowns heading into 2013, Paul Millsap is the one the Hawks will look to feature and rely on for scoring punch. Millsap has been synonymous with hustle in his time with the Utah Jazz. His steady contributions were highlighted here, but it will be important to see the Millsap-Horford dynamic develop over the season. At the end of their term together, it was clear Josh and Al knew where each other was on the floor at all times. Their cohesion is a big reason for the Hawks success over the past few years, especially last season without the help of Joe Johnson. Horford and Millsap may never reach that level of synergy, but their growth together should become a wonderful thing to watch.
Who knows what Elton Brand has left in the tank. He has long been a productive player in the NBA but will reach the age of 35 by then end the season. The days of 20 and 10 are long gone but he can still be crafty and effective defender. Brand will most likely be the elder statesman on this Hawks team but he should come as a natural locker room leader and calming influence on the floor.
Many will point to the Hawks seemingly lack of size with this new roster configuration. Many fans still pine for the days of “true 7 foot centers” disregarding the clear move towards small ball play in the NBA. It may take some interesting formations to combat the likes of Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bynum and Tyson Chandler, but the lack of a 7 footer is not necessarily a fatal flaw. Al Horford and Elton Brand have both shown a remarkable ability to neutralize most large centers and it seems that Gustavo Ayon and Pero Antic will have that similar capability.
The biggest name to leave Atlanta was John Smith, who penned a substantial offer to be in Detroit for the next four years. The Hawks also saw Zaza sign for over $15M over three years, rejoining head coach Larry Drew in Milwaukee. Ivan Johnson also looks to be on his way out of town, possibly to New York.
Though Mike Scott technically has not be announced to return, his return is immanent with such a team friendly team option that would pay him under $1 million. Scott made a large impact as a second rounder in last year’s draft. He even showed greater range in his efforts in Las Vegas this offseason, possibly transitioning to the role of a stretch four forward.
Pero Antic and Gustavo Ayon will probably be used as big bodies to compete for rebounds along with perform other grunt work that often gets overlooked. Antic has had a long career overseas whereas Ayon will be moving into his third season in the NBA. All teams needs some tough no nonsense types who can get under the skin of opposing frontcourts so these two should fill those roles.
There are certainly a lot of question marks with this frontcourt, but effort and hustle will never be one of those. Fans will never have to worry about reports of “dogging it” in practice or in the game; all these players come from hardworking backgrounds and have landed in Atlanta to prove themselves among a league of extremely talented individuals. Hustle alone will not will games, however, and I suspect this bunch will not be able to match the trio of Horford-Smith-Pachulia, but it’s a group that can set up a foundation for Lucas Nogueira to step into down the road and be a force in the NBA for a long time.