All 5 members of the Soaring Down South staff break down the most important questions the Hawks face heading into the 2012-2013 NBA season.
1) Looking back at the summer, what is your assessment of the offseason moves made by the Hawks? Name your best, worst, and most overlooked developments of the summer and preseason.
Daniel Christian (Co-Editor): This offseason was an absolute godsend. Eight days into his job as General Manager, Danny Ferry traded the most untradeable contract in the game of basketball (Johnson’s 6 year 119M dollar deal) and jettisoned the Hawks of second overall pick gone wrong, Marvin Williams. The best move was twofold: hiring Danny Ferry and trading Joe to Brooklyn. The return on the Joe trade wasn’t too great, but anytime you have the opportunity to move that contract you have to make the deal. The fact that Ferry was able to find a taker is truly a miracle. The worst move, in my opinion, was cutting Keith Benson and keeping the final roster spot open, even if he wasn’t the one of the players being considered for that final spot. Benson has a chance to be a real defensive presence in this league if he adds some muscle, so seeing the 2011 second round pick cut was discouraging, especially after a really strong preseason. I suppose the easy answer for most overlooked would be Lou Williams, but how about retaining Ivan Johnson? There was a point when his contract situation was up in the air, but now that he’s back, the Hawks again have the scariest and most “don’t mess with me player” in the league.
David Menze (Co-Editor): Personally, I love the moves made by the Hawks this off-season. They got much younger as a team — last year Atlanta had 8 players over 30 years old, this year only 2 — and they also freed up some cap space by trading Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster deal, then used the extra money to sign their two prized draft picks along with excellent role players that will add to the team’s depth. Best move — Hiring Danny Ferry. Worst move — Losing top scorer. Most overlooked move — Re-signing menacing power forward Ivan Johnson.
Wesley Morton (Staff Writer): I honestly cannot think of a realistic scenario when the offseason goes any better. Dump the monstrous contract that is the single greatest ire of Hawks fans? Check. Rid the ghost of the 2005 NBA Draft for a useable contract year player? Check. Appease your formerly disgruntled hometown kid and now face of the franchise in time for his impending free agency? Check. Welcome to the cap space gated neighborhood of the NBA Hawks fans. On a more negative note, the drafting of John Jenkins now seems like a lost opportunity with players like Perry Jones III still on the board. Of course the whirlwind trade activity took place after the draft but then Danny Ferry signed Lou Williams, another undersized shooting guard with questionable defensive ability, for three years, rendering John Jenkins somewhat redundant. Do not overlook the use of the NBA D League, as both John Jenkins and Mike Scott could see time there to development and with an open roster spot, the Hawks could see temporary players brought up during the season.
Brad Rowland (Staff Writer): If I was grading the off-season, I’d honestly give it an A, and that’s a rarity for this organization. The unquestioned best move of the summer was the one that jettisoned Joe Johnson to Brooklyn for the vast cap relief and flexibility that it provided. In short, the team was never reaching an NBA Finals with the roster make-up that it had, and the Johnson trade allows future flexibility. The worst move? I’d say the John Jenkins selection in the 2012 Draft. I’m having to reach to find a “bad” move and I’m not necessarily writing Jenkins off, but I still would’ve gone in the high-upside direction with someone like Perry Jones. In the “overlooked” category, it has to be the Lou Williams signing. Anytime you can get a guy with a 20 PER, it’s always great to do so. When you can get that guy for the mid-level exception? That’s even better, and Williams is immediately the best crunch-time scorer on the roster.
