The 2007-2008 Hawks season got officially got underway with the opening of training camp this week. With all players reporting to camp healthy and ready to get the season underway, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to sit down with some of the Hawks to discuss their expectations for the season. Unfortunately, I’m not part of the real media and don’t have access to the players. So I just get to preview the team without having to worry if they like or dislike what I say about them.
I’ll start by previewing each player and what I think we can expect. Then I’ll get to the team prediction.
Point Guards: Something’s got to give here. With 3 veterans who all do the exact same things well and a rookie who needs to get playing time to develop, there has to be some changes in the roster or turmoil will ensure. The most logical move is to trade fan favorite Tyronn Lue. He’s on the last year of his contract and has playoff experience; a team like Cleveland or even the Lakers could benefit from his presence. If the Hawks keep Lue, he’s my bet to start as he is familiar with Woodson’s offense and the entire roster. Law will likely be the first point guard off the bench because of his ability to pass, shoot, and defend.
T. Lue: Should end up getting around 20-25 mpg. His career averages of 11 ppg and 3 apg seem about right for this season. I question his ability to stay healthy with his smaller stature, though. If he can hold it together long enough for Law to acclimate, they can look for a steady year from the PG position.
Acie Law: My hope is that his experience in college will convince Woody to give him more PT than he normally gives his younger players (remember Woody was on Larry Brown’s staff for years). Law will have his ups and downs but I think his shooting ability will keep him in the rotation even when he doesn’t have the feel for the passing game. His PT will increase as the year goes on (as Woodson has done with all his rookies in the past) and a MPG average of 15-20 is probably reasonable. I’d expect a high A/TO ratio (1:1 or 1:75) with per game averages of 8-10 points and 4 assists.
Speedy Claxton: My biggest concern is that the Hawks brass will mandate playing Speedy due to his contract. A decent PG, he is injured too frequently to rely on and not a good enough passer or defender (as he is no longer “speedy”) to merit starting or first off the bench status. If Lue is traded or injured, Speedy will take up the starting role and I would expect similar numbers (maybe an uptick in points and downtick in assists).
Anthony Johnson: One of our best players (Josh Smith) doesn’t get along with him. We no longer need his “veteran” presence. He’ll be wearing a business suit for most games.
Shooting Guard: Anchored by All-Star (isn’t it great to read that!) Joe Johnson, this is obviously the strongest position for the Hawks. When Joe isn’t in look for Law and Stoudamire to team in the back court so that Law can guard the opponents SG and Salim can take the PG. Claxton and Law will also likely see some time at SG when Joe needs a breather.
Joe Johnson: Another year of being the go-to scorer and another offseason of developing his game can only serve to benefit Joe and the Hawks. A good passer, the development of the younger players should also boost his overall numbers. It’s not unreasonable to expect a slight increase in PPG as he enters his prime. I’m guessing somewhere around 26.5 ppg, 5 APG, 5 RPG while playing a ton of minutes.
Josh Childress: While better at the 3, Childress sees time at both the 2 and 3 as he is the quintessential 6th man. Childress is first off the bench in just about every game and stands to see his numbers improve with steadier PG play as his primary offensive asset is his ability to cut to the basket from the baseline. Without being hampered by the foot injury that bothered him all last season, an increase in PPG and definitely RPG can be expected. Getting up to 15 ppg and 7.5 rpg should make him a contender for 6th man of the year (as he was prior to his injury last year).
Salim Stoudamire: A streaky shooter with a Napoleon complex, he’s an asset to a team that can put the ball down low and kick out to the three point line. Unfortunately, we don’t have the post presence yet to get him the open looks. As Joe’s primary backup, he won’t get many minutes anyway. His dislike for the coaches may result in a midseason trade, especially if Law develops quickly. I actually anticipate a decrease in numbers this year with the addition of Law and a healthy Speedy. Expect around 6 ppg and an unhappy Salim or as part of a package with Lue to Phoenix or Cleveland.
Forwards: I’m not listing them separately because the forward situation is strange. Marvin and Josh Smith can play the 3 or the 4. Personally, I’d play Smith at the 4 to take advantage of his leaping and better post ability and put Marvin on the wing where his shooting and size can overwhelm smaller defenders. But Woodson did the opposite last year. Perhaps they think Marvin is going to grow into his body a bit more and fill out with more strength than Josh. I’m not sure. Childress will obviously see time at the 3, the rundown on him was detailed in the SG section.
