Atlanta Hawks Analysis: Decisions About Crawford, Smith and NBA Draft Targets

John Boller@jboll0327Correspondent IJune 9, 2011

Atlanta Hawks Analysis: Decisions About Crawford, Smith and NBA Draft Targets

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 12:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks defends against the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Phillips Arena on May 12, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It is June, and for another summer the Atlanta Hawks are not contending for an NBA championship. Instead they are focusing on how to get that missing piece or pieces to winning the NBA’s coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy.

    For me, the Hawks two biggest concerns are what to do about free agent Jamal Crawford, and how to finally get Al Horford a true starting center to play alongside in the front court.

    The emergence of Jeff Teague in the postseason has locked up the starting point guard position, and Joe Johnson is not going anywhere at the 2 or 3-positions after his $121 million offseason last year.

    If Atlanta loses Crawford, then the Hawks will lose a scorer. However, the Hawks had five players (including Crawford) average double-figures in scoring, proving that Atlanta already has a balanced offensive attack.

    Also, with Teague clearly ready to take over as point guard, Kirk Hinrich can play shooting guard, giving Atlanta a threat on the perimeter and another guy on the court who knows how to run theoffense. Hinrich is averaging 13-points-a-game for his career, shooting .418 from the field, .380 from the three and .812 from the foul line.

    In comparison, Crawford is averaging 15.4-points-a-game for his career, shooting .421 from the field, .341 on threes and .846 from the foul line, pretty similar to numbers to Hinrich.

    However, Hinrich averages 5.6 assists a game, while Crawford has never been much of a pass-first point guard and only has a career average of 3.2 assists a game.

    This season, Horford was second-best on the team with 3.5 assists per game. Perhaps, worrying about another scorer is not the biggest concern for the Hawks.

    Atlanta only averaged 39 rebounds a game last year, third-worst in the league. Also, despite having one of the best shot blockers in the game (Josh Smith), the Hawks averaged only 4.16 blocks a game, again third-worst in the league. These numbers are a clear sign that the Hawks need someone in the middle to help get rebounds and alter shots.

    Unfortunately, the Hawks only have one pick in the upcoming draft. After trading away their first-round pick to the Washington Wizards, Atlanta only has the 48th pick.

    This does not leave the Hawks many options in landing one of the top-tier big men in the draft. They do have a bargaining chip, however, in Smith.

    Smith is one of my favorite players, and I would not be happy if the Hawks did let him go. But after seven seasons with Atlanta, it is time to really re-evaluate what his NBA future and whether it is with the Hawks.

    By having him, the Hawks still have an issue with Horford playing out of position at the four. Also, Smith still thinks he is an outside shooter. Time and time again he settles for perimeter shots. He is best around the basket or on the run in the open floor.

    I understand the competitive nature of an athlete and wanting to prove you can do what your critics say you can’t do, but he is never going to be an outside shooter. If it has not happened by now, then it is just not meant to be.

    His trade value is only going to decrease. He is still 25 and could entice a team with a higher pick to pull the trigger.

    This year’s draft is filled with centers who have a high-risk reward. Five centers that are potential high-risk reward prospects are expected to have their name called in the first round in most mock drafts. This gives Atlanta more than one chance to dangle Smith in front of an NBA team and hope they bite.

    Here are three true centers that I feel could justify giving up Josh Smith.

Jonas Valanciunas

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    The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Lithuanian is only 19, but the Hawks have never been scared to draft a player because he is a teenager.

    He has been around since he and Lithuania won the Under-16 European championship in 2008. The biggest issue that keeps coming up for Valanciunas is the three years he has left on his deal with Lietuvos Rytas. However, NBA executives say the buyout is not an issue.

    The guy has a motor, plays hard and 7-foot-6 wingspan. At 240 pounds, he needs to put on some weight, but once he starts working out with NBA trainers in the weight room, he should be cut pretty well.

    Also, he plays in an offensive system where he lives and breathes on the inside, setting screens and rolling to the hoop; and he loves to play the game.

Enes Kanter

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    Kanter is another international big man, but he is traveling a very different route than Valanciunas is. Kanter was supposed to play with John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats this season, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible after finding out that he received money from his club team in Turkey.

    While he has played hardly at all, Kanter still has NBA scouts interested in him. Like Valanciunas, Kanter is  6-foot-11, but he has a good 20 pounds on the Lithuanian at 259 pounds. He also has an impressive 7-foot-2 wingspan.

    Kanter did get to participate in Wildcats practices and went up against another draft prospect in teammate Josh Harrelson, who after an impressive NCAA Tournament, is considered an NBA talent by most scouts. The risk is there, but the reward could be great.

Nikola Vucevic

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    DAYTON, OH - MARCH 16: Nikola Vucevic #5 of the USC Trojans walks off the court after being defeated by the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the first round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at UD Arena on March 16, 2011 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Pho
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    I am a big fan of Vucevic. He is an in-between big guy who is likely better suited to play center than power forward in the NBA. He spent three years at USC and is a true 7-footer, weighs 260 pounds and has a 7-foot-5 wingspan.

    He definitely has room to grow and needs to put some weight on his 7-foot frame. Also, Vucevic might still be available on the board for the Hawks with the 48th pick. Maybe the Hawks can let go of Crawford, trade Smith for a scorer and draft a true center.