Danny Nicks (Staff Writer): Looking back at the summer, what is your assessment of the offseason moves made by the Hawks? Name your best, worst, and most overlooked developments of the summer and preseason. Best: Ferry managed to completely rewrite the Hawks future in a week. Unloading Johnson’s contract, which was widely considered unmovable, was flat-out impressive. If Ferry managed to orchestrate a new foundation for the franchise within a week, I can’t wait to see what he can do with six years. Worst: Trading Marvin Williams for Devin Harris. Not only did it leave us with a gaping hole on the wing, but I think Williams would have thrived within Larry Drew’s new system. Plus, I always felt like Williams kind of got a bad rap in Atlanta, simply because of where he was drafted. Most overlooked: Signing Lou Williams. In essence, he should immediately replace most of Joe Johnson’s offensive production. And considering he was runner up for sixth man of the year, talk about bang for your buck at 3 years, $15 mil.
2) Which new player are you most excited to see in a Hawks uniform? Why?
Christian: It has to be Lou Williams. Any time you get the chance to sign a guy who can average 20 points a game for 3 years, 15-million dollars, you have to do it. Atlanta got Williams at a bargain price, and he’s a hometown kid who wanted to play for his hometown team, even if the fans don’t have the greatest reputation. I’ll always love Lou Williams for that. He seems genuinely excited about his role with the Hawks, and it’s a breath of fresh air after witnessing this team’s previously stagnant demeanor. Williams is a dynamite scorer who loves the midrange jumper—but don’t be dismayed by that, he makes up for any volume shooting with how rarely he turns the ball over. He’s a smart decision maker and an excellent pick up for the Hawks.
Menze: Lou Williams. When Atlanta traded Joe Johnson, it was the right move, however, it meant that the team’s leading scorer was now gone. How would the Hawks replace Johnson’s scoring output? Acquiring Anthony Morrow in the trade for JJ was a good start, but certainly not the overall answer. The next step was signing two key, offensive-minded free agents: Kyle Korver and Lou Williams. Korver is a good assassin from 3pt-range, but the real prize is Williams. Lou, an Atlanta native, can drop buckets with the best of ’em and brings versatility to the lineup by playing both guard positions. The fans in Philips will be going crazy for a hometown kid who can light it up from anywhere on the floor.
Morton: The person I am personally most excited to see in a Hawks uniform is DeShawn Stevenson because his swag is unmeasurable, his steez incogitable and his flyness insufferable. His three goggles spread light to dark alleys in poorest areas of third world countries. But unfortunately he won’t offer anything meaningful on the court. Lou Williams could bring more to this Hawks than most realize with his smooth handle, ability to get to the free throw line and his creativity when the clock is running down. Larry Drew also have the luxury to bring him off the bench like Jamal Crawford to help mask his defensive problems. Plus, he kicks some bars with Meek Mill from time to time.
Rowland: Lou Williams. 22 points per 40 minutes, insanely low turnover rate (5.9%), and a PER over 20 last season. When you can get a guy like that who WANTS to be here, and he has an overly fair contract, that brings excitement. He’s the only guy on the entire roster other than Al Horford that is virtually guaranteed to be on the 2013-14 roster, and I’m excited.
Nicks: John Jenkins, hands down. I honestly just think this kid could be the real deal. Not only can he shoot the lights out, but he seems to have the work ethic and intangibles to make an impact early on. It doesn’t hurt that his game looks an awful lot like Ray Allen’s either.
3) What are your biggest concerns for the Hawks this season?
Christian: Definitely wing defense. For starters, the Hawks have no one who can reliably defend the 3. I guess DeShawn Stevenson is alright, but it’s not like he’s a stalwart or anything. Other than, who is there? Kyle Korver? It’s the only gaping hole on the Hawks’ roster. There are still other concerns with wing defense, though. Clearly a Lou Williams-Jeff Teague backcourt is the most efficient offensively, but defensively, that might cause problems because both are small guards and 2-guards these days can be as tall as 6-foot-7. It worked out well in Philadelphia for Williams because he had a big, physical point guard in Jrue Holiday to handle the opposing team’s 2-guard. Jeff Teauge isn’t nearly the size of Holiday and won’t be capable of shouldering the load of guarding 2s. It will be up to Williams, but can he overcome the size difference?
