NBA Season Preview: Will the Hawks Get Better with Age?

Kevin LeongContributor IIDecember 23, 2011

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 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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Perhaps the most telling story of last year’s Atlanta Hawks season was their stunning 4-2 NBA Eastern Conference win against the Orlando Magic.

While their record stood at a mediocre 44-38 by regular season’s end—which can be attributed to their six straight losses to finish the season—in the first round of the playoffs the Hawks outplayed the Magic despite some monsterous games from Dwight Howard

And while they were soundly defeated by the Chicago Bulls in the second round, the Hawks found a diamond in the rough, as Jeff Teague emerged as the point guard of the future.

This year, the Hawks come in a bit older, a bit wiser, and a bit older.

Did I already mention that?

Recently signed free agents Tracy McGrady, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jerry Stackhouse, and Jannero Pargo are in their 30’s, and are well past their prime. Re-signed center Jason Collins just turned 33, and even at his best, is a limited contributor to the Hawks overall.

And while I hate to harp on a player’s age—because age is just a number, right?—for the Hawks, it is a legitimate concern.

Tracy McGrady is entering his 16th season in the NBA, and has often been injury-plagued and out of rhythm. But with Jamal Crawford’s departure, McGrady will be seeing additional minutes backing up Joe Johnson at the 2.   

At 6’8”, McGrady’s height will be an asset for the second team. However, with his persistent knee injuries, his limited movement and lack of speed may be an issue on the defensive side of the ball. Also, with a compacted schedule, his ability to play at an increased rate this season remains a big question mark.

Assuming his knees hold up, Tracy McGrady now joins the Hawks backing up Joe Johnson
Assuming his knees hold up, Tracy McGrady now joins the Hawks backing up Joe JohnsonGregory Shamus/Getty Images


Similarly, while Radmanovic is also an interesting play on offense for the Hawks, he is notorious for being a streaky shooter and a defensive liability.

The brightest spots on the roster are the development of Jeff Teague as the starting point guard for the Hawks in only his second year and the brand new, lighter Josh Smith

A dynamic point guard has been something the Hawks have been missing for many years. For years they relied on the experience of Mike Bibby, but in the end, Bibby lacked the speed and energy that Teague now offers.

Teague has a very quick first step and his ability to get around defenders and get to the basket opens up players as the help shifts over. The steady development of his game is absolutely vital for any future success the Hawks may hope to have.

Josh Smith has reportedly lost 25-30 pounds by eating sushi, and the lightening of his frame will hopefully increase his speed and explosiveness. A more mobile Josh Smith is a dangerous Smith, as he is already known for being a versatile player. If he is able to get around screens on defense more effectively, and crash the boards quicker on offense, his all-around play will be downright scary.

With most of its core intact, the Hawks should prove to be a formidable force in the Southeast, and should challenge both Miami and Orlando for that No. 1 spot. However, only time will tell whether their aged free-agent acquisitions will provide the support the team desperately needs.


My Predictions

1. Tracy McGrady goes down with a serious injury within the first half of the season, unable to keep pace with the rigorous schedule, forcing the Hawks to make a move for a solid (and younger) backup for Joe Johnson.

2. Jeff Teague averages 12 points, six assists, and one steal for the Hawks this season.

3. The Hawks beat out the Magic for the second spot in the Eastern Conference.