Atlanta Hawks Report Card: Early Grades for All the Team's Key Players
While the Atlanta Hawks have been on a roller coaster to start the season, they've become one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference with Jeff Teague at the helm.
They kicked off the season with two consecutive blowouts and three consecutive wins. After being picked apart by Kyle Lowry and the Houston Rockets, they responded promptly by beating LeBron James' Miami Heat.
The ride doesn't end there. They got off to a blistering start against Chicago the next night and racked up a 19-point lead. They squandered that and choked the game away in the closing seconds. Following that, to spiral down even further, they lost to a LeBron James and Dwyane Wade-less Heat team in triple overtime, just days after handing the fully healthy Heat their only loss.
They then beat the lowly Charlotte Bobcats in overtime and then throttled the Bulls and never took their foot off the gas. It's been a season with several ups and downs, but the Hawks have made out better than most people thought after an absolutely brutal opening stretch. They're 7-3 early on, and the schedule only gets easier.
Here are the grades for each key Hawks player throughout the first 10 games of the season.
Jeff Teague: Starting Point Guard
Jeff Teague has been a dynamite penetrator, and the answer the Hawks have been searching for at point guard.
He's had some rough games, like their second game against Miami when Mario Chalmers burned him time and time again, and the game against Chicago, when Derrick Rose took him off the dribble every play in the fourth quarter to will Chicago's comeback.
Aside from those two blunders, he's been a defensive stalwart, tallying over two steals per game and creating havoc on the ball.
Offensively, the movement he creates can't be stressed enough. He penetrates the lane and makes the defense collapse, allowing spot-up shooters to get open. He has a soft floater and has shot the ball well this season from three.
The most important thing Teague has done to date is keep the ball on a string. He moves it when it needs to be moved and keeps it when he needs to penetrate. His decision making is night and day compared to last year, as evidenced by the lesser amount of turnovers.
Teague has been a breath of fresh air for the Hawks, but before he gets bumped up to an A, he needs to show a tad more consistency on defense.
Joe Johnson: Starting Shooting Guard
Joe Johnson, the million dollar man, probably closer to billion (not actually), is slowly finding his scoring groove again.
He played injured almost all of last season as he was hindered by a hurt elbow. This season, while healthy, he still hasn't produced as much as expected offensively. He's beginning to hit his stride, but it's becoming apparent he has an 18-point per game ceiling this year. He's not going to crack 20 with all the shots going around to Horford, Smith, Teague and Williams. While he easily could, the issue is, he's not shooting at a great percentage and his three-point shot still isn't what it used to be.
Joe Johnson will be a borderline All-Star this season, unlike the shoe-in he's been for the last five years. He's declining, but he's still a dominant player in this league. If Johnson starts canning a higher percentage of his shots, there is no reason he couldn't average around 22 points per contest.
By the looks of the shots he's taking, though—contested fadeaways—the chances of that percentage improving is slim. He's missed a lot of open threes, so if he starts nailing those, the defense will have to respect him a little more from down town.
Defensively, he's the same as he's always been. He has some holes, but is generally a solid defender.
Johnson may be starting to hit his stride, but he's come up short in the clutch when the Hawks have needed him two times already. He is the alpha dog of this team, and scoring 10 points in a loss when your team surrendered a 19-point lead is unacceptable.
Marvin Williams: Starting Small Forward
I wrote about Marvin Williams and his chance at having an unlikely return to relevance shortly before the season started.
He's done just that by 11 points per game and six rebounds per game. Those stats undersell his new value to the Hawks, however. With Josh Smith turning into more of a power forward, it became increasingly clear that the Hawks were in need of a true small forward or swingman. Williams has filled that role nicely and has been a monster on the offensive boards while doing so.
His length and athleticism have always been his biggest strengths, and he's finally putting them to use defensively, as the Hawks new defensive mindset has turned each and every starter into ball-hawking maniacs with the goal of creating havoc and turnovers.
So many people were ready to write Marvin Williams off, including myself. However, once he had back surgery and reports started surfacing about a new-look Marvin Williams, I became a believer. It's not just his defensive efforts, straight back or ability to fill a void on the roster, he's doing everything better. His decision making is much improved, as he's taking and making more three-pointers as opposed to his usual 22-footer with his heels on the three point line.
