NBA Basketball: 5 Ways Atlanta Hawks Will Still Contend Without Joe Johnson

Hayden Deitrick@hdeitrickFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2012

NBA Basketball: 5 Ways Atlanta Hawks Will Still Contend Without Joe Johnson

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    Despite the loss of all-star shooting guard Joe Johnson the Atlanta Hawks will compete as well, if not better, in the NBA this upcoming season.

    Don’t mistake this point for a lack of respect for the incredibly talented Joe Johnson.  With the loss of Johnson, the Hawks lose a great scorer, a fantastic three-point shooter and a team leader.

    Atlanta has not missed the playoffs in the last five seasons.  That being said, they have not made it passed the second round in any of these playoff appearances.

    Trading Joe Johnson was necessary for the Hawks to continue to grow towards a future roster that can compete against a talented Eastern Conference.

    With the added salary cap that the Hawks received from unloading Johnson’s massive contract that still has $89 million on it, the Hawks have been able to bring in a plethora of talented, young players that fit a new run-and-gun style offense.

    Here are five ways the Atlanta Hawks can still contend after trading away Johnson.

A Greater Role for Josh Smith

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    Joe Johnson averaged 15.5 shots per game for the Hawks last season. 

    Without Johnson in the lineup, PF Josh Smith will look to take more control of the offense.  This will likely lead to an increase in his shot-attempts, and thus, more points-per-game.

    Last season, Smith averaged 18.8 points-per-game on an average on 16.7 attempts.

    Smith benefited greatly from his partnership with Johnson.  They formed an impressive tandem on the break.

    Smith, however, will benefit more from this separation.

    With more responsibility and a greater role in the offense, Smith has an opportunity to take his game to the next level and elevate himself to All-Star status.  

Al Horford Back from Injury

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    Atlanta suffered a major setback last season when power-forward Al Horford suffered a foot injury in January. 

    Horford, a team leader in scoring and rebounding, would not return to the Hawks lineup until their playoff matchup with the Boston Celtics.  The big man scored in double digits in all three games, and he helped force the series to a decisive seventh game.

    Horford will look to remain healthy throughout the 2012-13 season and show why many consider him an All-Star caliber talent. 

    As Atlanta moves towards a new system of run and gun offense, Horford will be needed to provide a low-post presence and solid rebounding.

    Horford recognizes his important role as the enforcer down low. 

    “You can’t just sit around and shoot jumpers all day. We have to have a paint presence. We have to establish that,” said Horford.

    For Atlanta to be successful in their new, post-Johnson system, a healthy Al Horford must establish his place in the middle. 

Three Point Threat Still Remains

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    Joe Johnson is an excellent three-point shooter.  The Hawks, however, have already made moves to replace him with more players of an equal or better shooting caliber

    Johnson shot 38.8% from beyond the arc, and he made 125 three-pointers last season.

    Anthony Morrow, who came to Atlanta in the Johnson trade, shot an impressive 37.1% from downtown last season.

    Atlanta signed free agent shooting guard Kyle Korver, who shot 43.5% from beyond the arc.

    John Jenkins, Atlanta’s first-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt, was arguably the best marksman in the draft.  He shot 43.9% from behind the college three-point line.

    The combination of these three three-point specialists will more than compensate for the loss of Johnson. 

    In fact, in Atlanta’s new up-tempo style offense, having multiple shooters of this quality is better than just having one.

Danny Ferry as the New General Manager

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    Danny Ferry has already made his mark as Atlanta’s new General Manager and President of Basketball Operations.

    Ferry has previously served as the G.M. for the LeBron-era Cavaliers and most recently, he served as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the San Antonio Spurs.

    Ferry’s first move as G.M. was to send Joe Johnson to the Nets.

    This move was brilliant for Ferry.  His offloading of one of the most poisonous contracts in basketball ($89 million over the next four years) has opened the salary cap to the point that he can make his own mark on the Hawks roster.

    Through trades and free agent signings, Ferry has brought talented players such as Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson and Johan Petro to Atlanta.

    Ferry’s judgment has already proven to be better than that of his predecessor, Rick Sund. 

    With Ferry at the helm, Atlanta’s future looks bright.

A Greater Focus on Youth

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    At age 31, Joe Johnson is beginning to reach the end of the prime of his career. 

    The Hawks have looked to replace the aging Johnson with younger players who have bright futures.

    By unloading Johnson, Atlanta gives younger players such as John Jenkins (21-years-old) and Jeff Teague (24-years-old) a chance to shine.

    Add in other young players such as 25-year-old Lou Williams, 24-year-old Mike Scott, and 26-year-old Al Horford, and Atlanta has a team that is better built towards the future.

    This is another example of how Danny Ferry has put his mark on the Hawks.  He is building a team that will compete for years to come.

    While players like Joe Johnson are special, the Hawks now have a team that could potentially have multiple players that will reach that same talent level.