What’s Happening Today with: Atlanta Hawks
February 16, 2011 Leave a comment
The Atlanta Hawks entered this season with a change at the head coaching position, releasing Mike Woodson of his duties after three consecutive years of post-season berths. However, Woodson was never able to get his Hawks past the second round of post-season play, and that led to his eventual downfall. Taking his place is first year coach Larry Drew, who was an assistant under Woodson.
After naming a new coach, the Hawks next off-season goal was securing their star shooting guard Joe Johnson to a long-term contract. Johnson was seeking a max-contract from a number of suitors, but the Hawks were fervent in their desire to keep Johnson both happy and a Hawk. After flirting with the likes of the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, the Hawks locked up Johnson with a six-year, $119 million contract. Alongside budding star forward Josh Smith, center Al Horford and a perennial sixth man of the year candidate Jamal Crawford, the Hawks were primed for another run towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
This season, the Hawks have played a strong first half of the season behind the efforts of Johnson, Smith and Horford. Johnson leads the team in points (19.8 per game) and assists (5.4 per game), while Horford is leading the team in rebounds (9.8 per game). Josh Smith continues to blossom into a star, with his 16.7ppg and 8.9rpg line. While the Hawks continue to mature and grow, there are a number of holes on their roster.
While Mike Bibby has been supplying steady veteran leadership at the point guard position (9.5ppg, 3.7apg), he has a hard time matching up against the other premium point guards throughout the Eastern Conference. The likes of the Bulls’ Derrick Rose, the Knicks’ Raymond Felton, the Magic’s Jameer Nelson and the Celtics’ Rajon Rando routinely give the Hawks match-up problems at the point, and are forced to rely heavily on the player of their other starters.
A second enigma the Hawks haven’t been able to answer has been the production, or lack there of, from former second overall pick Marvin Williams. The Hawks have been waiting for years for Williams to play up to the potential he had shown in high school and his one year at North Carolina, potential that led the Hawks to select him over the likes of league stars Deron Williams and Chris Paul. The team believed Williams was turning the corner after a strong 2007-08 campaign in which he averaged a career-best 14.8ppg and 5.7rpg. However, Williams has seemingly back-tracked from there, averaging only 10.8ppg this season while fighting off various injuries. In order for the Hawks to take their performance to the next level, they are going to need Williams to step up and assert himself on the offensive end to compliment Johnson, Smith and Crawford.
Lastly, the Hawks find themselves in a very tough, competitive Southeast Division in the East. Though they trail the Big Three in Miami by 5 1/2 games in the standings, they’re battling with the Orlando Magic for the final opening round home-court playoff seed. Currently, the Hawks maintain a percentage point edge over the Magic, but since the trades that sent Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis out of Orlando in favor of Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu, among others, the Magic have been playing resurgent basketball.
It isn’t a question of if the Hawks make the playoffs (at 34-20, the Hawks are one of only six teams in the East to sport a record over .500), but a matter of what will the Hawks be able to do in the post-season once they reach the post season. If the season ended today, the Hawks would be matched up with the Orlando Magic in the first round, a similar team that swept them out of the second round of playoffs a year ago. Dwight Howard overpowered Al Horford inside, and Joe Johnson was handled easily by the pesky defense of Mickeal Pietrus. Though the Magic are now without Pietrus, the Magic upgraded at the position with guard Jason Richardson, who plays an all-around game similar to that of Johnson’s.
The Hawks clearly have the talent to reach the post season year in and year out, and will continue to reach the playoffs as long as they keep their young core. But, until they upgrade at the point guard position and solve the riddle that is Marvin Williams, it is hard to imagine the Hawks surpassing the likes of the Celtics, Heat and Magic for Eastern Conference dominance.