2013-2014 Atlanta Hawks Season Preview
The Atlanta Hawks reached the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season in 2013, but the team’s current streak may be in jeopardy. The franchise experienced plenty of change during the offseason and the franchise continues its transition into president of basketball operations and general manager Danny Ferry’s blueprint. The team lost long-time starting power forward Josh Smith in free agency and replaced him with veterans Paul Millsap and Elton Brand. The Hawks will also feature a new head coach roaming the sidelines this season as former San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer takes over the reins. The Hawks still feature plenty of talent with Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Lou Williams on the roster, but the big question facing the team entering the season is how will the new pieces fit over the long haul?
- Lang Greene
In & Out
Additions: Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, Pero Antic, Dennis Schroeder, Gustavo Ayon, DeMarre Carroll
Subtractions: Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia, DeShawn Stevenson, Devin Harris, Dahntay Jones
Five Guys Think…
For some reason, the Hawks are perennially underestimated, and they were especially underestimated last year in the wake of losing Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets for essentially nothing. They made the playoffs anyway as a six-seed despite their supposed dearth of talent, which makes a return to the postseason in 2014 a pretty reasonable expectation. Not only do they have comparable talent (Josh Smith goes out, but Paul Millsap comes in), but they’ve got a new head coach in Mike Budenholzer who could very well be this year’s savviest hire. They won’t be the league’s flashiest team—not even close—but they can absolutely grind out 44 to 48 wins and grab a middling seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture again this season.
2nd place – Southeast Division
– Joel Brigham
The Atlanta Hawks have reached the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, but two-time All-Star Al Horford is the only remaining player from the 2008 unit that started the run. This is season two of president of basketball operations Danny Ferry’s vision for the franchise and the team will feature a new look. Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Larry Drew all found new homes during the offseason and the club welcomes in Paul Millsap, Elton Brand, Dennis Schroeder, DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic Gustavo Ayon and rookie head coach Mike Budenholzer into the fold. Perhaps the team’s biggest move of the summer was re-signing point guard Jeff Teague during free agency. The club will also get a huge early to mid-season boost from a healthy Lou Williams once fully healed from a torn ACL. The talent is definitely in place for Atlanta to make a seventh consecutive trip to the postseason, but with so many new pieces to integrate things could also derail.
3rd place – Southeast Division
- Lang Greene
The idea that the Hawks could have landed Chris Paul and Dwight Howard this offseason was ambitious to say the least. Their chances were never great, but you have to step up to the plate in order to hit a home run. Honestly, just being able to clear up the books enough to get in that position was a victory in and of itself. The Hawks rebounded nicely from swinging and missing on the two best free agents available and ended up re-signing Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver while replacing Josh Smith with Paul Millsap and Elton Brand. All in all, the Hawks’ potential looks to be about the same as it has been in recent years. Whether they are better or worse could come down to Mike Budenholzer, the long-time San Antonio Spurs assistant who will make his head coaching debut with the Hawks this season. If he’s another successful Popovich disciple, pencil in the Hawks for another postseason appearance. The Washington Wizards have surpassed them as the second best team in the Southeast Division in my opinion, but third place is very obtainable and the playoffs are still realistic.
3rd place – Southeast Division
The Hawks missed out on Dwight Howard and Chris Paul this offseason, but it wasn’t a bad summer for Danny Ferry and his staff. Paul Millsap was one of the more underrated signings of the offseason and he should form a nice interior duo with Al Horford. Elton Brand, Dennis Schroeder and Pero Antic are solid additions as well, and the return of Lou Williams from injury will help this team. Jeff Teague got his payday this summer, and now he has live up to his new contract. He has always been a solid point guard, but now it’s time for him to take that next step and shoulder more responsibilities. The Hawks still find themselves as a middle-of-the-pack team in the Eastern Conference, which is always a frustrating place to be as an NBA franchise, but it could mean that the Hawks will sneak into the postseason as one of the final seeds in the conference.
2nd place – Southeast Division
- Alex Kennedy
Like the Philadelphia 76ers, the Hawks have experienced a dramatic overhaul over the past two years. Upon taking over as general manager, Danny Ferry promptly traded Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams away, and this past offseason, Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia have both found new homes in Detroit and Milwaukee, respectively. That leaves Jeff Teague and Al Horford as the two upon which the Hawks will place the hopes of their immediate future. At the moment, they appear to be stuck in NBA no man’s land—not good enough to seriously challenge the top tier in the conference, yet not bad enough to have a realistic shot at a top five draft pick. After an impressive showing at the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela, it will be interesting to see what the Hawks can get from the Mexican-born Gustavo Ayon. He, Paul Millsap and Elton Brand are Ferry’s prized acquisitions this offseason. In the end, they will likely be looking up at the Washington Wizards and Miami HEAT in the division.
3rd place — Southeast Division
- Moke Hamilton
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player: Two-time All-Star center Al Horford will be relied on to handle the bulk of the offensive load for the team on a nightly basis. The team started entrusting Horford with more offensive responsibility last season and the veteran responded by averaging 19.7 points and 11.1 rebounds on 55 percent shooting after the All-Star break.
Top Defensive Player: The performance of DeMarre Carroll on the wing will be a critical part of any success the Hawks have defensively as a unit. Carroll played just 17 minutes per game last season in Utah but managed to average an impressive two steals per 36 minutes played. Advanced analytics also illustrate lineups containing Carroll last season possessed a significantly higher defensive rating than other rotations.
