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NBA Season Preview: Atlanta Hawks Team Preview


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Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Last season, the Atlanta Hawks finished 38-44, good enough for the eighth seed in a very weak Eastern Conference. Prior to the All-Star break Atlanta was the third-best team in the East. That’s right, after the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, the Hawks were the next best thing. Then Atlanta lost Al Horford, their best player, for the rest of the season and battled injuries to key players the rest of the season. Nevertheless, the Hawks trusted head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system, played hard every night, and almost eliminated the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.

Most Important Player: Jeff Teague
Al Horford is the Hawks’ best player. Or, it can be argued, Paul Millsap is Atlanta’s most valuable player, considering how big of a steal he was and how well he’s produced. However, Jeff Teague is the Hawks’ most important player. Not only is Teague their point guard (one of the most underrated PGs in the league if you ask me) but he is also one of the few players on the Atlanta roster who can create his own shot. In the playoffs, the Hawks pretty much followed Teague’s lead. If he had a good game, they had a good game. If he played poorly, they lost badly. Even with a healthy Horford, expect more of the same from Atlanta. Budenholzer runs a system similar to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (what’s up with these last names though?!), predicated on great point guard play and good ol’ fashioned teamwork. When Teague is on his game, he is just as good as any point guard in the league; the Hawks will need Teague to play at a high level if they want to be one of the elite teams in the East.

X-Factor: Mike Scott
Initially, I was going to say Coach Budenholzer was Atlanta’s X-factor, but if the truth really be told, “Coach Bud” played that role last season as he held the Hawks together through a rash of injuries. I don’t think anyone would have argued if Atlanta’s head coach won Coach of the Year. This season, Mike Scott will be the X-factor for the Hawks. Scott, who has one of the best sock collections around and a really cool Instagram account (@MikeScott__), is another player the Hawks have who can take over a game at any time. If Scott, who is heading into his third year, plays to his potential he should in the conversation Sixth Man of the Year.

Rotations: Atlanta’s starting five should be Horford at center, Millsap and DeMarre Carroll manning the forward positions, and sharp-shooter Kyle Korver and Teague in the backcourt. Look for Scott to be the first player off the bench, with Pero Antic, Dennis Schroder, and Shelvin Mack seeing significant time as well. Another key addition to the Hawks is former Oklahoma City Thunder forward Thabo Sefolosha. Thabo will be valuable in helping Atlanta secure defensive stops, something they lacked last season. Also expect Budenholzer to work rookie forward Adreian Payne out of Michigan State into the mix as well. Not only was Payne a good scorer in college, he was also superb on the defensive end. One of the cool things about the Hawks is they have interchangeable parts and most of their players can shoot from anywhere on the court. Because of this, a healthy Atlanta squad is able to play big or small. However, the most important thing about the Hawks’ flexibility is it allows them to spread the floor.

What Needs to Go Right: Every team needs to stay healthy but Atlanta really needs to avoid the injury bug if things are going to go right for them. Early in the season, the Hawks had a stranglehold on the third seed in the East. At season’s end, it took everything for Atlanta to secure the eight-spot. The East should be a little more balanced now that LeBron James has returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers and a lot of teams have improved their rosters. That being said, Atlanta has to stay healthy because the East will not be as bad as it was last year.

Bold Prediction: The Atlanta Hawks will secure the third seed in the Eastern Conference and slide past a healthy Derrick Rose and Chicago Bulls squad in the second round, only to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.


Pero Antic, PF/C
Strengths: Good size at 6’11”; good shooter; draws opposing big men out of the post; helps Atlanta spread the floor.
Weaknesses: He’s not that imposing defensively; could stand to rebound more.
Season Prediction: Expect more of the same from Antic. With Horford around, Antic will probably attempt a few more threes this season.

Kent Bazemore, PG/SG
Strengths: Good size at the guard position; another body to throw in when the Hawks want to play small ball.
Weaknesses: Has seen limited action sitting on the bench with the Golden State Warriors.
Season Prediction: Will be used in garbage time mostly.

Elton Brand, PF/C
Strengths: Experienced big man; steady play; solid defender.
Weaknesses: Lacks speed and lift at times.
Season Prediction: Brand will do what he always does, be a consummate professional and give rest to Horford and Millsap as needed.

DeMarre Carroll, SF/PF
Strengths: “Junkyard Dog” is his nickname—he does a little bit of everything.
Weaknesses: Can’t create his own shot. Not adept at making plays for others.
Season Prediction: Expect Carroll to average double figures in scoring again and to provide energy and intensity.

Al Horford, PF/C
Strengths: Horford is a walking double-double; he owns the low post and is an NBA All-Star.
Weaknesses: Seeing that he’s coming off an injury, his health could be a weakness. Who knows how far the Hawks get in the playoffs last year if he remained healthy.
Season Prediction: If he stays healthy, Horford will be an All-Star again and lead the Hawks to one of those top four spots in the East.

John Jenkins, G
Strengths: Jenkins is a true 2-guard with a sweet stroke.
Weaknesses: His health—he missed 54 games last season due to a lower back injury.
Season Prediction: Should provide solid shooting while Kyle Korver is on the bench if he can stay healthy.

Kyle Korver, SG
Strengths: Shooting, duh! Hard-nosed.
Weaknesses: He’s not the quickest guy … but who cares, he can shoot the J.
Season Prediction: Korver will continue to get open for threes and go on another three-point streak that leaves us all astounded as to how teams keep leaving him open.

Shelvin Mack, PG
Strengths: He is a true point guard, a solid back up for Jeff Teague; plays hard.
Weaknesses: Shot only 41.7 percent from the field last season, in line with his career average of 41.9.
Season Prediction: Mack is coming off easily his best season after having career highs in almost every category; although underrated he could be a dark horse contender for Sixth Man of the Year if his numbers continue to improve.

Paul Millsap, PF
Strengths: Like Horford, Millsap does everything well and is a force in the low post.
Weaknesses: Turned the ball over a bit much in an expanded offensive role last season.
Season Prediction: With Horford, Millsap gives the Hawks one of the best inside combos in the NBA and also has another All-Star season.

Mike Muscala, PF/C
Strengths: He’s 6’11″ and can shoot it from outside.
Weaknesses: Not a great rebounder or shot blocker, which the Hawks could sorely use.
Season Prediction: Will mostly be used to spell the Hawks starters if they are in foul trouble.

Adreian Payne, PF/C
Strengths: Excellent defender and shot blocker; can shoot from outside.
Weaknesses: Needs to develop more offensively; has a lung condition that impacts his stamina
Season Prediction: Will come off the bench and provide great defense, dunks, and highlights for Atlanta.

Dennis Schroder, PG
Strengths: A true point guard, looks to pass first.
Weaknesses: Needs to improve his shot.
Season Prediction: Will continue to develop behind Teague and Mack.

Mike Scott, PF
Strengths: Scott is one of the few players Atlanta has who can create his own shot.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent; no threat as a shot blocker.
Season Prediction: Should be in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year.

Thabo Sefolosha, SG
Strengths: Excellent defender; timely shooter; knows his role.
Weaknesses: Could stand to improve offensively.
Season Prediction: Gives Atlanta a defensive stopper on the perimeter, something they have lacked over the years, and should help them improve overall defensively.

Jeff Teague, PG
Strengths: Excellent passer; even better scorer; one of the quickest guards in the NBA.
Weaknesses: Streaky jump shot.
Season Prediction: Teague stepped up big time last year with Horford being sidelined. If he has improved his jump shot it would give Atlanta an All-Star at the point guard spot.

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