Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Third Annual HS8T Season Preview (Belatedly)

Note: I was ill for much of last week and hence, the reason for the lateness on this and the 3 game recaps.  Never fear though - all will be rectified by night's end.

With the season only 6 days underway, we know everyone is sitting with bated breath waiting for the Hawks Str8Talk season prediction (haters and fans alike). Though last year's prediction was 1 game off our BEST CASE (an improvement off of our previous year's 4 game miss), we are taking Hoopinion's advice and are warning you ahead of time - all predictions wrong or this blog costs you more than free.  

Before we delve into the items that we didn't touch on in our pre-Season Review review, let's talk about the value of our blog in relation (not instead of) to our Hawks blog brethren - who you can check out here here and here along with my Hawks blog boo here. There are some things that you need to be aware of:
  •  This blog is all about winning championships. So, you can read here how we could win the battle and lose the war.  This is about critical thinking our way to a NBA championship.  Yes, on game day, I'm cheering my HEART out for the Hawks, but the goal of the BLOG is to report on all things - how the hell do we win a title?  Period.  Go to our other brethren if you want a viewpoint that's more cheering no matter what the facts may say (Note: that's not meant as a slight to other blogs, just to say that that's my only true angle - winning a title).
  • This blog is about talking the things that other blogs don't...like - how did the dance team do?  where groupies in full force for the big games? what is happening in the front office?  why you should go to Miami for a road trip once a year? Etc, etc, etc...
  • This blog is lastly about fun - so keep your hate confined to Tea Party rallies.  Here is where sanity reigns and critical debate is welcome as long as you know how to keep your feelings in check.  
  • Last note - this year, we will have a link for purchasing tickets.  Yes, you can get tickets via the blog, so feel free to get around some fees and save some money on occasion (more on this later, but just know that tickets are now on a sliding scale based on time of year and the quality of opponent, so we'll guide you through the best ways to get tickets at the right price.)
As we did the last 2 years, it's time to give our review of the coach and the team and its prospects.  As well as our (drum roll please) 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? [This note is explicitly for some commenters who we had to ban last year.] Now, off to the analysis:

Coaching:
Let's start with the obvious.  This blog was a fan of Mike Woodson the man and the coach...up until oh 2008, then we realized that it was time for Mike Woodson the coach to find another employer. The fact that no NBA team has reached out to put Mike Woodson and his prowess (defensive or otherwise) back to work speaks volumes in a league where Mike Dunleavy repeatedly finds himself employed.  So, let's just say that this is a place where an upgrade could work wonders. Not necessarily in the regular season record, but certainly come playoff time.  

Enter Larry Drew...the guy who worked for Mike Woodson.  We've already spoken ad nauseum at how bad a move we think this is, so let's not belabor the point.  Let's just target the areas where we want to see improvement and interestingly for all the talk about it - it's not the OFFENSE.  Listen - the Hawks weren't having problems on offense last year.  They were having problems with the diversity of the offense in crunch time.  So, for all of the 'changes' on deck, this motion offense sounds pretty similar to 'share the ball' from last year.  And we think they can do that pretty easily. What we'd like to see the Hawks do is - CONTINUE TO DO THE THINGS THAT WERE WINNING YOU THE games.  (say it like 'The Rent's Too Damn High')  In fact, call it Larry Stewart's Continue to Share The Ball Offense.  That's all we need and we need it all game long.  Sure, ISO-Offense is fine in moderation, but if that's all you got in crunch time, then it's a losing proposition.  Frankly, here's what I'd prefer to hear from the coach...
  • I won't allow Josh Smith to shoot jump shots without his ass hitting the pine
  • I will give Jeff Teague the freedom to run the offense for 41 games until he proves that he is unable to develop into a starting point guard at which point - I will tell Rick Sund to do everything possible to trade for a starting point guard.
  • I am able to draw up plays to exploit the weaknesses that I see during a basketball game
Those are the only things we really needed from a coach.  Defensively, yes - the switch-a-roo needed to be scrapped, but what we needed more was - I need better defensive players.  Again, nothing that can be done to improve the team appreciably without...you guessed it - BETTER DEFENSIVE PLAYERS.  Now, you could argue that maybe we should stop playing the bad defensive players when stops are needed and I'd agree, so we'll add that to our coaching wish list.  Can Larry Drew put the best defensive team on the floor when the situations dictate it?  All that said...we have to be real - we got a coach on the cheap. If he can give us twice his worth, we'll take it and run until the ownership deems us worthy of a real top quality coach who wants to win a NBA championship.

