Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks

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Most Important Player: Jeff Teague
It is tough to decipher the future of the Atlanta Hawks at this point in time, but one thing is for certain: Jeff Teague needs to continue to take steps forward this season if he wants to be in the team’s future plans. After a summer of uncertainty surrounding Teague’s future, the Hawks decided to match the four-year/$32 million offer that the Milwaukee Bucks gave him. However, with the Hawks drafting Dennis Schröder in the first round, it seems as though the team does not have supreme faith in Teague to be the point guard of the future. Now that Josh Smith (and his tendency to try to run the point) is off the roster, Teague should find himself in control of the offense much more often this season. Danny Ferry has worked to create a roster full of hard-working, intelligent players, and if Teague is able to immerse himself in that system successfully, he will be on the verge of a breakout season.

X-Factor: Lou Williams
A torn ACL ended Lou Will’s season early last year and the Hawks noticeably struggled to find production off the bench and from the 2-guard position after his injury. With Devin Harris gone, Jared Cunningham and John Jenkins are the only other primary shooting guards on the roster (assuming that Kyle Korver will see the majority of his time at small forward to start the season), which means that Williams will see plenty of minutes, especially at the end of games. One of the Hawks biggest problems last year was scoring during the final moments of games, and a healthy Williams will go a long way towards fixing that. However, if the speed and burst isn’t there after the knee injury, the Hawks may be in trouble. Knee injuries are always tough to bounce back from, and it has yet to be seen whether Lou will or Lou won’t.

Rotations: The Hawks have a couple options to choose from to start the year, with only the following players who I see as guaranteed a starting spot: Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Beyond that, Williams and Korver will be relied upon heavily to produce in the minutes they are given. After these players, it is anybody’s guess. With the combination of new additions and unproven talent, the Hawks may choose to formulate lineups on a nightly basis depending on matchups. While an opening night lineup of Teague/Jenkins/Korver/Millsap/Horford seems most likely, that lineup is below average defensively in the backcourt, and if head coach Mike Budenholzer’s San Antonio Spurs pedigree is going to be carried over to Atlanta, one would assume that defense will be emphasized. In that case, DeMarre Carroll may find himself in the starting lineup sooner rather than later. That leaves a bench rotation of Schröder/Lou Will/Mike Scott/Gustavo Ayon/Elton Brand. Not an elite bench by any means, but one that definitely could make runs. In that case, Jenkins looks like he has the most to gain or lose depending on his early season play.

What Needs To Go Right: Budenholzer’s system. As they are currently constructed, this Hawks team is not a threat for a championship, and will most likely find themselves back in Hawks territory (5-6 seed and a decent playoff series). However, smart, efficient, hard-working teams can easily exceed expectations, and this Hawks team has been built in that mold. Letting J-Smoove walk in favor of a much more efficient Millsap is at least one step in the right direction. If Coach Bud is able to get this team to give 100% effort every night, something that was impossible in past years, the Hawks could sneak up a few spots in the East.

It’s Really Bad If: Al Horford takes a step back. While I believe that Teague (and his development) is the most important player this season, Horford is, without a doubt, the most important player for the team’s future. He has proven over the past few seasons that he can be an offensively dominant center, despite being undersized. Horford averaged career highs of 17.4 and 10.2 last season, and many Hawks fans are hoping that production increases to the 20/10 level now that he is the undisputed face of this team. With the exception of Zaza Pachulia, Horford always appeared to be the most emotional and driven player on the Hawks, and that needs to continue. If Horford is unable to fit into Coach Bud’s new system, and he comes out of the gates timidly, the Hawks will be in big trouble, not just next season, but well into the future.

Bold Prediction: Jeff Teague finishes in the top five in assists, Al Horford finishes top five in MVP voting, and Budenholzer wins NBA Coach of the Year.


Pero Antic, C
Strengths: Good jump shot for a big man, solid rebounder.
Weaknesses: Takes perhaps too many jumpers, will need time to get used to NBA.
Season Prediction: Antic looks like a low-risk/low-reward deal, and should have a chance in the preseason to prove himself. However, he will be used for nothing more than spot minutes or extra fouls this season.

Gustavo Ayon, PF/C
Strengths: Solid rebounder, knows his role.
Weaknesses: Fouls far too often, weak offensive game from 6+ feet.
Season Prediction: If Brand is able to stay healthy, it is unlikely that Ayon sees many important minutes. However, it is well-known around the league that Ayon is a hustler, and may win over the Atlanta fans much in the same way as Zaza Pachulia did for the past eight seasons.

