Atlanta Hawks: Analyzing Their 2011 NBA Draft, Season and Free Agency

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Atlanta Hawks: Analyzing Their 2011 NBA Draft, Season and Free Agency
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2010-11 Season Recap

 After starting the season with a 44-32 record, the Atlanta Hawks slumped into the 2011 NBA Playoffs, losing their final six regular season games—in which they surrendered 105.6 points per game—and causing local media outlets to call for Larry Drew's job 

The Hawks' problems didn't end there. 

As the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta had to face the Orlando Magic—the same team that routed the Hawks in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals—in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. 

However, this time around the Hawks fared much better.

Behind the play of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, Atlanta beat the Magic in six games and reached the semifinals for the third straight year. 

There, Atlanta's postseason run ended against the top-seeded Chicago Bulls, who beat Atlanta in six games.

Thus, even though they upset the Magic in the first round, the Hawks’ 2010-11 season was a disappointment. Not only did they fail to advance deep into the postseason, but the Hawks also dropped from 53 wins in 2009-10 to 44 wins in 2010-11.

There is no questioning this team's talent and potential—however, the Hawks lack an identity and leadership and struggle to consistently put forth the effort and energy it takes to win an NBA championship. 

Can the Hawks win with the core of Johnson, Smith and Horford?

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Among the positives of the Hawks' 2010-11 season was the emergence of Jeff Teague in the conference semifinals. After playing only 10 minutes in the entire first round series against Orlando, Teague was forced to play extended minutes against Chicago due to Kirk Hinrich's hamstring injury.

Teague didn't disappoint, averaging 14.8 points and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 53.7 percent from the field and locking down Derrick Rose, the league's MVP.

In addition to his solid defense, Teague showcased his ability to get into the lane and score despite contact from defenders.

For a young and relatively inexperienced NBA player, Teague proved to be a quality decision maker—as evidenced by his four-to-one assist to turnover rate in the six games against the Bulls—and a capable leader.

In addition to Teague, Al Horford continues to develop into one of the games best low-post scorers, averaging a career-high 15.3 points per game while shooting 55.7 percent from the field in 2010-11.

However, questions still surround Horford's ability to defend bigger centers—although he is a tremendous defender, Horford lacks the size to guard the likes of Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Andrew Bogut. As a result, the Hawks must acquire a player who has the size and strength to defend big-time centers.  

 

Atlanta’s Unrestricted Free Agents: 

Hilton Armstrong, C; Jason Collins, C; Jamal Crawford, G; Josh Powell, F; Etan Thomas, C; Damien Wilkens, SF. 

Obviously, the most significant unrestricted free agent for the Hawks is Jamal Crawford, a former Sixth Man of the Year Award recipient, who averaged 14.2 points and 3.2 assists per game last year.

Although Crawford's defense has always been suspect, his ability to penetrate—combined with his unlimited range—makes him a lethal weapon off the bench.

Also, though they're not big name players, Collins and Powell played solid minutes for the Hawks this past season and provided Atlanta with depth along its front court. Additionally, Collins' size allowed Larry Drew to start Horford at power forward—a position that suits his size—and Josh Smith at small forward. 

 

2011 NBA Draft Reaction:  

Grade: C

No First Round Pick

No. 46 Overall — Keith Benson, C (Oakland)

The Hawks only had one draft pick due to the trade they made for Hinrich in February. As a result, Atlanta opted to draft based on need, selecting Keith Benson—a 6’11” center from Oakland—with the 46th pick.

The acquisition of Benson boosts Atlanta’s front court depth. However, his thin frame—he is listed at 217 pounds—will make it hard for him to defend opposing centers.

Like Horford, Benson is more suited to play at power forward, where he can use his size and athleticism to his advantage.

Thus, I think a player like Fresno State’s Greg Smith—who is listed at 6’10” and 253 pounds—would have benefited the Hawks more. Although he isn’t as talented offensively as Benson, Smith’s strength and toughness would have provided the Hawks with a solid inside presence.

 

Unrestricted Free Agents that Atlanta Should Target

Team Salary Heading into the 2011-12 season: $66,496,237

Team Needs: center, frontcourt depth, and scoring options off the bench.

Because the Hawks are over the salary cap, they won’t be able to sign any marquee free agents this offseason. Thus, to improve their team through free agency, the Hawks will have to find free agents who are willing to sign for the mid-level exception, bi-annual exception, or minimum-salary exception.

Here are three free agents the Hawks should look to pursue: 

 

Jason Collins

 Realistically, Collins isn’t going to give a team much offensively. He is a 10-year veteran who has never averaged more than seven points per game in a season.

But it’s not just about what Collins can do offensively. Collins’ size would provide the Hawks with an inside presence and an interior defender, which would allow Horford to slide down to power forward.

According to ESPN.com, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Atlanta general manager Rick Sund values Collins and will make a push to re-sign him.

 

Von Wafer

Without Jamal Crawford, the Hawks will need to find someone who can come off the bench and provide the team with instant offense.

Wafer can do that.

In the 2008-09 season with the Houston Rockets, Wafer averaged 9.7 points per game while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range.

 

Jeff Foster

Despite his age (34), the 12-year veteran provides his team with toughness and energy off the bench. Due to both his terrific motor and athleticism, Foster is always among the league leaders in offensive rebounding. 

 

2011-12 Projected Lineup (As of June 27, 2011)

PG: Kirk Hinrich (Jeff Teague)

SG: Joe Johnson (Pape Sy)

SF: Josh Smith (Marvin Williams

PF: Al Horford (Magnum Rolle)

C: Zaza Pachulia (Keith Benson)

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