It’s finally time to start the regular season! In preparation of what we might see from the Atlanta Hawks tonight, I asked some questions to the Soaring Down South writers on the outlook of the team’s 2013-14 season.
1. What move or lack of a move did you like the most about the Hawks’ offseason?
Senior Writer Wesley Morton: Although I think the Paul Millsap signing will be most impactful going forward, the re-signing of Kyle Korver was the one I like the most. In a league that has begun to greatly values floor spacing, you can never have enough shooters, and Korver is certainly one of the best. He reportedly had a 3-year, $20 million deal on the table from Milwaukee and the Hawks smartly jumped in and gave him a deal with one more year but a smaller annual value, worth about $24 million over four years. In addition, his contract is front loaded such that his salary declines every year over the length of the deal, allowing him to be tradeable if needed as he enters his mid 30s in age. He should be able to take young John Jenkins under his wing and see that he develops into as lethal a shooter as Korver has been almost his entire career.
Staff Writer William Perry: Not re-signing Josh Smith. For as good as Smith was when he wanted to be, he really hurt the Hawks in some crucial moments during his nine-year tenure with the team. In last season’s playoffs, for example, Smith went 10-for-32 from the field over the final two games of the series against Indiana, which effectively ended Atlanta’s season. He was clearly no longer happy in Atlanta, nor was he worth the $54 million dollars over four seasons that Detroit ended up giving him.
Staff Writer Aaron Blue: I have to go with the signing Paul Millsap to replace Josh Smith here. Getting Millsap for two years and about five million a year less could do wonders for the team’s future. Millsap brings a solid all-around game and, while Josh Smith’s defense will be missed, the efficiency and discipline that Millsap brings will be perfect for Budenholzer’s system. His contract will also make him a great asset that is easily movable if the right deal comes along.
Contributing Writer Josh Lane: Best move of the off season to me was bring in Paul Millsap for that contract. He probably could’ve made twice the amount that we signed him for on another team. Good thing with his contract is that if we want to make moves later in the season, his contract can be moved easily.
Contributing Writer Dan Kamhout: I hit a wall last season with Josh Smith. So, props to Danny Ferry for letting Josh walk this summer. Josh Smith’s poor shot selection, atrocious decision making, and poor attitude (Think Game 5 in Indiana last season as an example. It was arguably the most important game of the series and Josh not only played terribly, but nearly got himself thrown out when he would not stop yelling at the officials while sitting on the bench) Also, no way Josh Smith ages well; he’s not getting any younger. Most NBA forwards tend to hang out on the perimeter as their tires start to wear. That will only lead to Josh taking more jumpers that he can’t make, which means more wasted possessions. Detroit Pistons, you have fun with that.
2. What move or lack of a move did you dislike the most about the Hawks’ offseason?
WM: I disliked the lack of addressing size on the frontline. Even though the league seems to be moving toward small ball play, the 7’2” Roy Hibberts and 7’1” Tyson Chandlers of the world lurk in the East. Most likely, the Hawks will look to combat them with the 6’10” Gustavo Ayón, when healthy, and the 6’9” Elton Brand so as not to burden Al Horford with that task but I can’t imagine the Hawks even being able to neutralize opponents in that matchup. The Hawks were outrebounded by almost 3 boards per game last season, and it looks be yet another season of losing that battle.
WP: Not pursuing Omer Asik more aggressively. Asik would have been a big addition to the Hawks, as his defensive mindset and high-energy motor would have complemented Al Horford’s finesse game perfectly, and given Atlanta the legit center it has been coveting. For now, Horford will remain as the center in the team’s starting lineup, though he would benefit much more by being able to slide down to his more natural position at power forward.
AB: Overall, there is not a lot of concern with the Hawks’ offseason in my eyes. I will say the only move that seemed unnecessary was signing Pero Antić and sending Muscala overseas. Pero Antić’s preseason was nothing to get excited for, but there is still plenty of time for him to adjust to his new team and the NBA. However, Pero’s style of play is quite similar to Muscala’s and one can wonder if Muscala would have been a better piece to the Hawks this season with Darvin Ham available to help improve his post game. Still, with only one guaranteed year for Antic, Muscala could be his replacement if Pero’s upcoming season proves to be a disappointment.
