Monday, October 26, 2009

TrueHoop Network 2009-10 Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

The consensus prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers...and the best guess from Hoopinion.

Crowd Says: 45-37
Hoopinion Says: 44-38

The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!

It’s tempting, in the transactional flurry of the off-season, to assume that if a team’s not busy getting better, it’s getting worse. When all that exists is potential, reward can overshadow risk and the act of reconstituting a 47-win team fails to capture the imagination.

Even a partisan fan, given the choice between the obvious appeal of believing that Jamal Crawford directly replaces the 575 unproductive minutes of the players for whom he was traded (Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton) rather than Flip Murray’s 1975 minutes of excellent production, Mike Bibby will age gracefully, the team’s 3-point shooting will be as bountiful and accurate as in 2008-09, that Jeff Teague is historically unique in being capable of contributing as a rookie point guard drafted outside the lottery, there will be more (and/or better) shots for the young frontcourt of Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia will stay healthy for a second consecutive season, and, if he doesn’t, that Joe Smith will provide a better insurance policy than Solomon Jones would will all come true and vault the Hawks into contention for the Eastern Conference championship, or, a more sober appraisal of the objective evidence that the 2009-10 team will look an awful lot like the 2008-09 team, will fall out of the divisional race fairly early but will fight to the end for the fourth seed and its accompanying home court advantage, will win or lose a close first-round series, and, if the former occurs, might even win a second-round playoff game can be excused for feeling dissatisfied with an off-season agenda that first did no harm.

The Hawks have not built, nor do they appear to be building, a championship contender. Instead, a bifurcated ownership group, former GM Billy Knight, Mike Woodson, and current GM Rick Sund have worked (if not always together) to assemble the best Hawks team in a decade, a 44 to 50-win squad almost certain to make the playoffs in the East for a third consecutive season. The franchise’s barren years were too recent and lasted too long for Hawks fans to feel wholly impatient about this new approach.

A rousing dissent from a rival blogger.

They've put a lot of time and hard work into becoming the runner-up to third place in the NBA. And that's just sad. (Matt Moore)

A 140-character insight into the soul of the team.

@zaza27: I’m glad it worked out and glad to be part of this team. And one more thing:HAWKS FANS U R THE BEST. Thanks for all the support. Love yo

Already a beloved fashion plate, rebounder, and committer of hard fouls, Zaza Pachulia secures his fan favorite status on the occasion of signing his new, four-year, $19 million contract. Hawks fans love yo, too, Zaza. They love yo, too.

Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.

Mike Bibby, speaking to Mike Woodson on the subject of Josh Smith during the first half Game 7 of the Heat series as reported by Sekou Smith:
“If you don’t want me to throw to him put him somewhere else. He’s wide
[@*&$percent] open. Wide open. What do you want me to do? If you don’t want
him shooting that then put him somewhere else. You tell him.”
By winning the first-round playoff series, Mike Woodson assured his return to the Hawks’ sideline this year. By pointing out a long-standing conceptual flaw in the Hawks’ half-court spacing, Mike Bibby assured himself a more welcome reception than a 31-year-old point guard who can’t play defense would expect to receive upon being re-signed for three more years.

Some key stats from last season.

Offense: 10th
Defense: 12th
Pace: 24th

Team Factor Strength(s): Free Throws Allowed (5th), Turnovers (6th tied)
Team Factor Weakness(es): Defensive Rebounding (24th)

The Hawks didn’t win 10 more games in 2008-09 than they did in 2007-08 by playing significantly better defense (They improved from slightly below average to slightly above average.) or by rebounding better (Josh Childress’s departure wasn’t as significant a loss as some, this observer included, feared but his offensive rebounding wasn’t adequately replaced.) but by improving significantly in the fundamental area most often taken for granted: making shots. The 2007-08 Hawks made 47.3 percent of their 2-point shots. The 2008-09 Hawks made 49 percent of their 2-point attempts. That helped, but more importantly, the Hawks went from attempting one out of every six field goals from beyond the arc in 2007-08 and making 35.6 percent of them to attempting one out of every four field goals from beyond the arc in 2008-09 and making 36.6 percent of them. The improvement was a team effort. Mike Bibby and Josh Smith bettered their career 3-point field goal percentages. Flip Murray, Maurice Evans, and Marvin Williams each set career highs in 3-pointers made, attempted, and 3-point field goal percentage. Whether this was a sustainable, systemic improvement or just a confluence of unlikely performances will go a long way toward determining whether the Hawks’ win total in 2009-10 is closer to 47 or 37.

Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What's the play?

On a decisive possession it’s widely known that Joe Johnson will get the ball on the left wing, usually via a hand-off or short entry pass from Mike Bibby. After delivering the ball, Bibby rotates behind the 3-point line and stations himself at the top of the key. Marvin Williams stands behind the 3-point line in the right-hand corner. Al Horford settles in on the right baseline, 15-to-18 feet from the basket. Josh Smith stands just inside the 3-point line on the wing opposite Johnson as Joe surveys the defense, watching it rotate to the strong side, toward himself and away from Smith. With all that as a given, what I’d like to see change this year is as follows: As Johnson puts the ball on the floor, initiating a double-team, Smith cuts hard to the basket, Horford moves to the high post, giving Johnson four good options with each of his four teammates in a dangerous offensive position with only three defenders to account for them instead of the two bad options (Johnson forcing a runner against at least two defenders or Smith, the league’s worst 2-point jump shooter, standing wide open 20 feet from the basket) to which Hawks fans have grown accustomed.

The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.

Rookie point guards generally struggle. Rookie point guards drafted outside the lottery, whether because they’re typically lesser prospects, get drafted by better teams, or a combination of those two factors are even more likely to struggle. Longing, though, can outweigh rational thought. It’s been 10 years since Jason Terry gave Hawks fans a small guard of such promise as Jeff Teague. With the aborted Acie Law IV era a fresh, frustrating memory, expect a lot of “Yes, but...” arguments for playing Teague ahead of the competent veteran troika of Bibby, Johnson, and Crawford.

The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.

Joe Johnson is poised to be a free agent in the summer of 2010. Johnson is not a franchise player yet he’s the Hawks’ best player. With Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague, and Maurice Evans (player option) under contract for 2010 and all of those guys save Crawford and Evans signed beyond 2010, the Hawks, barring a significant trade, don't figure to have $15-16 million to spend on a shooting guard who serves as the team’s primary offensive option. That fact and the organization’s aversion to change suggest that Johnson will receive another generous offer from the club this summer. If building around a fringe All-Star doesn’t give the front office pause, the mileage on Johnson’s legs should. He’s finished in the top 4 of the league in minutes played every season since 2003-04, with the exception of the 2006-07 season when he averaged a career high 41.4 minutes over 57 games before an injury ended his season in early March.


Jason Walker said...

Having no comments on this is criminal as it's a very well done preview, my friend.

Love the play for the end of the game---almost the antithesis of what happens now, save for Joe still being the trigger for the whole thing.

JMar said...

I am getting a dog and have decided on the name Zaza Pooch-ulia. Is that weird?

CoCo said...

Good stuff Bret