Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Once again back is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining offseason moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Up next, the Atlanta Hawks.

2008-09 Record: 47-35, second place in Southeast Division
Head Coach/Facial Hair: Mike Woodson/Mustache
Key Additions: Jamal Crawford(notes), Joe Smith(notes), Jeff Teague(notes)
Key Losses: Speedy Claxton(notes), Flip Murray(notes), Acie Law IV(notes), Solomon Jones(notes)

The Hawks are just so blisteringly above average in every way, there's just nothing here that stands out, and nothing that tends to encourage you toward thinking that bigger things are on the way.

Apologies for being a total downer, but that's just how it is. This is a good team that's in desperate need of a superstar. Joe Johnson(notes) is nice, Al Horford(notes) and Josh Smith(notes) could do impressive things this year, but they're just an all-world stud away.

How's that for analysis? Atlanta needs a top five player. Continue apace.

What we have here is a fine team with a fantastic 10-man rotation. There are minor-to-major quibbles with just about everyone in that rotation, but you can do a lot worse than every position starter on the Hawks and their backups. And a good chunk of this rotation, should its collective head stay on straight, should be a good bit better in 2009-10 than it was last year.

Al Horford, for one, should be healthy and inspired. Josh Smith will never turn into the all-around superstar that his potential suggests, but he still is an all-around force who takes you in and out of games. Marvin Williams(notes) will be better, much better. This isn't stat boy-hype; Williams can play.

I do like the upgrades. Adding Joe Smith and Jason Collins(notes) for next to nothing was smart team-building. Jamal Crawford has major issues with anything beyond sometimes getting hot from 20 feet from the hoop, but he's still an upgrade over Flip Murray. Rookie Jeff Teague has major promise, and he'll be pressed into backup duty at point guard straight away, and returnees Zaza Pachulia(notes) and Maurice Evans(notes) are well served as backups.

This is a large upgrade on 2008-09, when the sometimes-breathless Hawks had no bench to speak of, and it showed.

Joe Johnson was the most obvious of the breathless ones, unfortunately, for the third year in a row. Yes, for the third season in a row, he hit a wall that you just don't see many stars of his caliber hit, and it's easy to see why - he was handed the role of a minutes-leading superstar without actually having earned it.

Let's give J.J. a break. He's an All-Star, but the Hawks can't keep trotting him out there for 40 or 41 minutes a night while asking him to act the part of LeBron Jr.

He's proven he can't work that way. Replacing those minutes with Mo Evans or Jamal Crawford or a big lineup will hurt, but not as much as watching the guy who takes the majority of your shots struggle through a 36 percent shooting month, with iffy defense, just because you're riding him too hard.

Atlanta will be better in 2009-10, but so will the rest of the East. And though the team has no real major weakness save for possibly giving up too many offensive rebounds, the Hawks will struggle to keep up. Especially if they swoon again. Especially if the inconsistency sustains. This is an above-average team in all areas, but the Hawks rarely play like it. It's all peaks and valleys.

That isn't to say there isn't quality, there. I'm just not that enticed by the upside.

Prediction: 43-39

Kelly Dwyer

Can the Hawks develop quick enough to become more than second-round fodder?

Actually, they might not even be good enough to get to the second round. Atlanta picked up only Jamal Crawford, [Joe Smith] and Jeff Teague in the offseason, and even with the youngsters gaining a year of experience, it's possible Joe Johnson has peaked and Mike Bibby(notes) will be worse. Despite the Hawks' flexibility up front, this is a thin squad. Throw in inconsistent play on both ends and a sometimes combative relationship with coach Mike Woodson, and you have a team that might look at last year's 47-win total as the crest.

— KD, Yahoo! Sports 2009-10 NBA Preview magazine

Peachtree Hoops: "Mike Woodson is in a contract year so the goals for this season might easily be marked by what it will take for him to get a new contract. And that might be lower than some Hawks fans want. There will be riots in the street if a first-round playoff loss garners a new contract, but a competitive second-round exit should secure an extended stay in Atlanta for Woody. However, one can only rebuild for so long and a conference finals appearance may be wishful thinking around these parts but it is not unheard of thinking. It is still a goal and not an expectation, but in two years, if the Hawks are saying goodbye to the playoffs in early May, fans will not be happy and Philips Arena will go back to the sparse look it held for the early part of this decade. The Hawks have improved every year under Woodson, and hope and excitement is built around that very fact. Improvement on 47 wins is a goal and a very reachable one at that." [more]

