Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011-2012 NBA Preview #30: Atlanta Hawks

Okay, I've saved the best for last... and by "the best" I mean "the one I care the most about"...

Roster Breakdown (Starters in Bold)
  • PG - Jeff Teague, Kirk Hinrich (Injured), Jannero Pargo, Donald Sloan
  • SG - Joe Johnson, Willie Green, Jerry Stackhouse
  • SF - Marvin Williams, Tracy McGrady, Ivan Johnson
  • PF - Josh Smith, Vlad Radmanovic
  • C - Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, Jason Collins

General Thoughts

Where do I even begin? The basic cast of characters returns for yet another run at a middling Eastern conference playoff seed, a possibly competitive first round series, and a near-guaranteed second round exit. Lost from the 2010-11 team are Jamal Crawford, Josh Powell, Damien Wilkins, and the corpse of "the Poet" Etan Thomas, and Rick Sund has acquired Tracy McGrady, Vlad Radmanovic, Willie Green and Jannero Pargo to replace them. At first glance, the Crawford loss is a big one, but I'm actually in the camp that it won't be felt as much as the public believes simply because the increase in Jeff Teague's minutes should be able to off-set the loss of bench production from Crawford, but we'll get to this later.

Joe Johnson was bad last year. He averaged 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists on a 44/30/80 shooting slash line, which, at first glance, is pretty nice, but let's take a look at his production the year before. How does 21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and a 46/37/82 sound? Much better, right? That contract isn't going away (unless amnesty steps in but that would require the hilariously frugal Hawks ownership group to pay someone for not playing, and that's not happening unless the team is sold) and Joe Johnson will continue to be the #1 perimeter offensive option on this team barring a crazy overhaul, so he needs to be better. Quickly. The Jeff Teague that we saw in the Chicago series last year (16 points, 4 assists per in 37 minutes) is probably better than he actually is, but with the way Mike Bibby "played" last year, a safe assumption of 25-30 minutes a night from Teague should be an upgrade. It was difficult to explain the lack of Teague minutes last year because he was the only guy on the team with the quickness/footspeed to cover opposing point guards, but fortunately, this year, Larry Drew is forced to play him. Kirk Hinrich returns for a second-year, and while he's out for the first few weeks, I've always been high on Hinrich for his defense (very good against 2-guards, average at least against point guards), shooting (career 38% threes), and flexibility. Upon his return, Hinrich is immediately the best backup at both guard spots, and is one of the better backup point guards in the league. The Jannero Pargo move was actually a shrewd one for the Hawks in that, instead of going with a rookie minimum guy until Hinrich returns, they took a flyer on a proven guy like Pargo who's played legit minutes in the league. He's a shoot-first combo guard, but he's capable of handling the ball and provides a little credibility off the bench for the first few weeks, so I liked it. As far as the very late Willie Green signing? I have a long-standing dislike for Mr. Green's work... he does absolutely nothing well, and I can't make the connection between bringing in Green (who can't play point guard) as a reaction to Jeff Teague turning his ankle in practice. Does it show that I'm not in the Willie Green fan club? If I was rational, I'd suggest to you that Green provides another NBA-ish caliber 2-guard in case McGrady gets hurt or Pargo flames out. Donald Sloan and Jerry Stackhouse are still on the roster as of this publish date, and while they should prove irrelevant, I'm good with Sloan being on the roster (young legs, can defend), and anti-Stackhouse simply because I don't think he can play anymore, period. Moving on, the Tracy McGrady move was a gamble that I really liked for a few reasons. McGrady certainly isn't the same player that he used to be, but you can't find a guy with his pedigree, talent level, and relative upside for the veteran minimum too often. He's absolutely an injury risk, but he managed to post a 15 PER rate (league average) in Detroit last year, and if you can get that type of level out of him as the backup swingman, that's huge. One thing to watch, however, are his legs on the assumption that this schedule is a crazy one, and he's a guy with a ton of mileage. The Pape Sy release was a move that completely caught me off guard this week in that they seemed to be banking on him to play point guard, and when he proved he couldn't do that, they cut him. I would ask this question. Was there a person that had ever watched Pape Sy outside of the Hawks organization that thought he was a point guard? Anyone? Are you out there? Then there's Marvin Williams. In draft #1 of this post, I literally didn't reference him at all, and it didn't hit me until the next day. What does that tell you about the Marvin Williams era?!!?! 10 points, 5 rebounds a game in 29 minutes on 46% FG shooting last year. He doesn't do anything exceptionally well, lost a chunk of his athleticism (and draft "upside" in the process) thanks to back issues, and is only aggressive on nights where Joe Johnson is out of the lineup (defies logic). The good news is that offseason back surgery has reportedly worked wonders for him athletically, and that he's even standing up straighter now, but what does it all mean? I think you can bank on league-average small forward contribution from him, and little else, and as much as the Hawks have peddled him in trades over the last 18 months, he's not moving because that contract is flat-out bad and another instance of baseless roster/cap management. Exhale. Up front, the Smith/Horford duo returns for another campaign of being undersized and athletic. Smith improved his rebound rate to an all-time high last year, but had a significantly lower efficiency rating than the previous year thanks to an utterly INEXPLICABLE use of long 2-point jumpers, and the fact that he attempted 154 threes (after only 7 the previous year). You've all heard this story, but if Josh Smith would stop shooting the ball (ever) from 18-feet or further, he would be an exceptionable asset, but until that day, he's an above-average player with limitations offensively.

