The Atlanta Hawks will win 55 games this season if...
...They Learn How to Win on the Road
This team only won 16 road games during the 2008-09 season. The Hawks lost all five of their road playoff games. They should be able to get to 50 wins by just playing better on the road.
What is it going to take to go .500 on the road? One quality—toughness. By toughness, I mean setting solid screens, blocking out, knowing your opponents' tendencies, crashing the offensive boards, etc.
...Marvin Williams Lives up to the Potential and Promise He Showed in the Early Months of the 2008 Season
Williams was arguably the Hawks best perimeter defender for most of last year. He matches up with Lebron, Paul Pierce, and the best wing players in the NBA.
This summer Williams received the big guaranteed money. How will the money and security effect his game? Last year, he was taking charges, rebounding, and making the corner three-point shot.
He was clutch during the Hawks quick start in November and December. If Marvin plays without the passion of 2008, he will live down to the whispers of being a bust from early in his career.
...Josh Smith Plays Hard
If you ever watch Smith jog up and down the court, lose sight of the basketball in transition, and stay on the perimeter instead of crashing the offensive boards, you know what I mean.
Smith could be a dominant player on both ends of the court. He could be the one guy that the Hawks could post up. I can see him on the right block with a short lefty hook or a spin to the baseline to score. The problem is Smith wants to shoot jumpers.
He has to play with more energy. Last week, I watched Brandon Bass from Orlando and Chris Anderson from the Denver Nuggets. Neither player has Smith's ability, but they both have the desire that Smith has not shown. That is scary at $11 million a year.
...Jamal Crawford Plays Crucial Fourth Quarter Minutes at the Point Guard Position
Crawford can create his own shot at any time against any defender. The question is will he create easy scoring opportunities for his teammates, especially in the fourth quarter?
Hawks fans will have to get used to Crawford bringing the ball across half court, dribbling between his legs, and shooting. That is his bread and butter move and it will happen a ton this year. He will score in the fourth quarter, but will he defend and distribute?
...Coach Mike Woodson Is More Creative on the Offensive End of the Floor
Woodson has to do two things for this Hawks team to win more games.
First, he has to encourage and allow the Hawks to push the ball in transition. The Hawks have no low post game. They have to run to score easy baskets. When Teague, J-Smoove, and Horford are in the game together the Hawks can run.
Secondly, Woodson has to be more creative with set plays in the final minutes. The Hawks can't just cut Joe Johnson into the left low post area and clear out the side for him every time. The Orlando Magic were doubling Johnson on the initial catch in the preseason!
When the Hawks absolutely have to have a score, Woodson has to have drilled into them their go-to plays. The Lakers have the triangle offense, the Magic have the high screen and roll, the Spurs throw the ball to Duncan on the left block. What do the Hawks do?
...Al Horford Has to Become a Monster on the Offensive and Defensive Glass
There is absolutely no reason that "the Boss" should not average double figures in points and rebounds this season.
Speaking of scoring in double figures, Horford has to be more effective on screen and roll plays. One problem for the Hawks in 2008 was that Joe and Mike Bibby do not like or try to penetrate off a ball screen.
That should be better this year with Crawford and maybe Teague at the point. Horford should be able to score on dunks, offensive put backs, and spot up jumpers out of this play.
...Joe Johnson Plays Like Joe Always Plays
In my mind, Johnson could be an MVP candidate. He is a warrior that has played huge minutes in the past two years.
When other guys were injured in 2008, he carried the load. He scored, he set guys up, and he often had to guard the other team's point guard in crunch time.
Do Joe's legs have another big year in them? He refused to sign an extension with the Hawks. That will only be a distraction if the Hawks struggle, but I expect Johnson to come to play every night.
The scary part for Hawks fans that know anything about winning basketball is that he might be doing that for the New York Knicks after the summer of 2010.