Menze: Leadership. This is the youngest Hawks team in quite some time and with nine new players, leadership might be an issue. Yes, some of the new players are seasoned veterans and the two tenured guys, Josh Smith and Al Horford, should be the obvious leaders of the team, but if Horford gets injured again for a lengthy amount of time and Smith falls into a slump (both of which aren’t too far fetched), this Hawks team might crumble.
Morton: The easy answer is wing defense, specifically at the 3. DeShawn Stevenson may be the primary option defensively but he is a drag on the offensive end. Korver has played small forward in Chicago but has the reverse problem. Tolliver has been more of a stretch 4 than a lockdown wing defender in his career. How will Josh Smith respond if he has to go up against the premier small forwards such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony for long stretches? This seems like the best method but it leaves a lack of depth in the post. I would rather not see Johan Petro play meaningful minutes so I trust Larry Drew to use some combination of the options mentioned above.
Rowland: Wing defense. If you take a look at the Hawks roster, there isn’t a single prototypical small forward. Josh Smith is the starting power forward and while he’s athletic enough to play some small forward, his offense isn’t geared for it, and it certainly isn’t ideal. Kyle Korver is probably the closest thing, but defensively, he’s below average. Stephenson and Morrow are shooting guards. The best 3 perimeter players (Williams, Teague, Harris) are all small-ish. See where I’m going with this? The only guy I would call even an average defender on the wing is Stevenson, and this is a guy who’s PER was actually under FIVE last season. It’s going to be ugly.
Nicks: Offensive rebounding. I love that we’re moving on from the “Iso-Joe” era, but the fact our front court is undersized and under-preforming on the offensive glass doesn’t lend itself to being a jump shooting team. We ranked 28th in offensive rebounding, which is something that must improve if we’re going to rely heavily on our outside threats.
4) With Joe Johnson in Brooklyn, who would you like to see the offense run through? Who, in your mind, will be the best and most important player for the Hawks this season?
Christian: This is a loaded question and there are different answers to each part of it, so I’ll do my best. I’d like Jeff Teague to run the offense, obviously, but I’d like the offense to run through Josh Smith. Smith is the most versatile player on the team, and setting him up for different looks in different situations is probably the ideal scenario. Having said that, Al Horford is the best player on this team, but he’s less versatile than Smith so you can’t use him in as many sets and spots on the floor. The most important player of this team is either Jeff Teague, or surprisingly enough, DeShawn Stevenson. Teague because his development is crucial to the success of the Hawks’ fast paced offense and Stevenson because his wing defense will be so important. If Stevenson can produce at even a mildly subpar rate offensively, it would be a huge lift for this team. Having a capable defender at the 3 who can at least breathe offensively would be nice.
Menze: Josh Smith. Dude is a soldier. Love him. Smoove has always been one of the most talented players for the Hawks, probably even in the NBA, and yet he’s always been left in the shadows. In 2004-05, when Smith was drafted by Atlanta 17th overall, the Hawks finished the year as the worst team in the NBA with a 13-69 record. Since then, Smoove has been the main cog in turning a sucky basketball franchise into a perpetual playoff contender. Even during this transformation, Joe Johnson was seen as the face of the Hawks, not Josh Smith. Now that JJ is gone, it’s time the franchise, along with HawksNation, honors Smoove as the new sheriff in town and gives him the reins to the team. Josh Smith will definitely be the best and most important player for the Hawks this season.
Morton: The offense clearly needs to run through Jeff Teague. He has the ability to make this the most point-guard centric offense in Atlanta since the days of Mookie Blaylock. His quickness along with three point shooters stretching out the defense will be a boon for the offense. The best and most important player is Josh Smith. He has shown to be an elite low post player but how many bad long jumpers will he take? He is unstoppable in transition with an underrated ability to handle the ball and distribute. The contract year will bring eye-popping numbers for the young and talented forward.