Elton Brand, PF/C
Strengths: Veteran leadership, makes great use of his size and strength.
Weaknesses: No longer the Brand of the past.
Season Prediction: Brand was an underrated signing as a backup center, and should provide quality minutes and solid defense. While the scoring numbers may be low, lineups with Brand/Horford/Millsap should provide tons of scoring opportunities for Millsap and Horford as they can shift down a position and take advantage of their size.

DeMarre Carroll, SF
Strengths: Hard worker, tenacious defender, not afraid to sacrifice his body for a single possession.
Weaknesses: Limited offensive game.
Season Prediction: Carroll was brought in because he seems to fit Budenholzer’s system that values smart players who give maximum effort. If he can carry that over to Atlanta, Carroll should find himself in the starting lineup and on the court whenever the Hawks need defense.

Jared Cunningham, SG
Strengths: Athleticism, surprisingly good ball handling skills.
Weaknesses: Has yet to play meaningful NBA minutes, weak jump shot.
Season Prediction: It is tough to see Cunningham get many minutes, but his athleticism could turn heads and earn him some more time if he makes use of the minutes he does see.

Al Horford, PF/C
Strengths: Exceptional mid-range jumper, tenacious defender, extremely athletic, underrated hook shot, deft passer.
Weaknesses: Undersized center, struggled at the free-throw line last year, not the greatest sense of the shot clock while on offense.
Season Prediction: Horford will benefit from the departure of Josh Smith and see his scoring increase for the second year in a row as he plants himself firmly in the top tier of centers in the NBA.

John Jenkins, SG
Strengths: Shooting, quickness coming off of screens, and … uhhh, taking shots.
Weaknesses: Everything else.
Season Prediction: Jenkins showed in Summer League that he could shoot and get shots off, but his overall scoring ability needs polishing, and his defense is well below average. He will break into the rotation as a shooter next to Kyle Korver, but it will be another season before he makes a huge impact.

Kyle Korver, SF
Strengths: Shooting, smart defensive positioning, free throws, being a decoy.
Weaknesses: Getting to the basket (though I am more than happy to see him always on the perimeter), transition defense.
Season Prediction: Korver will once again be near the league leaders in three-point percentage, and will be the most consistent Hawks shooter.

Paul Millsap, PF
Strengths: Intelligent, efficient scorer who knows his limitations, hard worker, solid jump shot.
Weaknesses: Undersized power forward who occasionally has trouble defending larger players.
Season Prediction: Millsap will fit well into Budenholzer’s system and find himself on the receiving end of great passes from Teague and Horford near the basket often, allowing him to slightly improve his 14.6 scoring average from last season.

Dennis Schröder, PG
Strengths: An exceptional passer who has court vision well beyond his years, quick hands on defense, quick acceleration.
Weaknesses: Struggles with his jump shot mightily, overzealous in traffic, despite his fast hands his man defense needs work.
Season Prediction: Schröder will see decent minutes off the bench behind Teague, and will get used to the speed of the NBA game. While he will struggle to score, there will be at least a few Schröder top-10 passing highlights this season.

Mike Scott, PF
Strengths: Good jump shot, can draw fouls with relative ease.
Weaknesses: Undersized power forward, doesn’t rebound well.
Season Prediction: Scott had a very productive Summer League offensively, and as a result, should see more minutes this season. However, if he doesn’t improve his rebounding, he will have trouble seeing extended minutes.

Jeff Teague, PG
Strengths: Splitting double teams, using his speed to get to the hole, rising up and dunking over big men.
Weaknesses: Lacks confidence, misses too many layups, inconsistent shot.
Season Prediction: Teague will take a step up to the next level of point guards, especially in terms of assist numbers. He will become more confident and use that to draw more fouls.

Lou Williams, SG
Strengths: Established scorer who can catch fire at any time, no problem getting by defenders when he wants to.
Weaknesses: Can go cold at any time, not afraid to shoot himself out of a slump or deeper into one.
Season Prediction: Lou Will should bounce back from his ACL injury, although it may take the first month of the season for him to regain his legs. He should be back in the groove of things by midseason and challenge for the NBA Sixth Man Award this season.

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