Top Playmaker: The key to the Hawks’ offense is clearly in Jeff Teague’s possession. Last season was Teague’s second as a full-time starter and the emerging guard responded by averaging over seven assists per night in 2013. Now the question is whether Teague can become even an even more assertive leader with the addition of the new faces on the roster. Teague has been known to be passive at times, but he’s now armed with a new contract and increased responsibilities which may be the shot in the arm the guard needs to elevate his game even higher.
Clutch Player: A huge part of Atlanta’s ultimate trajectory this season depends on how Al Horford performs during pressure situations. The center will be the clear number one offensive option for the first time in his career and won’t have the luxury of relying on other guys to bail out the team. Horford’s game typically relies on the mid-range jumper and he remains one of the most efficient perimeter shooting big men in the game today.
The Unheralded Player: Veteran shooting guard Lou Williams missed a significant portion of the 2013 campaign after suffering a torn ACL. But if healthy, Williams will once again find his name at the top of most Sixth Man of the Year award lists. Williams is a proven double-digit scorer who head coach Mike Budenholzer says he utilize in a similar role as San Antonio’s former All-Star guard Manu Ginobili. Williams is a starting caliber guard who has no qualms with producing off the bench, which makes him a matchup nightmare for most opposing team’s second units.
Best New Addition: The signing of Paul Millsap was the Hawks’ marquee addition of the offseason. The team signed the veteran to a two-year deal worth $19 million and he will immediately take over the team’s starting power forward spot. Millsap has averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per contest over the past three seasons and at 28 years old is arguably still in the midst of his prime.
- Lang Greene
Who We Like
1. Al Horford: The former University of Florida standout may desire to play power forward more on a nightly basis but he has already earned two All-Star selections playing out of position at center. This will be Horford’s first season as a leading man and if his play after the All-Star break last season is any indication he may be up for the job. Horford averaged 19.7 points and 11.1 rebounds on 55 percent shooting down the stretch for the Hawks and will be entrusted to play a more prominent role offensively under head coach Mike Budenholzer.
2. Jeff Teague: The Hawks selected Teague with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2009 draft. The class was loaded with strong point guard talent such as Stephen Curry, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson and Jrue Holiday. While those guys get more mainstream attention, Teague has continued to improve each season and his productivity compared to this group can hold its own. The Hawks re-signed Teague in free agency giving him a lucrative four-year deal and solidifying his place as the team’s unquestioned floor general.
3. Danny Ferry: When Ferry took over as president of basketball operations in 2012 he immediately reduced the Hawks’ future payroll by close to $90 million by trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. The moves gave the Hawks the flexibility to become players in free agency this summer. While the team failed to secure All-Star center Dwight Howard’s signature on a new deal, the veteran executive put together a team strong enough, on paper, to compete for its seventh consecutive playoff spot. Ferry put together this team and kept financial flexibility intact for the summer of 2014 to bring in more pieces.
4. Lou Williams: Newly crowned head coach Mike Budenholzer was a longtime assistant with the San Antonio Spurs where he coached former Sixth Man of the Year Manu Ginobili. Budenholzer envisions utilizing Williams in a similar fashion and the ninth year guard readily admits he’s up for the challenge. Williams is working his way back into shape after suffering a torn ACL and may miss a portion of the early season, but when fully healthy he gets buckets at a high level.
5. Paul Millsap: The Hawks signed Millsap to a two-year $19 million deal this past summer and he will be paired alongside Al Horford in the frontcourt. Millsap has established himself as a strong scorer and a solid locker room leader. The Hawks will need both of these characteristics to fulfill their goal of reaching the postseason for a seventh consecutive campaign. Millsap has the unenviable task of replacing hometown product Josh Smith who departed via free agency to Detroit. Smith was a polarizing figure in Atlanta, but Millsap should be able to unite the masses a bit quicker.
The Hawks’ frontcourt consisting of always steady forward Paul Millsap and former All-Stars Al Horford and Elton Brand figures to be one of the team’s strengths. All three guys have proven themselves as dependable double-digit scorers throughout their tenures in the league. Most important, each guy plays within their strengths and remain highly efficient. The Hawks will also be bolstered by the return of point guard Jeff Teague, who the club re-signed during free agency. Teague has established himself as one of the better up and coming guards in the league and he may be primed for a bigger role under the tutelage of head coach Mike Budenholzer.
While the Hawks’ frontcourt will be a source of strength on the offensive side of the floor, it could become a big liability defensively. Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Elton Brand are all relatively undersized at their respective positions which could be problematic on the boards and against bigger frontcourts. The lack of size on the roster also spills over to the shooting guard and small forward positions which will force coach Mike Budenholzer to tinker with a plethora of different lineups.
The Burning Question
Are the Atlanta Hawks restructuring or at the beginning stages of a lengthy rebuilding project?
Despite little fanfare, the Atlanta Hawks have had solid success over the past six seasons reaching the playoffs in each campaign. But what are their goals moving forward? This summer the team aggressively pursued free agent All-Star center Dwight Howard in an effort to join the league’s elite. However Howard ultimately elected to sign with the Houston Rockets, leaving Hawks fans to settle for a free agent crop headed by forward Paul Millsap. The new additions aren’t enough to break into the upper echelon of the league, but there is enough talent on the roster to make another run at the playoffs.