It wasn’t too far in the past that the Atlanta Hawks were an intriguing young team in the NBA. They had a strong trio in Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford to go along with a solid core of players including Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams, and even Mike Bibby heading towards the end of his career. But the team traded Johnson to Brooklyn for a list of players that have had very little impact for Atlanta, Crawford moved on in free agency, as did Smith, and Marvin Williams was traded to Utah for Devin Harris who only lasted one year in town. It is safe to say that there has been plenty of upheaval on the depth chart in Atlanta over the past five to six years. This off-season was no different, with the previously mentioned departure of Josh Smith, drafting Dennis Schroeder, trading for Lucas Nogueira on draft night, and signing veterans Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll, and Gustavo Ayon. It remains to be seen if these moves will lead to any progression from the team however, as there are still two large holes on the roster that desperately need to be filled.
The move to bring in Paul Millsap is one that could pay dividends for the Hawks. While Josh Smith may be more exciting, Millsap is a better team player. Smith had a tendency to try to do too much to prove that he was a superstar and deserved to make an All-Star team, to the detriment of the team as a whole. Millsap is not that type of player. Offensively, he is not going to be flashy and lead the team in scoring, but he is a tough, physical player that has no problem setting hard screens and rolling or diving to the basket for dump offs. He is a very good offensive rebounder and has steadily improved his jump shot even though he could continue to improve that part of his game. Millsap is a player that can score without plays needed to be called for him and will not have to have the ball in his hands to put points on the scoreboard.
Defensively, he is a very good player as well, with his strength and great wingspan being big assets for him. He doesn’t rely on his athleticism however, as Smith had a bad habit of doing at times. He puts out great effort and works for rebounds. While he isn’t going to put up the stats Smith did, he will fit into a team defensive scheme much better, as he doesn’t take the chances that Smith did. He still needs to work on his perimeter defense when guarding the quicker face up big men in the league, but his effort can make up for his relative difficulty in that aspect.
The defensive end of the floor is where the Hawks improved the most this off-season. They were not a bad defensive team last season, ranking 13th in points allowed, 8th in turnovers forced, and 14th in steals, but they were a bad rebounding team, at 23rd in the league and did not block shots at 22nd overall. Those stats could be improved with the addition of Millsap, along with Elton Brand, DeMarre Carroll, and Gustavo Ayon. Brand may not be the offensive player he once was but he has turned into one of the better post defenders in the league. He is a big body with an ability to rebound the ball very well and block shots as well. Carroll is another player that will bring plenty of effort to the court and help improve their defensive stats. Ayon may not be a household name to many NBA fans, but he is the final big body the front office brought in to turn around the bad rebounding numbers from last season, He has the potential to do just that if given the playing time off the bench. These off-season additions will definitely be welcomed on the defensive end of the floor, but who will be counted on to score the ball?
The primary scoring role will fall on Horford, Louis Williams, and potentially Jeff Teague. Horford is a proven commodity in the NBA and is a very good offensive player from the block. He is an efficient scorer, shooting 54% from the field and is a legitimate number one scoring option as a big man. Jeff Teague is the point guard for this team and with the departure of Smith needs to take over as the number two scoring option for the Hawks this season. The growth that he has shown over his career gives the organization room for hope, going from just 3.2 points per game over his rookie season to 14.6 last season. They matched a relatively large offer sheet from the Milwaukee Bucks this off-season to keep him, and will give him the playing time to prove that he is worth the money they are paying. Louis Williams is coming back from a torn ACL last season that limited him to just 39 games. Over the course of his career he has mostly been a scorer off the bench, averaging 14.2 points per game over the past four seasons with 47 starts during this span. His size makes him a bit of a tweener when it comes to his position however, not being the distributor needed to play the point and not being big enough to play the two. These issues lead to the big question when it comes to the Hawks this season.
Who will play on the perimeter, at the shooting guard and small forward positions? As mentioned above Williams is not big enough to play the shooting guard position as a starter. At 6’2’’ and 175 pounds the bigger two guards in the league would have a favorable matchup against him on both ends of the floor. He is most effective coming off the bench and putting up shots, not starting and being relied upon to play heavy minutes. Shelvin Mack and Jarred Cunningham are not big enough to play alongside Teague either and they have major problems offensively. Schroeder is not ready right now offensively either, although he is a very good distributor and potential perimeter defender for the Hawks. John Jenkins is a very good shooter from the field and the three point line, but his thin frame makes him a liability on defense. Kyle Korver is the most likely option to play the small forward position but that is not his natural spot on the floor and he is not a starter at this juncture of his career. DeMarre Carroll is a very good role player but again, not a starting level talent. This large gap in the depth chart in Atlanta makes many question why they did not address this problem in the off-season. It may be difficult to find starting level talent at the two main scoring positions in the league, but they needed to do something to shore up those positions. Schroeder may have the potential to be the next Rajon Rondo, but they could have found someone in the draft to play either of these spots. Unless these players have done something during the off-season to drastically improve their games, there are problems for the Hawks franchise. If they have any interest in making it back to the post season they will need to deal with them.
Ultimately this Hawks team will most likely be fighting for the seventh or eighth playoff spot, potentially missing the post-season altogether. Although Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Paul Millsap make for a very good trio to build around, there just is not enough around them to project them getting into the upper-echelon of the tough Eastern Conference with the defending champion Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Nets, and Knicks virtual locks for the top five spots. They will need to make a move and find players to play at the wings or they will be hurting in the future. A win total of around 30-35 could be in the future for the franchise during the 2013-14 campaign. It could be a tough year at Phillips Arena for Atlanta fans.