The Baseline: "I cannot even pretend to be an objective observer of the Atlanta Hawks. I rooted for them when they were awful. The series against Boston was one of the high points of my basketball-watching career. I endured the stench of irony as a team just bursting with potential energy stumbled through their series with Dwyane Wade(notes) and were nearly burnt in the process. Now, after some early misgivings about the Jamal Crawford trade, I get multiple Thin Lizzy joints stuck in my head when I imagine their prospects for 2009-10. Like four or five songs at once. Crawford gives this team another ball-handler, shot-creator, late-shot taker, deep threat and catalyst for generalized action. I'm done worrying about who plays where or comes off of what bench when. Josh Smith and Marvin Williams can be motivated in the right direction. There's going to be a jail break, and warden, thy name is Mike Woodson." [more]

Dime: "After going one round farther in the '09 postseason than they did in '08, the Hawks may have hit their peak as presently constructed. A top-four seed in the East is a reasonable goal, but top-three is a stretch, and knocking off one of the Cavs/Celtics/Magic triad in Round 2 is a pipe dream. The Hawks folded up like a chair against Cleveland in the conference semis, getting outworked inside, outshot and outclassed by LeBron all over the place. Johnson's inability to respond in that series put his abilities as a legit franchise player in question, but he is in a contract year and could be on a mission to prove himself. Durability is another key, especially in the frontcourt. The Hawks have too much talent and, as young as they are still, too much experience to miss the playoffs in the East. But at the same time, they have just enough red flags to exit quickly and quietly." [more]

SLAM Online: "Most people have assessed the Bibby/Zaza/Marvin extensions as good signings — which they were — but I think it's important to realize that any of those dudes could have gone elsewhere for comparable money. That they all stayed suggests to me that they want to be in Atlanta, that they've bought into what the Hawks are and what they can be. So many guys in the NBA are out for self, and any of these guys could've been, but they wanted to be Hawks and did what it took to stay on the team. To me, that speaks not only to the kind of teammates they are but to what the Hawks have built. We have a real team now." [more]

Stealers Wheel, "Stuck In The Middle With You"

What's going on with the Hawks, you guys? They're a super-talented team with the potential to do some big things, if only they could put it all together. But will that ever actually happen? They seem destined for years of fifth seeds in the Eastern Conference. The new New Jersey Nets, if you will. Because their management loves fighting with each other, the Hawks are going to have to tough out another season with a coach that seemingly every player on their team dislikes. You could say they're "stuck."

— Trey Kerby, The Blowtorch

You find Hawks at all stages of the draft board. Joe Johnson is a steady 21/5/5 with two threes, placing him squarely in the mix near the end of Round 2. The stats aren't the only thing that is reliable about J.J.'s game — he's also averaged 78 games played over his eight year career. Josh Smith makes an appearance shortly after Johnson, and he'd likely be drafted before him if not for a serious regression last season at the tender age of 23. While his playing time stayed roughly the same, most of his counting stats fell off and his free-throw shooting fell into Dwight Howard(notes) territory (59%). If he can avoid injury and focus his efforts and energy, he'll make that Round 3 pick pay off, but he's no sure thing.

Al Horford made steady progress in his second season and quietly delivered a fifth-round impact. While the offense stays concentrated among the team's perimeter players, he's their two-way post presence and a near-lock to post 13/10/1.5. Mike Bibby had something of a comeback roto season in 08-09, thanks in part to sparkling efficiency. He's a fairly uninspiring seventh-round pick this season, however, as he'll be pushed by Jamal Crawford for playing time. Crawford himself is being tremendously overrated in fantasy drafts, going in the ninth round despite a reserve role. Before you justify the pick by pointing out his production over the past three seasons, ask yourself how close you think he'll get to matching his per-game average of 39 minutes over that time frame. Marvin Williams is a bit of an X-factor. He's unlikely to ever prove worthy of his real-life draft position, but his efficient, incremental production is solid for fantasy and he's coming at a heavy discount after missing 21 games last season. Perhaps his fifth pro season will prove to be his finest.

— Matt Buser, Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Basketball / BuserSports.com

Sign up now for Fantasy Basketball '09.

Teddy: You should set goals beyond your reach so you always have something to live for. #HawksChampionship #NBA
about 4 hours ago from TweetDeck

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