NBA Trades: Does Kirk Hinrich Make the Atlanta Hawks Serious Playoff Contenders?

Andy BaileyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 18:  Kirk Hinrich #12 of the Washington Wizards handles the ball against the Miami Heat at the Verizon Center on December 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.   (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Kirk Hinrich has been traded to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans and a first-round pick in this year's draft. The Hawks also received Hilton Armstrong.

This is a huge upgrade at point guard for Atlanta. Hinrich averages more points, assists, rebounds and steals than Bibby. Plus, he shoots a better percentage from the field and from the free throw line.

All that production could go up a bit in Atlanta. He'll undoubtedly start for the Hawks, and thanks to his conditioning and defense, he should be on the floor more than Bibby was.

Hinrich is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. In fact, on-ball defense has really become his calling card over the last few seasons.

That will help him fit into an already defensive-minded team. Right now, the Hawks are ninth in the NBA in points allowed per game, but one position they've had trouble defending is the point.

The addition of Hinrich will go a long way toward solving that problem.

His defense will help him fit in as early as his first game with the Hawks, and he's smart enough to get into the flow of their offense within the first week or two.

With that small adjustment period, the slightly tweaked Hawks will almost immediately look like a better team.

Right now, they're sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 34-23.  They should win 50 games but won't rise any higher than fourth in the standings.

I also don't see them slipping out of their current spot either. Even with a third of the season left to go, Atlanta and the Orlando Magic are probably already locked into the fourth and fifth playoff spots.

That sets up a first-round matchup between the Southeast Division rivals. The only question is, who will secure the fourth seed, and with it home-court advantage?

As the teams are currently constituted, I would not be surprised to see the Hawks win that series—especially if they can secure home court.

Outside of Orlando's clear advantage at center, the rest of the matchups might actually favor the Hawks.

Jameer Nelson is solid, but his numbers have only been slightly better than Hinrich's this year. With Hinrich assuming the starting role in Atlanta, he could be more productive than Nelson over the remainder of the year and into the playoffs.

Jason Richardson and Joe Johnson would be another close call, but I think most would agree that Johnson is the better overall player.

The small forward matchup is an interesting one. While Hedo Turkoglu is clearly better than Marvin Williams offensively, Williams' length and athleticism can really bother Turkoglu and hinder his abilities in the pick and roll game.

The power forward matchup clearly goes to the Hawks. Josh Smith is one of the most dynamic and effective all-around players in the NBA, especially on offense.

Like I said though, Dwight Howard gives Orlando a huge advantage at center. Al Horford is an All-Star, but he's no D-12.

Orlando's bench is much better too.

Of course, all these comparisons are contingent upon these teams staying the same as the trade deadline passes this afternoon.

There is a rumor that Orlando may acquire Zach Randolph from the Grizzlies in exchange for Brandon Bass and Jason Richardson.

If that deal went down, I think it would drastically increase Orlando's chances of winning a title.

If all things stay the same, I can see the Hawks besting the Magic four games to three in a seven-game series.

If they pulled that off, they'd have to take on whatever team nabs the top overall seed in the East. That will either be the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat.

The Hawks would be a huge underdog against either of those teams, but I wouldn't write them off immediately.

A couple years ago, they gave the Celtics all they could handle in the first round. More recently, they troubled LeBron James' Cavaliers.

They didn't win either of those series, but they showed they could compete on that level.  They're also a better team this season than they were then.

They have more experience, and each of the Hawks has grown individually. When you combine that growth with the addition of Kirk Hinrich, Atlanta could definitely make some noise in the playoffs this year.