In the surest sign yet that the season is nigh, the annual Blazersedge NBA Preview begins today. We're going to cover each team, give you some relevant (and a few irrelevant) numbers and changes from last year, and then take a stab at the team's goals and likely performance in the year to come.
To forestall any complaints, let me mention two things up front:
- I grade teams mostly against themselves. Otherwise the preview would look like, "Mavs, Spurs, Suns great, Hawks and Bobcats probably suck" and you don't need me for that. Thus a bad team that might get a smidge better will get a review that sounds more positive than a good team that will probably slip. This doesn't mean I think the bad team is better than the good team.
- I'll tell you right up front that I don't believe in rookies (mostly). People generally overvalue them because that's all you talk about during the summer, especially if your team is bad. I will mention them as having joined the team. In the obvious cases (Durant, Horford, a couple others) I will probably predict that they'll make a contribution. But most rookies don't...at least not in ways that change the overall fortunes of their teams. Outside of the obvious picks projecting the two and a half who will make a big difference is a crap shoot. (It's often some second rounder that you never heard of.) So don't expect to hear a lot of, "They drafted PLAYER X and now they're going to be INSTANTLY AWESOME!" We'll save that for next year when they've proven themselves a little bit more.
Record: 30-52, 5th in Southeast Division, 13th in Eastern Conference
30th in the league in scoring (93.7ppg)
29th in ppg differential (-4.8ppg)
28th in field goal % (44.4%)
30th in three-point % (33%)
26th in assists (19.2)
5th in blocks
15th in opponent scoring (98.4ppg)
23rd in opponent field goal %
9th in steals
22nd in turnovers
14th in opponent turnovers
Very good offensive rebounding team
Poor defensive rebounding team
Acie Law (R), Al Horford (R)
Significant Subtractions: None
PG: Speedy Claxton, Tyronn Lue, Acie Law IV, Anthony Johnson
SG: Joe Johnson, Salim Stoudamire
SF: Josh Smith, Josh Childress
PF: Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Solomon Jones
C: Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford, Lorenzen Wright
Comments: There's no team in the entire league that people care less about than the Atlanta Hawks. After years of being battered in the win-loss column and a couple dozen months of the most dysfunctional ownership situation imaginable even their own fans can be forgiven for throwing up their hands in disgust. Or just throwing up. But believe it or not, for the first time in years I like the direction this team is heading. They've begun to address two of their chronic problems: defense and size. No longer content with getting a new swingman every year they made a reasonable decision in drafting Al Horford. He should provide them some toughness in the middle and be a nice running mate for the evolving Marvin Williams. Shelden Williams, last year's pick, also brings bulk and steadiness. Their big man rotation isn't abysmal anymore! Josh Smith is near untouchable as he's turning into one of the most dynamic young wings in the league. They're still unsettled in the backcourt. Joe Johnson is brilliant but last year he was neither healthy nor happy. His absence single-handedly doomed the Hawks to the worst scoring production in the league. Unless Acie Law can step up quickly their point guard rotation remains unattractive. They also lack quality depth at the small positions. Like many poorer teams they have a lot of players with defined skills but few who have developed enough of an all-around game to man the floor for major minutes without hurting the team.
The biggest key to the Hawks' season will be Joe Johnson's health. If he plays 80+ games he changes the entire dynamic of the team--drawing attention and passing well enough to free up everyone else's game. He also provides some desperately needed outside shooting. They also need to improve their defensive rebounding big time, which is one of the reasons Zaza Pachulia will probably find his way to the bench sooner rather than later.
The Hawks aren't even going to set their division on fire, let alone the world, but with a solid foundation in place you can see where another draft or two might put them in position to be relevant again. This year the best they can do is play hard and hope the Bobcats stink enough (or have enough injuries) to let them challenge for the coveted fourth position in the Southeast Division. Give them a little more experience and a little more backcourt talent and we'll talk.
One down, twenty-nine to go. The season countdown has begun.
P.S. Yes, I know we'll have to do multiple teams some days to make room for plenty of Blazer analysis at the end. Also...yes, I will be doing other posts besides these most days, just like normal.