Bottom line, we think it's entirely possible that Larry Drew can be more successful than Mike Woodson, but not record wise.  His value can only be judged come the playoffs, so until then - we'll be watching Teague's development, Inside Game (Smith & Horford) Attention, Defensive Improvement, Team's Freshness Factor, Motivation (as judged by not falling asleep to start 1st and 3rd quarters of games) and in-game adjustments. Let's see how it pans out...Grade: C-

Starters:
Well, last year - we said that the Hawks had one of the top starting 5s in the league. This season, I'm not sure I can say that - sure, we have 3 players with All Star ability, but then we have 2 of them who are really just average joes.  Stack them up against the top 33% and we aren't so hot.  So, this season should be about level setting and being honest, so here's where we start:
  • Offensively - Again, the Hawks are a good offensive basketball team. They are despite not playing faster to their strength of athleticism and not getting their players the basketball where they can do the most damage inside (re: Osh Smith and Al Horford), so yes, improvement can be had here.  Anytime you allow your PF to shoot jumpers he can't make and allow your PF and C to lead the break about 25% of the time - you can find improvement.  That said, the Hawks will not be short of baskets during the regular season.  It's when the Hawks have to manufacture buckets against good defensive teams that we have problems and that's what Drew is here to correct.  So far, that process has been stymied some by lack of time together in the new system, but we'll be watching this very closely.
  • Defensively - Here's where we actually are just very average.  Horford and Smith are still trying to make up for the woes of our other 3 players. Yes, Williams has some defensive talent, but not against the guys that matter and certainly not when asked to make for the defeciencies of the perimeter players.  Essentially, this won't get better until we get Bibby out of the starting 5.  Until then, there's very little that will change about our defense.
Grade: B-

Bench:

Last season, I was very hopeful that more players would play, though history said no.  And to form, Teague sat. Evans got old. Crawford was brilliant offensively and putrid defensively. Zaza was good Zaza with the opportunities he received and everyone else sucked.  What does that end up meaning - the team suffered when the 2nd string played.  All we can say about it was: Mario West was the in-season signing to shore up the team.  This season, sanity partially prevailed.  Yep, no Mario.  But then, Jason Collins was signed and Etan Thomas was signed and Jordan Crawford and Pape Sy (who?) were drafted and well....we really just have last year's bench all over again.  Last year's optimism for bench improvement has been replaced with sanity (thanks Jon Stewart).  
Grade: D

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 - As I correctly predicted last year, we won't win a 2nd round game with Bibby as our starting point guard.  Period.  He's a great spot up shooter, but that's it.  No assist value, no defensive value means he's too limited to really lead this team in a conference with Rondo, Jennings, Rose, Nelson, and pick who you want to call the Heat Point Guard.  Start Teague now...
  • Johnson -He got his check. It's not his fault the team is now going to have to trade an asset to move forward as a team (or maybe it is), but bottom line - enjoy the production for 1-2 seasons and then watch the Joe must go rallies begin.
  • Williams - Seriously, Marvin is the key. If he becomes an above average small forward, this team is a serious contender for a 4 seed.  If not, well...
  • Osh Smith - I've opined about Osh and our love for him, but the milk is going bad and going bad faster than I ever expected.. why? His love of the jump shot and leading fast breaks.  For the life of me, why has no coach just sat him down?  Well, because he's wondrously talented in almost every other way and with no one to push him for minutes - that's the price we pay I guess.  Still, no way I'm a coach and I let that happen - I'd lose games before I'd watch a guy shoot 28% from outside for 5 years.  Just  no way I'd let it happen.  That said, he's still our favorite Hawk.  Tortured existence and all...
  • Horford - Last year, I said Al Horford doesn't impress me.  Well, here's the season to prove what you're worth (update: he's worth $60M more).  Listen, we think he's a good addition, but all this talk about him being one of the best centers rings hollow when the centers are all pretty bad.  So, to us, averaging 20 and 10 is what makes us perk up a bit.  It's Drew's job to get him the rock more, but certainly - Al, you gotta stand up and be counted on the offensive end every night or else...I'l say it again...I'm not that impressed.
  • Teague - I'm gonna be honest - Teague has not looked all that great to me.  Neither did Rondo. Neither did Parker.  The point here - let him prove it to me...Mike Conley looked awful for 2 years, but those guys played. At minimum, he gives you better defense than anyone else on your roster on the perimeter, so quit messing with his confidence in himself and play the man.  Please.
  • Crawford - I can repeat last year's point - if you want a guy to just shoot, he's your guy. If you want a guy who ignores the defensive end, he's your guy.  Sorry, but it is what it is.  If you ask me, it's the Jordan Crawford show come midseason. 
  • Evans - Wish I could say something worthwhile here, but I can't.  Sorry.
  • Etan Thomas - I've seen the light - no more projections of great veteran leadership being needed. The Hawks have been together for enough years that they don't need veteran leadership on the bench - they need one to run the team.  So, he'll just be another dude. See Smith, Joe.
  • Pachulia - Love the Zaza...gritty and grimy. Just what this Hawks crew needs.
  • Crawford and Collins - The rook and the weight watcher....unfortunately, more Joes to fill out the roster.  Yep, I said it.
Ok, you had to read through all of that just to get to my predictions, so here they go:

Best Case Prediction - 52-30 (4th in Eastern Conference)
Worst Case Prediction - 43-39 (7th in Eastern Conference)
My Prediction - 46-36 (6th in Eastern Conference) and a likely 1st round playoff exit


Simply put, we're an injury away from a 5-6 game losing streak that destroys any chance at a top 4 seed. I don't think we're better than the Heat, Celtics, or Magic. Probably not better than the best team in the Central (the Bucks or Bulls) and so, we are looking at a 5th seed at best.  That's just how the math works out.  As I always say, it sounds real gloomy for a possible 50 win team, but since my metric is a shot at the title...I just don't see a way to even improve upon last year, which means regression.  That said, I fully expect us to start the season off hot (that's what teams who have the same core should do against teams getting to know their new teammates) and then plateau like we've done for the past 2 years.  Game recaps coming soon...

