Just as they did in 2012-13, the Atlanta Hawks will enter this season having lost one of their key players during the offseason. Last season it was Joe Johnson, and this year it's Josh Smith, who signed a massive contract with the Detroit Pistons in July.
Even without Johnson, the Hawks put together yet another 40-win season in 2012-13. Al Horford was outstanding, Jeff Teague continued to improve and the Hawks received solid contributions from role players, such as Kyle Korver and Ivan Johnson.
There was even the potential to have a better season had Louis Williams not torn his ACL in January. A fantastic scorer, Williams helped the Hawks win a lot of games in the first half of the year.
And while Atlanta did a lot of things well, such as moving the ball around and knocking down threes, the Hawks struggled mightily on the glass all season long, which proved to be a fatal flaw in the postseason.
Hawks' 2012-13 Results:
- 44-38 record (.537)
- Second in Southeast Division
- Sixth in Eastern Conference
- Lost in Eastern Conference quarterfinals to Indiana Pacers (4-2)
The burning question entering the 2013-14 season: Can the Hawks survive the loss of Smith like they did Johnson a year prior?
Key Additions: Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon, DeMarre Carroll, Dennis Schroder (draft) and coach Mike Budenholzer
Key Losses: Josh Smith, Devin Harris, Ivan Johnson, Zaza Pachulia and DeShawn Stevenson
What can we expect from Budenholzer?
While it's an especially great sign for Budenholzer's coaching prospects that Greg Popovich trusted him as his lead assistant for the past six years, there's always going to be a risk factor with a first-time coach.
Still, it's hard not to believe he won't be successful when you read quotes like the following one from Popovich at the time of the Hawks hiring Budenholzer, via ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst:
I couldn't be happier for Mike for many reasons. As anyone who's been part of this program knows, he has been more of a co-head coach than an assistant for a long time. His knowledge of the game as well as his ability to teach and develop relationships with players are all special. I will miss him a great deal both professionally and personally and am confident that he and Danny will make a great team as the future unfolds.
Can Horford carry a team?
While Horford isn't exactly on his own here, he's no longer teammates with anybody capable of making an all-NBA team.
If the Hawks are going to make the postseason, Al is going to have to be a better player than he was a year ago. And that's asking a lot, considering Horford averaged 17.4 points on 54.3 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
With Smith as their top offensive option last year, the Hawks were a middle-of-the-road offensive team. That's Horford, now. And he might need to average around 20 a night for this team to be good.
Can Millsap replace Smith?
The Hawks got perhaps the steal of the offseason by signing Millsap for just $19 million over two years. Although he's not going to be a human highlight reel like Smith, there's plenty Millsap does better than the new Piston.
While Smith taking jumpers made Hawks fans mad, it'll actually be a good thing for Atlanta when Millsap hoists one up. He shot 54.3 percent from the field in 2012-13, including a stellar 47.7 percent on shots from 10 to 15 feet, according to Hoopdata.
Millsap's also not going to turn the ball over and will knock down his foul shots, things Smith has long struggled with.
If Millsap and Horford can iron out the chemistry kinks that come with being new teammates, there's the potential for a really solid frontcourt here in Atlanta.
Depth Chart Breakdown and Grades
|PG||Jeff Teague||Dennis Schroder||Shelvin Mack||Jared Cunningham|
|SG||Kyle Korver||Louis Williams||John Jenkins|
|SF||DeMarre Carroll||Cartier Martin|
|PF||Paul Millsap||Elton Brand||Mike Scott||Pedro Antic|
|C||Al Horford||Gustavo Ayon|
The Hawks have a solid future at the PG position. Teague had a career year in 2012-13, showing great growth as a playmaker (he jumped from 4.9 APG in 2011-12 to 7.2 APG in 12-13). He also successfully took on more responsibility scoring and posted another career best of 14.6 PPG (45.1 percent shooting). At 25 years old, there's no reason to believe Teague won't make another leap this year.
Backing up Teague is the rookie Schroder, who was very impressive in the Hawks' final preseason game. He scored 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting and added four assists. Schroder still has the looks of someone who has a ways to go before becoming a polished NBA player; however, he can make an impact right away just based off of his athleticism.
There are not many out there who can shoot as well as Korver. He shot a flat-out absurd 45.7 percentage on his three-point attempts in 2012-13. Atlanta was one of the best teams in the NBA from outside last year, and look no further than Korver to explain why.
Korver doesn't have much upside. You know exactly what you're going to get from him, and that's not a bad thing.
The Hawks are going to receive a huge boost when Williams returns from injury around the All-Star break. Without Smith, Atlanta needs scorers, and Williams is certainly that (14.1 PPG in 28.1 MPG in 12-13).