Josh Smith: Having a better PG is pivotal to the development of Smith. His primary attribute is his athleticism and a good PG can take advantage of that by putting him in a position to score with more ease. His rebounding should improve slightly with another year under his belt and I can’t image his shot blocking not improving as well. He’ll be the second most efficient player behind Joe and should average close to 19ppg, 9 rpg, 3bpg.
Marvin Williams: The hand injury seemed to derail his first half and it wasn’t until the second half where we started to see flashes of his potential. With a clean, easy shot, developing confidence and increased range, he can stretch the defense and shoot over top of them. Still not a good rebounder or defender, the hope is that a summer of post work will make him more well-rounded. Even a marginal increase in offense puts him at 15 ppg, and as long as he plays with energy on the boards his size can net him 5-6 rpg.
Shelden Williams: He was miscast as a shot-blocker and post presence in the draft and for the first half of last season. What he can provide is fouls (which are important in a league where we’ll see KG, Howard, and Shaq frequently) and energy off the bench. Numbers for Shelden aren’t terribly important (or at least, they shouldn’t be). Sure, he can pop a 15 foot jumper now and again and pick up some boards but ideally he’ll get his 10-15 mpg spelling the other bigs and wearing down the opponent. Ever(y) team needs one of those guys.
Center: Hopefully Zaza and Horford will split minutes by the end of the season. While undersized, Horford is a more well rounded player, with a more skilled post game as well as being a much better rebounder and a defender capable of handling bigger/taller players. The only advantage Zaza really has at this point is having in-game experience, which Coach Woodson values greatly.
Zaza Pachulia: He’s pretty much reached his potential, which is a solid backup C able to put the ball in the basket and grab some offensive rebounds. His overall numbers will probably decrease a little with the addition of Horford and Zaza’s return to something more typical for his ability. He should end up at around 10-11 ppg and 6-7 rpg. Defensively he’s gotten slightly better, but that’s not saying a whole lot as his still has no vertical leap to speak of which precludes him from being a strong finisher at the rim.
Al Horford: He’ll get better as the season progresses. His offensive ability, drive, leadership, and winning mentality are exactly what the Hawks need. His rebounding might suffer a little as he gets accustomed to the physical nature of the Center position in the NBA, but I don’t think it’s out of line to expect about 10-12 ppg.
Lorenzen Wright/Solomon Jones: They are both just here for the ride. Lorenzen is more of an asset in practice to help mold Horford while Solomon is still a project as he still needs to add strength/weight to be productive.
Barring injury, the Hawks could very well see Johnson and Josh Smith recognized as all-stars, Childress as 6th man, and Horford as rookie of the year.
Overall, this team is built for a style more akin to the Suns than the Pistons, but Woodson knows how to coach a team like the Pistons. It’ll be interesting to see if the coaches decide to adapt their strategy to fit the talent and run an up and down game instead of a more deliberate pace. That could be the difference between an okay year and a good year.
The beauty about a young team like the Hawks is that as they all develop together, and they can make big strides from year to year. This should be year one in a line of playoff runs. I don’t think it’s out of line to anticipate just under 35-40 wins, which would put them between 7-8th in the playoffs. Depending on the match up they might be able to sneak out a first round win, but it will take another year of experience before we can really make a push for the conference or NBA finals.
Additionally, a couple of major developments could and hopefully will come off the court. Contract extensions for the Josh’s must be agreed upon by November or each will be able to test unrestricted free agency. The ability to sign both players largely hinges on the big issue: the ongoing legal battle for custody of the Hawks. My hope is that the NBA steps in (as it should have a long time ago) to help resolve the ownership situation and enable the Hawks to become less restricted in their operation.
I will say that the expectations above aren't necessarily the "best case scenario" but they are pretty high hopes for me for the club. I don't think that they are completely unreasonable and certainly close to achievable especially if the rumors of how hard the team worked out and worked together in the offseason are true. I know I'll be watching them even more with the Falcons semi-toast already.