JL: Honestly I am fine with all of the moves but if had to choose something to nitpick, it would be the contract that we are giving Korver. Korver just got a huge contract for having a very successful season last year in Atlanta. Yes he probably deserved to make that money but to give that to a player that a 32 year old player is very risky.
DK: There is not a move that jumps out as being awful. Everyone already knew that this season’s team was going to look way different from last season. Since I have to pick one, I’ll go with the drafting of Lucas Nogueria. He’s a big man who is “raw” and a “project”. In my experience watching basketball, both at the NCAA and NBA level, big men who are “raw” and projects”, tend to stay “raw” and “projects”. Nogueria is currently playing in Spain. It will be interesting to see if he is an exception to my big man theory.
3. Give us one bold prediction about a single player on this year’s Hawks team.
WM: John Jenkins will make the Rookie-Sophomore/Rising Stars Challenge roster at the midseason All-Star Break. Lou Williams will be in a suit on the bench for the foreseeable future, so Jenkins will be relied on heavily from the two position. For this to happen, he will need to be in within about the top 10 sophomores in the league, and I think this is a distinct possibility. Increased penetration from the Teague-Schröder combo will help open up the floor for Jenkins to work. He’ll be used more as corner spot up shooter but he also showed the ability to handle the ball, flashing his spot up shooting as well as his ability to get to the rim last season. In short, Jenkins will have a breakout year that will turn heads around the Association.
WP: Paul Millsap averages a double-double on the season. Millsap has long been known as one of the league’s most efficient rebounders, and this season I believe he will get enough playing time to bump his rebounding numbers to double digits. Two seasons ago, Millsap averaged 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds for Utah in just 32 minutes per game. Considering that he has comfortably posted double digit scoring averages in each of the past 5 seasons and is now on a team with a lot less frontcourt competition than he faced in Utah, averaging a double-double on the season is certainly an attainable feat. My prediction: Millsap will end the season with averages of 15.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
AB: I’ve already discussed this in two articles this month, so I will stick with the theme. Mike Scott is being setup for a breakout year. He can be considered mostly a one sided player in that his scoring ability eclipses the rest of his playing style, but he continues to add weapons to his scoring arsenal and has showed this with a collection of great performances this preseason. Scott should become one of the more important role players for the Hawks this year and it will be interesting to see if Budenholzer considers starting him at SF if for some reason Carroll cannot.
JL: I think that we will see Teague take another step and with the absence of Josh he may open some eyes across the league. With the players that Teague is surrounded with, he looks to take another step in his assist numbers.
DK: Gustavo Ayón will be better than Zaza Pachulia. Ayón is an aggressive player, who is just now starting to come into his own. He plays the pick-&-roll well, on both ends of the floor, and will not be afraid to mix things up down low. He’s currently trying to recover from a shoulder injury, but Hawks fans will like what they see when Gustavo returns. I see him being a fan favorite as this season progresses. Also, he comes way cheaper than Zaza. The Hawks will be paying Ayon $1.5-million this season, while the Bucks cough up $5-million/year for Zaza the next three seasons. Although, I have to add, I will forever love Zaza for standing up to Kevin Garnett in the 2008 Playoffs. Zaza deserves a nice ovation when he returns to Philips Arena in March.
4. What are you most excited about this upcoming Hawks season?
WM: I’m most excited to see how Coach Mike Budenholzer’s new offense will operate. In case you’ve been under a rock for a few months, the Hawks will attempt to run a Spurs-like offense predicated on motion and a heavy dose of pick and roll. We will see if Jeff Teague and/or Dennis Schröder can sink or swim in this uptempo offense. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are very accomplished low post and mid-range players and will look to win one-on-one matchups to force double teams. Floor spacing is also a priority, so we’ll see some fun lineups with both Jenkins and Kyle Korver on the floor hopefully raining down a large number of three pointers.