Until Williams is back, though, Atlanta will rely on Jenkins for a lot of its bench scoring. Jenkins can really shoot the ball (38.4 3PT% in 12-13); he's a valuable piece for the Hawks
Small forward is by far the Hawks' weakest position. Carroll is just not someone who should be starting for an NBA team, let alone one with playoff aspirations.
He's a capable wing defender, but his offensive game is lacking. He's a career 42.8 percent shooter from the field and 28.4 percent shooter from three. He averaged just 6.0 points per game for a Utah Jazz team last year that wasn't exactly loaded with scorers.
As for Martin, he's a great shooter, topping 38 percent on three-pointers in four straight seasons. However, he brings very little else to the table.
Expect to see Korver play a lot of small forward this year, based on the Hawks' lack of other options on the depth chart.
The Hawks have to feel pretty comfortable with what they have at the power forward position. We've talked about Millsap and just how skilled and helpful he can be for this team. He's someone who can consistently score 15 points, rebound (7.1 PG in 2012-13) and defend well.
While Brand is nearing the end of his career at 34 years old, he's still someone who can have a positive impact for a team.
He'll give the Hawks another veteran presence and will help Atlanta avoid ranking in the bottom third of the NBA for rebounds a game, as it did in 2012-13.
As for Scott, he's put together a really solid preseason. He's been the Hawks' third-best scorer behind Millsap and Horford, averaging 12.0 points per game on 61.8 percent shooting. Defense is a huge issue for him, though.
Horford is one of the NBA's most underrated. Not that many teams have centers who can do anything particularly well, while Al excels in multiple areas (can shoot, score down low, pass, etc.).
Horford has an opportunity to show people just how responsible he has been for the Hawks' success over the past couple of years, and I believe he takes advantage of it.
While Al's backup, Ayon, will be sidelined for the start of the season, the Hawks will have someone who can rebound (4.9 RPG in 13.6 MPG in 2012-13 for the Milwaukee Bucks) and is a capable scorer around the basket when he's healthy. It's not as if he's a game-changing player, but Atlanta could do worse in a backup center
Until Ayon returns, expect Brand to slide down and be the No. 2 center behind Horford.
Check out Adam Fromal's Hawks player power rankings here.
What to Watch For
Breakout Player: John Jenkins
What usually spurs a breakout campaign is opportunity, and Jenkins will have more of that this year than he did in his rookie campaign (13.8 MPG) with Williams still injured and the need for Korver to play a lot at the 3.
He's a good bet to shoot around 40 percent from three-point land and will be shooting from outside more than the 2.3 times per game he did last season. It's very possible he jumps from 6.1 points per game to around 11 or 12.
Team MVP: Al Horford
There's really no other choice. Millsap is Atlanta's second-best player; however, he's not someone who can lead a team.
Horford's likely going to see more defensive attention than ever before, but he's skilled enough to overcome it. This Hawks team is going to go as far as he takes them.
Most Disappointing Player: DeMarre Carroll
This isn't a situation where fans are expecting huge things from Carroll this season. However, his status as a starter suggests the Hawks believe he can be a valuable piece this year. That's hard to believe, given everything he's shown us in his four-year NBA career suggests he should be a small role player at best.
Unless Carroll can develop an outside shot this year, I don't see the decision to start Carroll working out for Atlanta.
Most Likely to Be Traded: Al Horford
This isn't an indictment on Horford, but rather the state of the Hawks. Atlanta isn't good enough to compete for a title but isn't bad enough to get a high lottery pick.
The Hawks can get out of no man's land and become a full-blown rebuilding project by dealing Horford, their most valuable asset.
If things go south this season, if Atlanta can't overcome the loss of Smith, look for the Hawks to explore a Horford deal.
Biggest Rivalry: Washington Wizards
Division foes, the Hawks and Wizards are both likely going to be fighting for a playoff spot this year. Especially late in the year, it's going to be important for Atlanta to win its games against Washington if another playoff berth is on the horizon. On top of that, these are two fun teams to watch.
Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios with Predicted W-L Record
The Hawks again head to the postseason thanks to Horford becoming a 20-10 guy, Millsap proving to be a better fit than Smith was and Williams having the type of impact he had the first half of the 2012-13 season. Still, even the Hawks' best-case scenario doesn't involve a playoff series win, given how strong the top of the East is.
The Hawks miss Smith more than anticipated, win fewer than 40 games and miss the postseason. They also don't trade Horford, putting them on track to spend the 2014-15 season in no man's land once again.
Projected W-L Record: 41-41
Horford and Millsap will bring the Hawks to another postseason, but only as the seventh or eighth seed. Not re-signing Smith this summer was the right move for the long-term health of the franchise, but it's a decision that hurts the Hawks in the short term.