Rowland: The best player on the roster is Al Horford. The most important player on the roster is Josh Smith. The player I want to see the offense run through is probably Lou Williams. It’s pretty rare that those 3 questions would produce 3 different answers, but that’s the case here. There’s certainly an argument to be made that the offense “should” run through Josh Smith, but do you trust him to make the right decision when it comes to shot selection? I certainly don’t. That said, he’s the most versatile player on the team, is a great passer, and should be an efficient scorer. Horford will take on an additional load this year, and I’m eager to see what he has. Williams can get to the line at will, and should be the primary creator in late-game spots.
Nicks: I would like to see the offense run as a two man iso-spread, where we isolate the middle of the floor for Teague and Smith to run pick and rolls, while our shooters spread to stretch defenses. I would also like to see a very basic in and out offense through Horford. The most important player to me, would more so just be our entire frontcourt as a whole. Starters and reserves alike will prove to be a crucial anchor for our team at both ends of the floor, namely on the offensive glass.
5) What are your expectations for the Hawks this season? Do you see them making the playoffs? If so, what seed and why?
Christian: I do expect the Hawks to make the playoffs—probably a 6 seed and a first round matchup with the Boston Celtics (I don’t know who my 2 seed is I just want to play Boston again). I think we beat them in the postseason (I mean, just based off of odds alone it’s bound to happen soon, right?) and then lose to whomever we play in the second round. Let me say this, though: aside from Miami, the East is wide open. The Hawks have a very good chance of making their first ever Eastern Conference Finals this year (in Atlanta, at least). As for the regular season, if I had to throw out a record, I’d probably say 44-38, or in that area. It’s tough to buy all of this preseason hype for a team who just lost their six-time all star, but having Danny Ferry put together a roster like this gives me some confidence in saying that we’ll be pretty competitive this year.
Menze: Hawks are definitely going to make the playoffs. Some sports outlets have them as high as 2nd in the East, others have them barely making it to the post-season, but I say they will get in as the 4th of 5th seed. Again. Just like last year. And the year before that… and, well, you get my point. Aside from the Miami Heat, the East has a lot of mediocre teams that could fall in any order from 2-7. The Hawks will be in the upper echelon of the mediocre teams. This is going to be a very exciting team to watch though. I expect this season to be like a soap opera: Will Horford stay healthy? Will Smoove finally decide to stay? Will Ferry’s master plan fill out? Will the Hawks finally get passed the 2nd round? (dun, dun, dun) .. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…
Morton: My prediction is a 46-36 record and 5th in the East. That prediction is not a result of having the utmost faith in this Hawks team. It is that I have relatively little faith for the rest of the Eastern Conference. The Nets are stocked with big names but there is absolutely no defensive resistance near the rim. The Knicks are the Knicks and have only gotten older and more injury riddled since last year without Linsanity to save them. The 76ers have a lot of moving parts and Spencer Hawes to power forward just smells bad. It will be just another year in the middle of the playoff pack for the Atlanta Hawks.
Rowland: When the off-season began and the Joe Johnson/Marvin Williams moves happened, the Hawks were viewed as a fringe playoff team at best. Somehow, since then, the Hawks have morphed into a team that experts are penning into their playoff brackets, and some even have them as a home-court team in the East. I’m somewhere in the middle. I think the talent is certainly there to produce a playoff team, but the defensive issues on the wing, and the fact that I don’t trust Larry Drew to effectively deploy his (admittedly) mismatched rotation options, cause me to be skeptical. In the end, I’m giving the Hawks the 8 seed and a 41-41 record. Pray that I’m wrong.
Nicks: With so many new faces, I fully expect the Hawks to struggle finding their identity and rhythm early on. That said, I do think they’ll find their groove before the All-Star break and that they will make the playoffs as an 8th seed. Once there, I would project a five game series, with a first round exit to the Miami Heat.