As we did last year, we'll review our team and coaching and offer....(drum roll please) our best case and worst case predictions along with our true prediction for 2009-2010. One last note - as a part of our game recaps, we always use the game's result to determine whether we should upgrade or downgrade our prediction, so it should be noted that at 4-0 last year - we were clear that the Hawks were NOT who we thought they were (and that's meant as a good thing), so don't put our prediction in stone - we aren't trying to win points by nailing the prediction we make, ok? Now, off to the analysis:
It should be noted that this blog has not been a fan of the Hawks coaching philosophy. We have always like Mike Woodson as a person (Indiana Hoosier legend, member of the bald brotherhood, and nice guy from all accounts), but Woodson has shown that while he was perfect for his role as a youth caretaker for the first 3 seasons - there are questions about whether he can provide the coaching to get the most out of the talent that resides in the Highlight Factory. Certainly, Woodson is not to blame for not putting together the team, but he can be blamed for the philosophies that are espoused.
It's telling that at this stage - we still do not know what the identity of this team is. Are we an athletic team? Yes! Do we do anything that benefits athletic teams like running? No! Do we have a promising front court? Yes! Do we do anything to cater to the front court? No! So, there are several things we could highlight things like:
- The Offense - Full of isolations and dribbling until someone feels like they've found a good enough shot. Rare is a team that only is very good when jump shots are falling among the contenders for NBA titles.
- The Defense - Full of switches that retard the rebounding and defensive rotation process
- The In-Game Adjustments - We only counted 2 games last year where a coaching move during the game actually yielded a significant change in the game (one was a victory at home vs. Utah, and the other was almost a miracle win on the road vs. Denver). That doesn't bode well for the coach's value.
- The Lame Duckness - Now, here's where we did stand up for Woodson all offseason. Either you commit to a coach or you fire him and move on, but rarely do you put a coach in a position to coach for his job without the cover of at least one year remaining. It's a novel concept, but one that isn't based on sound understanding of the pro athlete's psyche. What's to stop a player revolt from happening at the first sign of distress in the NBA season aside from professionalism? What's to stop Woodson from treating Teague as if he has AL4 Disease due to the fact that he has to win NOW! One of the major knocks from this blog has been that Woodson coaches to win the battle (and he doesn't do that very well) and not the war. In other words, he makes coaching decisions based on an attempt to win every moment vs. figuring out the balance necessary to win a game and also build a team ready for the postseason. That was on display during the preseason's only road back to back where Joe Johnson played 35 and 27 minutes. Maybe winning the preseason game and getting a rhythm mattered, but not at the expense of Joe Johnson's long term health and freshness for what is solidly a playoff team. Anyway, the lack of a contract extension only encourages more of the win the battle coaching from Woodson. We'll see if this lame duck stature has negative repercussions for this team
Well, we can certainly again say that the Hawks are one of the most talented starting 5s in the league. And if we have the motivated Osh Smith (he gets his J back when he starts hitting jump shots OR stops taking them altogether) and Marvin Williams becomes 40% better this year, then yes - we'd agree. But let's say that doesn't happen - then our past production tells us that there are some good and bad things about this starting 5.
- Offensively - The positive is that all of them are able to give you at least 20 pts in an offense that focuses on them. There isn't a player on the court that you are scared to have attempting to score the basketball in their collective scoring sweet spots. The negative is that we haven't really ever spent time trying to get all players the ball in their sweet spots unless that guy's name is Joe Johnson. After 4 years, Joe has gotten the ball in every conceivable way to take advantage of his talents. It's always been said here that Joe is our best player, but Osh is our most talented player. The same can be said about Marvin and Al. We don't know how good they can be b/c so much attention has been on our backcourt's ability to score the ball. Let's hope that this season moves to a shift to more transition baskets AND more post play to see what our inside game can offer.
- Defensively - Again, the positive is that we're athletic enough to defend most of the teams in the league. Unfortunately, the subset of teams who don't fall in that category happen to be the contenders in this league. For that group, nothing we do defensively is effective. There is little that looks positive about our defensive rotations and philosophy when faced with the likely contenders for the title - we're simply a good, quick point guard and scoring big man away from trouble of monumental proportions, so if it's not the Magic, Lakers, Spurs, Cavs, or Celtics - we're fine. But I'd prefer to match up against those teams vs. the bottom feeders. We'll see how we match up this season and if improvements on this end make Osh Smith the intimidating defensive presence he was up until last year.
Simply put, we don't have much outward leadership and we don't have many scenarios where we can point to the team rallying around the coach's mantra, so the #1 positive of the offseason was the addition of two veterans (Jamal Crawford and Joe Smith). We weren't big fans of moves that didn't a defensive stopper or a rebounding beast (yes, we longed for Ramon Sessions and DeJaun Blair - and if after that, we brought back Bibby, Joe Smith, and Flip Murray - that wouldn't have bothered me a bit), but that didn't happen. So, we have to take what we have and say - we still got better. Any upgrade in talent that moved Mario West from the #9 or #10 player in the team rotation to the 2nd to last guy cut speaks volumes about the talent upgrade on the bench. We also are happy to see Jeff Teague join the fold, but ONLY if he plays. On a roster with only 4 guards - it would be very depressing to watch us run Bibby into the ground and virtually ensure that running a fast break will continue from the power forward position (read: Osh Smith turnover watch upcoming). We have doubts whether or not a lame duck Woodson has the cajones to live with the mistakes that Teague is sure to work through over the course of the season. We'll be watch this unfold all season...