So, what do you guys think? Leave your predictions in the comments and we'll see you at the Highlight Factory Wednesday!!!

8 comments:

Jesse said...

I'll go with about 47 or so wins, but I think that will still be good enough for the 4th or 5th seed in the east. I think that the Celtics, Heat, and Magic are the only teams in the east that we should reasonably struggle with. Everyone else we are better than on paper and should be in reality.

Larry, my man, you have got to let some of this crap roll off your shoulder man. Brush em off. No, go ahead and do it right now. You don't need to reiterate at the beginning of every post that you have had some back and forth with people on this blog. It's starting to come off extremely petty, and frankly, a little bitchy. And I'm saying this as one of the few who typically agrees with you and backed you throughout the last two years on this site and others. Feel free to not post this if you want, I just couldn't find an email listed anywhere to contact you directly.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@Jesse, my good brother...no worries. I'm not sure about feeling petty, but you're right - it's probably a lil' bitchy and I had already made a point to focus on blogging and not what people have to say about the words that are coming out of my mouth (in my Chris Tucker voice).

So, point taken...

As for the team, while entirely possible, it's also not probable that we're going to have a better record as the 3rd best team in the Southeast Division over the best team in the Central. If you look at the last few years, it's hard to go 3 deep in one division particularly with the teams that are remaining in the East. It's really about 6 good to great teams, then the dropoff is pretty steep.

No reason for the Bulls or Bucks to struggle to win 50 games either (injuries notwithstanding), so I don't see 4th seed at all. I think we'll fight with one of those teams to be 5th.

Jesse said...

Yeah, it's definitely going to be a task to pull it off again, but I can't reasonably expect them to have a better record for the seventh year in a row so I'm falling back on my prediction from last season that we will fall somewhere in the 45-50 win range. I have yet to see anything from the Bulls, Bucks, or Wiz that with a doubt make me feel like they are better than the Hawks. Not yet anyway.

If that means that we end up with the 4th again, great. If that means we are 5th, then so be it. Who knows, that might be the better spot to be in by season's end anyway.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@Jesse,

Only one thing - I didn't say anything about the Wiz...just the Bulls and Bucks. Not to say that they can't fall off, but I think the Bulls have enough talent (and possibly better coaching) and certainly the Bucks showed us that even without Bogut and Redd that they were a lot to handle. We'll see how their team jells now and when Redd returns.

In both instances, I like their upside more than our own. I think we'll be mired as many teams are in regular season success and postseason failure for as long as we continue to think that our team has the appropriate leadership and toughness. Our problem isn't talent to me - it's our mental makeup.

Rufus1 said...

Why?

Why wouldn't the Bulls and Bucks struggle to win 50 games? They still have to play Miami, Orlanda, Boston and the Hawks.....Correct?

The Hawks are the better team still. I know our division is tougher than the Central, but they still have to play those team 3-4 times.

The Hawks will win 55 games this year and have home court in the 1st round.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@Rufus, I don't think I said that the Bulls or Bucks couldn't possibly struggle to be the 4th seed. I don't know if they'll make 50 wins, but then again - I don't know if we struggle to get to 50. I'm actually more confident (actually, ultra confident) in my prediction regarding our playoff acumen than our regular season one. I have maintained for going on 3 years that as long as we're reasonably healthy - we're going to be beat teams that aren't as talented as we are.

That's just gonna happen. If you take those teams and list 'em, you only need to win about 4-5 more to win 50 games. Hence, my belief that 50 wins doesn't mean what it used to. That said, I see us struggling to get to the 2nd round and getting swept again barring some change in our mental makeup. So, I'll defer to whatever you want to say about the seeding - come playoff time, I'll take the Bulls for sure and I need to see how they integrate Redd into the team - if they do it right, I can easily see the team that pushed us to 7 games w/o Bogut and Redd beating us. And that's really all that I'm saying...so, we can be a regular season 4 seed, but I see us being the 6th best team come playoff time.

Ron E. said...

Last year I felt pretty confident the Hawks (if healthy) would win something like 50-55 games and 4th seed.

This year with the new coach and his new systems it's just going to take a while to figure out how much difference that all makes over the crap Woody did. So far so good but the teams the Hawks have played to date are all pretenders.

I'm going to guess the Hawks (again if healthy) win between 48 and 52 games and finish as the 4th seed. I don't see much separation between Atlanta, Chicago, and Milwaukee, so I'll give the Hawks the slight edge based on their having played together for several years and having better top 6 players (maybe 7 if you count Zaza as the Hawks' 7th best).

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

Again, I think there will be a team to emerge in the Central. Don't see the Central Division winner having a worse record than the 3rd best team in the Southeast. Could happen, but I think it'll be hard. That said, I do believe that once the Bulls get Boozer back that they are better than we are without question.