WP: Dennis Schröder. It’s hard not to be excited after watching his highlight tapes. He’s incredibly explosive, is a major defensive force, and has all the physical tools to eventually become an NBA star. Expectations should be tempered in his first season, but he could easily end up with a half-dozen or so SportsCenter Top 10 plays by the end of the season.
AB: Mike Budenholzer’s system. Watching the Spurs at work is one of the greatest marvels in the NBA. The Hawks should bring a similar feeling with Budenholzer on the sideline. The efficiency that this system brings to a team if going to get the Hawks some big wins that they may not be expected to get. This team is a step down talent wise to the Spurs, but they are going to be entertaining to watch all year. Several players on the roster should thrive in Bud’s system and many should see their best seasons as NBA players statistically.
JL: I am most excited to see the new offense and the new players that have been brought in this season. Of what little I have seen, we set more screens in this offense and there is a lot more movement. Again I can’t wait to see what the new players and system bring this year.
DK: I am excited to see how Jeff Teague handles being the focal point of the offense. Coach Budenholzer will be bringing the same point guard focused style of play from San Antonio. That means Teague will be required to not only run the offense, but make better decisions with the ball. He may have to make more “hockey assists” (being the guy who makes the pass to the guy that actually gets the assist). So, if Teague’s assist numbers are not high this season, that may not be a horrible thing. It may mean that he is gaining control of the new offense and becoming a player who can see multiple steps ahead of the action.
5. Predict the Hawks record and playoff seeding in the East if you think they make the playoffs, as well as how far they advance in the playoffs and why.
WM: Despite offseason charges from the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, I think the Hawks hold them off for seeding and finish 6th in the Eastern Conference like last year with 45 wins, exactly one more than last season. The Hawks will probably fold in 7 games to a team like the Brooklyn Nets and go quietly into the offseason. However, if Hawks fans witness tangible development of Teague, Schröder, Jenkins and Mike Scott over the course of the 82 game season, mark it down as a accomplished season.
WP: 42-40, 6th seed in the East, 1st round playoff loss. The Eastern Conference is incredibly weak compared to the Western Conference this season, so even with a record just above .500 Atlanta should make the playoffs fairly easily. For as weak as the East is as a whole, however, it is incredibly top-heavy, meaning that Atlanta would likely have to face Chicago, Indiana, New Jersey or New York in the first round of the playoffs. For a team in a hybrid win-now-while-still-building-for-the-future stage, escaping the first-round of the playoffs doesn’t seem likely just yet.
AB: There is still a lot of uncertainty on how this roster will look in May. The unpredictability of the league as a whole with the new CBA in affect could make this team look very different after the trade deadline. However, if the Hawks stand pat and stay relatively healthy throughout the season then we should expect to see them right where they were last year at the 6th seed. It won’t be an easy fight for the playoff spots from 6-8 with the likes of Detroit, Cleveland, Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee all looking to take a playoff spot as well this year. Overall, the Hawks should be right there at the 6-7th seed by the end of the year, but one major injury to this team, and we may see Ferry make an attempt to gather more assets in preparation for the critically acclaimed draft that is to come following this season.
JL: I think the Hawks will go 47-35. With the current roster I see them going into the playoffs as the number 7 or 8 seed but unfortunately with a first round exit. Again, that is if we keep the current roster because it is very possible there may be a mid-season trade.
DK: You’re betting on the unknown when you try to predict how this year’s version of the Hawks will finish. No one has seen this new group of Hawks play a minute of basketball that counts, yet. With that being said, I’ll take the Hawks to match last season’s 44-game win total. That should put them as a #6 seed in the East. The Hawks will get knocked out in the first round, losing to Chicago. By the way, the Southeast Division is a tougher neighborhood to maneuver this season, with the Magic and Bobcats no longer total pushovers. I expect the Hawks to lose at least once to both of those teams. This year’s team will have a harder time winning games within the division.