After a bearish preview and prediction of the Atlanta Hawks by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose over at Grantland, which I addressed here, a more optimistic look comes forth from a difference source. Preview season rolls on, this one courtesy of D.J. Foster of ProBasketballTalk.com, who predicts 49 wins for the Hawks.
A few things stick out from that post, but one that fans should definitely take note of is, “This is an extremely intelligent basketball team that should be able to recognize and account for shortcomings elsewhere.”
“Intelligent/smart basketball” is another term that has been used to forecast this year’s team, as mentioned by Bo Churney of HawksHoop here.
This is not to say Josh Smith and the others who were not retained lacked basketball IQ. On the contrary, Josh Smith is one of the best in the league at recognizing where there needs weakside help defensively, when to jump out on perimeter players, and how to force post players into lower percentage shots defending the paint. However, now all players should and will be held accountable for operating outside of the flow of the offense, and defense for that matter, especially if it produces less than optimal results.
ProBasketballTalk writer D.J. Foster talks about a more efficient Atlanta Hawks offense without Josh Smith. Josh Smith was a basketball player of many things, most of them extremely positive. But “efficient offense” is rarely a term that was used to describe him on that side of the court. Combined over his last two seasons, he shot a poor 50.1% true shooting percentage (TS%), which accurately weights free throws and the aided points from three-pointers. In his place will be Paul Millsap, who has never had a season that fell below a TS% of 54.8%. Millsap fits the new culture with his hard work and hustle, although he does not bring the length and awareness Smoove brought in his nine seasons as a Hawk. In addition, the Hawks are now one more season removed from the Joe Johnson-led ISO ball, and more players should be able to swing the ball from side to side to find the best shot in this year’s team, although it will be hard to improve in that area. The Hawks were second in the league last year in Assist Rate (assists per possession) according to Hoopdata, behind, you guessed it, the San Antonio Spurs.
The “Spurs East” labels seems to be title used by more and more writers representing how this franchise will be run in the coming years, as I mentioned in a previous piece. Like the Spurs, the Hawks will try to space the floor with elite shooters Kyle Korver and John Jenkins, as well as put into motion their abled-bodied post players, as highlighted in HawksBasketblog writer Robby Kalland’s Breaking Bud series, Part 3. This pick-and-roll heavy system is not an easy one to implement, even though the Hawks attempted running a similar type of motion offense under Larry Drew. But Budenholzer brings 17 seasons of experience sitting on the San Antonio Spurs bench next to the legendary Gregg Popovich. It will be interesting and fun for Hawks fans to see the development and hopefully mastery of the offense soon enough.
Foster’s piece goes on to mention Jeff Teague in the same light as Tony Parker regarding each’s respective 4th year in the league. Here is the Basketball Reference comparison he links to in it. Though it’s certainly a stretch to assume Teague’s career continues down this path, as Foster notes, it’s important to realize how crucial it is to have a point guard that continually breaks down the defense to open things up for himself and others. Teague will have the green light as the primary backcourt player, and should have no problem gelling with Millsap, Elton Brand, and the other newcomers. The desire for point penetration also helps speaks to the drafting of Dennis Schröder, who Foster touts as an Avery Bradley-like pesky on ball defender. In addition to his Rajon Rondo-like ability to distribute the ball in tight windows, he should be able to find his shooting range at this level soon enough, as Buddy Grizzard of HawksHoop mentions. His maturation will prove to be a defining key as to the future of the point guard position in Atlanta.
This cannot be repeated enough: Jeff Teague is not Tony Parker at this stage of his career. Ditto for Horford when compared to Duncan. But this new offense will certainly play to that duos’ strengths, in a similar offense to what San Antonio has long run. This also mean a high pace and the involvement of a deeper rotation. Players will having to be positionally flexible and ready to contributed in any facet on the floor. There will be increased accountability from all involved.
In the end, it’s a glowing review that I certainly agree with more than the crew at Grantland. Again, take it with a grain of salt, but it looks like the Hawks certainly have the building blocks in place to be a force in the future.