Given expectations, Marvin Williams has shown that he is a legitimate player in this league who, when healthy, can really ignite a team. He led the Hawks in scoring and rebounding in their first two games as he set the tone for the season. He's going through a minor injury right now, but when he's back, the Hawks will appreciate his return. The one-time model of inconsistency is now the model of consistency on an inconsistent team. Weird.
Josh Smith: Starting Power Forward
Josh Smith started off the season slow. He didn't run out of the gate, he jogged, tripped over his own shoelaces and tried to get back up, but decided to crawl instead.
He came out sluggish and turnover prone. It wasn't the same Smoove playing that everyone saw in the Chicago series.
But then, in the sixth game of the season, coincidentally against Chicago, Smith found his groove. He went for 15 points and 14 rebounds. From then on, he's been nearly unstoppable.
Say what you want about him shooting jumpers, but he's making them at a much higher clip than ever before. He's mixing it up, too. He's going in the paint and making plays, he's flaunting his bevy of post moves and he's attacking off the dribble. He's a multi-faceted, explosive athlete who could be in line for his first all star season.
The Hawks have been without a superstar since Dominique Wilkins. While the Hawks might try and make a play for hometown hero Dwight Howard, Smith is turning into the hometown hero himself, playing at an all-time level in front of one of the most up-and-down fanbases in the league (funny how the team is the same way).
Smith's been a stat sheet stuffer as well as a shot stuffer. In the Hawks' rendezvous with Chicago, Smith went off for 25 points, six blocks, four steals, five rebounds and five assists. As if that wasn't enough, the Hawks met New Jersey for the third time this year, and Josh Smith put up similar numbers. He had 26 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Hawks fans are scared to lose Al Horford in a trade for Dwight Howard. It would be worse losing Josh Smith, who is having a monster year right now.
Al Horford: Starting Center
What you see is what you get with Al Horford. He's a big, strong power jump shooting power forward with an improving post game. Unfortunately, he's playing center.
He's not the longest or most athletic big man, but he certainly makes up for it with acute fundamentals and a deadly mid-range game to keep the defense honest.
While he's playing out of position, he isn't doing a bad job at all. He's been all star for the past two seasons and has proven to be a consistent 15 and 10 guy. Horford may be able to up points per game average, but he's awfully close to his ceiling.
Most teams would be perfectly happy with that, but the Hawks are in need of a true center, and Horford is stuck manning the five for most of the game.
He too, like Smith, had a slow start to the season, but he's slowly picking it up. He's still not putting up the numbers he's capable of putting up or has been putting up recently. To be honest, he's been more of a disappointment this season. Here's to hoping Big Al makes the little touch-ups necessary this season to get back into top form.
Vladimir Radmanovic: 6th Man
Vladimir Radmanovic was signed for one reason, and one reason only: to take and make three pointers.
He's done a nice job of that for Atlanta thus far, as he's made the Nets pay more than once and has taken down the Chicago Bulls with a hot hand.
Vlad-Rad isn't consistent and is often indecisive on offense, but when he's open, look out, because he will be splashing a three ball.
He's slow on defense and fouls too much, but everybody knew that going in.
Vlad-Rad has exceeded expectations and has had the hot hand for the past few games. He's playing as well as he possibly can right now; just ask Chicago, who saw him go 5-for-5 from downtown and pour in 17 points. He was brought in to spread the floor, and his grade is indicitave of how well he's been able to play within his role.
Tracy McGrady: 6th Man
Tracy McGrady used to be an all-world superstar who could pour in 50 points on any given night.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, it isn't 2003 anymore.
However, McGrady has been more than serviceable when healthy. He was a spark of energy off the bench to start the season, and while his old legs have given him some injury problems early on, his contributions and leadership have been very well received within the team.
He showed flashes of the days of old when he almost single-handedly closed out LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Miami Heat. He scorched the Heat defense for 14 fourth-quarter points and hit clutch shot after clutch shot.
While T-Mac has never won a playoff series, he's always been a knockdown shooter with the game on the line.
When healthy, McGrady has been the playmaker Atlanta has wanted him to be. Combine that and his surprising amount of scoring, he's made up for the loss of Jamal Crawford quite nicely.