For the past few seasons, the Atlanta Hawks have been a middle-of-the-pack playoff team. Mired in mediocrity, they weren’t getting any better, nor were they getting worse.
Sometimes, a step back must be taken before moving forward.
General manager Danny Ferry began the groundwork for a rebuild last summer when he traded away Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. This summer, the addition of a new coaching staff and at least six new players has accelerated the rebuilding process.
The sudden turnaround makes forecasting the Hawks’ 2013-14 record a tricky task. However, we will discuss the team’s roster, its strengths and weaknesses and the competition that it'll be facing. Then, we will make an informed prediction.
Atlanta Hawks Roster
Al Horford, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, Lou Williams, Mike Scott, John Jenkins, DeShawn Stevenson and Shelvin Mack are the only returning faces from Atlanta’s 2012-13 playoff run.
Former Utah Jazz power forward Paul Millsap has signed on and will likely start at the 4, forcing Horford to play more at center. Fellow Jazz forward DeMarre Carroll has also defected to Atlanta.
Fourteen-year veteran Elton Brand will provide experience off the bench at both frontcourt positions. However, the combined forces of Horford, Millsap and Brand do not exceed 6’10” in height. That leaves the Hawks desperate for size.
The only other player with any size on the roster is Scott. At 6’8”, he has the size to play the 4 but has a good enough mid-range game to play the 3.
Which of the two unsigned rookies should GM Danny Ferry sign?
The Hawks roster is overrun with guards. Teague will be running the point, backed up by the impressive rookie Dennis Schröder and second-year backup Mack. The 2-guard position has Jenkins, Williams and Jared Cunningham, as well as Korver and Stevenson (both of whom can also play small forward).
The roster is still a work in progress. Ferry still has to make a decision on whether he will sign rookie big men Lucas Nogueira and Mike Muscala.
Even in adding both of them, the roster would still be imbalanced. Expect the Hawks to add another big man and possibly another wing player before the summer is over. Doing so may result in the release of one—if not more—of their expendable guards.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Let’s start with Atlanta’s shortcomings. The Hawks are absurdly small. This is sure to make rebounding and protecting the rim difficult tasks to accomplish. Against larger front lines, the Hawks are bound to struggle.
The Hawks employ a bevy of shooters with whom to space the floor. Unfortunately, Korver is the only one capable of shooting the three-point shot above 40 percent from the field. Nearly everyone else shoots in the mid-30s. Opposing teams may double off of Atlanta’s shooters when Millsap or Horford is operating in the post.
Chemistry could be a glaring weakness. Many of the players are unfamiliar with one another. Also, none of them have ever played in this offense. New head coach Mike Budenholzer will be running a Spurs-like offense that will be predicated on high-post screens and pick-and-rolls.
As the season progresses, the logjam at point guard may become a problem. Schröder is only going to get better. Will his improvements force the coaching staff to start cutting into Teague’s minutes? And if so, how might Teague respond?
A strength that should be noted: The Hawks’ frontcourt is very skilled. Horford and Millsap may be undersized, but they are not lacking in ability—both around the basket and from varying distances.
Something else that cannot be ignored, aside from Nogueira (who has not been signed to a contract), is that everyone on the roster can shoot a mid-range or longer jump shot. That will be useful for exploiting defenses that cheat down to the low block when the Hawks run high-post screens.
The Hawks employ very smart players. Given time, these guys are sure to figure out whatever chemistry issues they may face.
The Atlanta Hawks play in the Southeast Division. For the most part, that is a good thing. That equates to eight wins just from playing the hapless Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic. They may drop one to the Washington Wizards and four more to the Miami Heat, making an 11 - 5 divisional record.
Predicting games against the Atlantic and Central Divisions is trickier because there is no way of knowing which teams Atlanta will play four times or three until the schedule is released later in the offseason.
The Brooklyn Nets have improved immensely and now look to be a top contender in the East. The Chicago Bulls, who will have Derrick Rose back, Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks round out the top-five teams in the East behind the defending champs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers (pending Andrew Bynum’s health), Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors should fill out the playoff bracket, leaving the Hawks to battle the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics for the “best of the rest” award.
Facing the Western Conference will be no simple task, either.
The Los Angeles Lakers may end up suffering through a down year, but Kobe Bryant will return, and he may still be good enough to steal a win from Atlanta. The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers have established themselves as the crème de la crème in the West and will all look to sweep the Hawks.
The San Antonio Spurs will be another year older, but they are still a superior team. The Memphis Grizzlies return most of their squad from last year. The Minnesota Timberwolves will be even better now that Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love are both healthy. And the Portland Trail Blazers can only expect to get better as they head into Damian Lillard’s second season with new rookie C.J. McCollum.
The West Coast road trips may be unbearable to watch.
All things considered, Atlanta is most likely going to be in the NBA draft lottery.
Prediction: 33 - 49