So, let's hope that with a Teague, Crawford, Evans, Joe Smith, Pachulia 2nd string - we'll be seeing 10 man rotations that provide very few DNPs that aren't connected to the names Morris, Hunter, or Jason Collins. Grade: a conditional B (if Woodson plays everyone).
All of this leads us to a determination of what we think the players have in store for us, so we'll do some quick blurbs on each player and our expectations:
- Bibby - Let's hope that he can still continue to shoot 3s at a high clip because his poor defense and lack of penetration need to be offset by something. We hope to see Bibby's PT held to about 27 minutes a game
- Johnson - His talent is unquestioned and he realizes that he needs to perform this year in order to get a big paycheck during the 2010 offseason. That means more great days ahead, but the knock has always been whether Joe can be the best player on a contending team. We won't say no while hoping that Osh Smith or Horford can assume a co-leadership role as the best player. The thing we hope for Joe is a manageable 30-32 minutes a game in an attempt to keep him fresh all season.
- Williams - Marvin added the 3 point shot to his arsenal and has vowed to bring better ball handling and post moves to his small forward position. Well, those things would go hand in hand with an above average defensive presence necessary to move the Hawks forward. Hopefully, an aggressiveness on the scoring end accompanies his offseason improvements. We think Williams is the key to this season.
- Osh Smith - For 3 years, I have been Osh's single biggest fan. Similar to Tracy McGrady, I saw the freakish talents of Osh Smith during his rookie season and said it's only a matter of time. Well, we were wrong on the time - it's not simply a matter of time with Osh. It's a matter of a lack of developing basketball smarts. Now, you can argue that it's the coaching or it's Osh or even the enabling by his teammates. One doesn't know, but what we do know is that the lack of discipline in attempting jump shots he can't make consistently will always be a limiting factor for Osh and, therefore, creates a lack of reliability to make us contenders. We continue to maintain that he has the most talent - he just has to realize that that talent is not jump shots and at his size and with his stroke NEVER will be. So, we at HS8T will learn to live with this limitation and factor it into our assessment of him from now on until proven otherwise.
- Horford - And to our only true departure from conventional Hawks wisdom, Al Horford...well, we must say that we're really not that impressed with him and by that we mean - he's consistent, he's solid, he's reliable, but there's nothing IMPRESSIVE about that unless you are so accustomed to players NOT doing those things that they should - that his regular reliability is noteworthy for that reason. If Williams and Smith max out their ability, is Horford anything more than our 4th best player (with Bibby coming in 5th - maybe 6th behind Crawford)? Do you ever expect that he'll be better than 13 pts and 11 rebounds for our team? Can you seriously see him in an All Star game or on an All Pro team? While you mull that over, we do think it's important that he get the ball in the post a LOT more - it's simply bad business to not let him get 10-15 touches a game.
- Teague - We like him, but we can't say what will happen b/c we don't know if he'll get consistent playing time. Simple as that - let's hope he gets that and we will assess his ability to penetrate, play defense, turn over the ball, and make open shots accordingly.
- Crawford - Well, his talents as an offensive player are well documented, so we think that his effectiveness should be judged in ensuring that he's scoring more than those he's defending. We'll be paying attention to the plus/minus statistic for Crawford all season long.
- Evans - Simply be the glue...defense and 3s are what we need from Evans, that's all we need. And yes, we still believe that it would serve the Hawks better to play Evans with the starters and play Williams with the 2nd string.
- Joe Smith - Finally a true vet who can still play - rebounds, defense, and leadership - check, check, and check!
- Pachulia - There was probably no player that got more kudos from us last year than Zaza and that's because energy and passion and dogged determination is all he has. It's something the Hawks need in spade, so let's hope that we get the every other year Zaza again this year.
- Morris, Hunter, and Collins - Basically, this is the 'we need fouls' crew. When we play big guys who need to be hacked (like Shaq and Dwight Howard) - that's what you're on the team for. Don't forget it and may Mario West's energy live on through you.
Best Case Prediction - 52-30 (4th in Eastern Conference)
Worst Case Prediction - 44-38 (6th in Eastern Conference)
My Prediction - 47-35 (4th in Eastern Conference) and a likely 2nd round playoff exit (though we reserve the right to say that we may lose in the 1st round)
Yep, all that to say that we'd do what we did last year. Yep, I don't see a way that we leap over the top 3 teams - they are deep enough to be injury proof (save the Cavs losing LeBron) and I don't see a way that we are competitive in the 2nd round of the playoffs as presently constituted. But that's why we play the games....and as the #1 fan, I'll be cheering for an 82-0 season and 4 sweeps. So, don't let the name of the blog fool you - we are serious about our fan-dom and we'll be bring you the very best in Hawks coverage (non-statistical analysis category), so stay tuned - we're in for a wild ride.
So, what do you guys think? Leave your predictions in the comments and we'll see you at the Highlight Factory starting Wednesday!!!