The 98-89 win was nice but, with the game not counting, carries relatively little import. As to what did...
Joe Johnson was clearly Atlanta's best player, demonstrating a level of activity largely absent in recent seasons. He moved without the ball, generally made quick, strong moves with the ball, and was a presence on the offensive glass against what should be a stout defensive rebounding team. One caveat: though flex sets should provide higher-quality shots for Johnson, it's unlikely to help him get to the line more often (23 field goal attempts, 2 free throw attempts last night) so he's unlikely to become wildly more efficient as a scorer. Of course, adding a couple offensive rebounds and earning six assists against a single turnover makes for an excellent offensive night overall.
Josh Smith isn't going to stop taking jump shots (4 of his 10 field goals last night were jumpers, including a three-pointer early in the shot clock with the Hawks up 3 and 1:39 left in the game) so someone will have to make him. It's a terrible waste to allow him to punt 3- or 4-percent of the team's possessions just because he feels like it. It's a tough decision and won't be easy to implement but the Hawks can't afford to have a good passer who converts his shots around the rim at a 65% rate drifting around the perimeter undermining his own talents and the team. Maybe Larry Drew can tie permission to shoot the occasional jumper to Smith's free throw percentage.
The other reason making Smith accountable for his shot selection difficult is his centrality to the team's defensive success. He was remarkably effective against Chris Bosh and Josh Powell, the player the team seems intent on using as Smith's backup, wasn't given the opportunity to guard Bosh. Larry Drew gave that assignment to Zaza Pachulia.
Powell grabbed seven rebounds but failed to impress even beyond being hidden defensively in a pre-season game. His inability to score in the paint or make jump shots was on full display, augmented by a committing a couple of turnovers with offensive fouls.
Though movement isn't Mike Bibby's strong suit, increased movement off the ball (both from him and his teammates) amplifies his good basketball instincts.
Which is good, because Jeff Teague doesn't appear prepared to play major minutes yet. No one is going to stay in front of him, but he'll need to convert his own shots in addition to setting up his teammates to take full advantage of his speed. Pick-and-roll defense seems a work in progress, as well. Though, as porous as the second unit looked as a whole, it's plausible that it's primarily a contextual problem.
I think we'll still see Jamal Crawford dominating the ball with the second unit. It's not ideal for Teague's development but may be necessary given the limitations of Evans, Pachulia, and Powell.
Al Horford couldn't buy a bucket in the first half, but there won't be many halves where he misses five straight wide-open face-up jumpers. He finally knocked down a jumper in the third quarter and scored a couple of nice baskets in the paint after catching the ball on the move.
Marvin Williams knocked down the dagger 3 to finish off the Heat but the 10 defensive rebounds he grabbed were nearly as important. No, he didn't slow down LeBron James, but he did make him work harder for his points than any other Hawk did. Decent-to-good defense, above average scoring efficiency, and improved rebounding are reasonable standards to hold Williams to in 2010-11.
"I’ve seen improvement in the defense the last couple games. Tonight we did a good job collectively on them. One thing I wanted them to focus on was the transition defense. We let LeBron get away a couple times but for the most part we did a good job with that."It'll be different when the Hawks have to deal with James and Wade but, as mentioned above, Josh Smith matches up very well with Chris Bosh and Al Horford doesn't have to guard anybody really. I would not be surprised if the Hawks are more competitive against the Heat this season than they are against the Magic.
The Hawks play a sure-to-be anti-climactic exhibition in Charlotte tonight before tipping-off the regular season Wednesday night in Memphis.