Breaking news: Al Horford is the best player on the Atlanta Hawks. I know I've mentioned this before in this space, but Horford (while undersized) is a top-5 center in the league, and managed to post a 21 PER last year despite playing out of position. Al led the entire league (guards included) in field goal percentage on mid-range jumpshots, and that is an exceptional part of his game. You may have read in the off-season that he has openly campaigned for help at center (that he didn't receive), but all indications are that he spent his summer working on his back-to-basket game. I see a 16 point/1o rebound/55% FG type season from Horford this year, and while that's not "superstar" level, he's obviously an extremely valuable asset. Behind him, the Pachulia/Collins duo returns to action. ZaZa had his worst season of the last 3 in 2010-11 when his shooting dipped to 46% and his scoring rate fell. His 12 PER rating is about what you'd expect from a backup center, and he's clearly a viable option in that role. The issue has always been that on a team with an undersized starting center and no legitimate backup power forward, he's probably forced to play more minutes than he should (or they go to Collins, but we're getting there). Pachulia is what he is. The re-signing of Collins is for literally one purpose. He's an elite post defender on centers. The problem is that there is a very, very small list of centers that this is valuable against to the point where his only real value is in the handful of games against Dwight Howard each season. Kind of a throwaway roster spot. The new addition on the front line is Radmanovic. Vlad is a dead-eye shooter who doesn't defend anyone, and doesn't provide any other real value, but when used correctly as a floor-stretching rangy big who can shoot, he could be valuable. The Hawks just cut their only 2011 draft pick in the form of Keith Benson, who apparently proved to be of less worth than Jason Collins. I have no idea.

What does it all mean? I think this team is still a middling Eastern conference playoff team with limited upside. The starters are pretty darn good relatively, but the bench is sketchy do the failures of the front-office to build a balanced roster (and the reliance on league-minimum guys). The management situation is well-documented, but the short version is this: The ownership group is terrible, refuses to cross the tax line, and either believes that this core of players is better than they are, or simply doesn't care enough to try to overhaul it into something better. The only way I can see that this team is markedly better than last year? Scroll down...


Teague. There is probably an undue amount of pressure on Mr. Teague this season, simply because the only discernible way that I can see, outside of a blockbuster mid-season trade, for the Hawks to "improve" on last year's team is for Teague to be legitimately good. He put up a league average 15 PER last year in his limited/weird role, and impressed in the playoffs, but is there anyone out there that thinks he's an above-average point guard this year? I certainly don't, but in deference to his obvious talents (speed chiefly among them), I won't totally rule it out, and with that, he's the key for me. Other big factors include health (Hinrich/McGrady chiefly), Josh Smith's shot selection (best of luck), and a full bounce-back from Joe Johnson.

Predicted Finish

6th in the East


Jake said...

josh smith, marvin williams, and jason collins gonna expose some foolishness in this post

Brad said...


I'm aware of our vast disagreement on Mr. Smiff so I won't even broach that one, but do you think Jason Collins actually provides value in an area not featuring post defense?

Jake said...

ive been steadily praying that twin collins develops an offensive game