You’re in your second semester of AP Basketball History, you love really good teams, and you love lists. With precious little drama left in the NBA’s 2015 offseason, why don’t we hit the barroom and/or barbershop, pour ourselves a frosty mug of Barbicide, and get to arguin’ over each franchise’s most formidable starting five-man lineup.
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Because we don’t like making tough decisions, the lineups will reflect the All-NBA line of thinking. There will be no differentiation between separate forward and guard positions, and the squads will be chosen after careful consideration of individual merits only – we don’t really care if your team’s top shooting guard and point guard don’t get along.
These rankings will roll out based on when each franchise began its NBA life. We continue with the Atlanta Hawks, who have boasted an incredible amount of talent in three different cities since 1946.
C: Dikembe Mutombo. Only played three and a half years, but was the defensive cornerstone on a series of Hawk teams that (where have we heard this before?) ably served in the second tier of the Eastern Conference hierarchy. Averaged 3.2 blocks per game in Atlanta alongside a double-double for the Lenny Wilkens-led Hawks teams before being traded for Theo Ratliff and Toni Kukoc in 2001.
F: Bob Pettit. On the short list amongst the greatest power forwards ever. Alongside Wilt Chamberlain, can claim to be the only champion that felled Bill Russell in his prime, leading the St. Louis Hawks to the 1958 NBA championship. Averaged over 26 points and 16 rebounds in his career, he made the All-Star team in each of his 11 seasons before walking away from the game (despite averaging over 22 and 12 in his final year) at age 32.
F: Dominique Wilkins. The go-to force behind a litany of powerful if badly-timed Hawk teams in the 1980s and early 1990s. Averaged nearly 26 points per game for the Hawks despite working under coach Mike Fratello, who kept the game flowing at a snail’s pace (while still winning heaps of games). Was the national face of the franchise after a decade’s worth of desultory years, rotating (if not quite good) coaches, and hoped-for on-court saviors.
G: Lou Hudson. An outstanding pro, six-time All-Star, and scoring machine for a Hawks franchise that featured a rotating cast of would-be helpers during the 1970s. Hudson averaged 22.4 points per game for Hawks teams that made it to the (Western!) Conference finals three times, but could not find the final missing piece to make a run at the championship.
G: Joe Johnson. Oft-mocked for the price the former Hawk owners paid for him (in order to pay him more money than anyone else was offering, they initiated a sign-and-trade deal that included Boris Diaw and draft picks that turned into Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez) and the second contract extension the other old owners gave to him (six years, $120 million), Johnson nevertheless was the lead figure on five Hawk playoff teams, averaging 20.9 points and a combined 9.4 assists/rebounds in his time with the club.
As should be the case for a franchise that has been around since 1946, the Hawks have quite a few former players that barely lost out on making the starting five.
Ed Macauley was a fantastic scoring center for the team when it worked out of St. Louis. The hometown product also went toe-to-toe with Bill Russell (whom he was once traded for) as the Hawks took the 1958 title. Teammate Cliff Hagan was a ferocious player with a killer running hook shot, and he was massive figure in the 1950s basketball scene. Prior to the franchise’s move to Atlanta, Lenny Wilkens was as important a fixture as a player in St. Louis as he eventually was a coach in Georgia.
Cotton Fitzsimmons and Hubie Brown also had the good fortune (despite all their screaming) of coaching Walt Bellamy, John Drew, and Pete Maravich. The Hawks were, inarguably, the franchise most hurt by the competing ABA: Atlanta lost out on the rights to employ draft picks Julius Erving, Marvin Webster, and David Thompson during the mid-1970s.
Mike Fratello enjoyed great success with Kevin Willis and Doc Rivers running things, while big man Al Horford (who has played twice as many seasons as Dikembe Mutombo in Atlanta, and 154 more games) has a good argument to make the starting five despite his injury woes.
This is the five we’re going with. Who would you take?
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