Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Playoffs?!?? Maybe Not...

I would like to say thanks to me. Yes, me. After one of my lengthy rants about the Hawks' problems, problems that are sure (to me) to result in a first round loss in 6 or 7 games or a certain THIRD straight sweep in the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs - I was going to smartly show just how insightful I can be about this team by saying 'as bad as we were vs. the Celtics, we'll beat the Nets to prove that we're still flawed, but not flawed enough to incite the kind of change necessary to make the Celtics game temporarily forgettable to the coaches and players and possibly management.'  That's been our 2 year pattern. To show just enough to make you think that the flaws you see are correctable.

I provide that backdrop to yesterday's overtime defeat at the hands of the Nets as a point that sometimes, it's better not to always try to sound intelligent about the psyche of the Atlanta Hawks.  Yep, that would have been me looking stupid for making a proclamation regarding our makeup and fortitude.  I keep seeing articles and blogs about 'is it time to hit the panic button?' Well, if you asked THIS GUY (complete with fingers and thumbs in some Northeastern accent), the time to accurate hit such a button in a way that changes could occur on an ascent to a title would have been when we had trouble beating a woeful Heat team and were swept by the Cavs two postseasons ago.  You should have hit it again when we were having trouble with a hobbled Bucks team and again swept by the Magic last postseason.  So, yes, the panic button should have impressions of all fan's DNA.  Not because of an 8-7 start to the season, but because of our allegiance to a core that has been proven time and time again that it is not suited to play championship basketball.  Hitting the panic button now would only provide us with changes that in all likelihood won't make a difference in the end goal, but hey - change is what the Hawks need right now.

Here's some quotes that should be scary two years ago - Mo's quote on Monday about us not knowing our identity, which is a quote he gave in the playoffs two years ago.  Every quote that even mentions effort and energy should tell you everything you need to know about why the mix needs to be stirred up in a significant way.  I don't know if it will work, but I didn't know that Manu Ginobili would work as the 6th man. I didn't know if Rondo would ever turn into John Stockton without a jump shot either.  I do know that trotting out the same 8-9 players and expecting them to do things different, to play differently, to expend effort differently is insane, but I sure would like to see it for about 20 games.  I'd like to see Teague setting up Johnson, Horford, and Smith.  I'd like to see Evans spotting up for 3s. I'd like to see Marvin in a role where we're asking him to be aggressive and attempting to score when he's not the 4th option in the offense.  I'd like to see Bibby managing Crawford's control of the basketball with the 2nd string.  It could all lead to a 5 game losing streak and it'll still be the right thing to do. These guys need to feel like their jobs are on the line and that their play will dictate what happens, not what their generic sound bites represent. 

Note: I say this with the thought that, like Obama, I want my coach to coach without the concern of losing his job.  Unrealistic, I know, but I feel comfortable that the results would leave us better off.  I don't know how a coach can listen to these post-game interviews and not throw something through a glass door unless his concern is winning as many games as possible to prove his worth (in regular season wins, mind you).  The sound bite - 'we came with energy tonight' as if that's a GOOD thing is as clear of an indictment of where this team is and its ceiling for the season. It's entirely possible for this team to NOT make the playoffs, not likely, but it is possible. You don't think so...go back and see how quickly the Pistons, Wizards, and even the Sixers bit the dust over the past 2-3 years. If you think that can't happen, then maybe you forgot that Josh Smith battled with Mike Woodson or that Jamal Crawford's past is not complete with locker room harmony.  Hawks fans, consider yourselves warned.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There's An Alarm At the Gate

There are several things swirling through my head as I write this blog...this will probably not have the flow and expertise of our friends at Hoopinion, AJC (thanks MC for the tweet convo) or Peachtree Hoops.

Let me get the items off my head, then try to wrap this up into something resembling a reasonable blog post. 
  1. Hiring Coach Drew was the wrong move and it can't be fixed without firing him. - OR him exposing the frauds on this team.  Yes, I'm repeating something I said when he was hired.  As I said then, it really has very little to do with whether or not Coach Drew is a good coach or not, tactically, but his locker game needs to go from mediocre to great fast.  His schemes, tactics, and motivational abilities could be questioned, but they won't be by me. The locker room needs a completely NEW voice with new assistants, new style, new schemes, new punishments, new rewards, new workout regime, new everything. Seriously, this deserves a 'hide yo wife, hide yo kids' Youtube clip. Kris, MC, Coco, Bret...what say you?
  2. Signing Jason Collins, Etan Thomas, and Josh Powell were the wrong moves and it can't be fixed unless you stop playing them and they spend their time changing this team's culture. - That's all I have to say about that, but we also need to look into showcasing players. The Knicks did it with Nate Robinson last season, then traded him. Yes, I'm talking about you..Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague, Marvin Williams, & Joe Johnson. Of course, Hoopinion makes a great case for the fact that there's probably no one who really wants those guys, but the point being - if Rick Sund holds any sway and if you can give the coach a guarantee that you won't blame him for the losses, then it's time to just change up and give these guys carte blanche to put up numbers and then, try like heck to trade these guys. Mike Bibby too...there's gotta be a team that needs a savvy vet who makes 3s. Simply put, I liked the Hawks more when they were 13-69 and the young boys were playing their hearts out than now when I know we have talent, but have no idea that effort & heart has to be consistent to go along with it.
  3. The Hawks have yet to obtain a heart - The reason Utah fans love their team (aside from the fact that they are the only game in town) is because no matter what - Jerry Sloan requires toughness and heart.  They may not have the talent, but those boys will ALWAYS play.  They may be down by 20 pts, but it's because they were outPLAYED.  I can accept about 10 games where a team does not play well and depending on the talent of that team - you may get blown out.  But at no point having a run vs your 'rival' (note: I now believe the Celtics have made their point clear - the Hawks are not a rival of the Celtics.) is completely unacceptable. In fact, if I'm Coach Drew - I'd send YouTube clips of The Wiz where they introduced the Tin Man.
  4. Jeff Teague is the key to a championship - I'll keep saying it. If you don't start Teague, flush this version of the Hawks down the drain. Now, you may find that Teague is wholly unable to raise to the level of starting point guard in this league. If that's true, here's what's also true. Rick Sund can't evaluate talent. This coaching staff either lied about all the talent he possessed for the past 2 offseasons OR can't develop point guards, which means - major changes need to happen.  And it all starts with starting Jeff Teague...learning what he can do the rest of the year as the starting point guard (a real one, not the version that brings the ball up and gives it to Joe or Jamal immediately) will reveal what steps need to be unearthed to move this franchise forward.
  5. Hawks fans aren't fooled - I was at the arena last night and I think the Hawks organization (among many things) misjudged just how intelligent Hawks fans are.  Yes, there are several people who wondered why I believed we would take a step backwards this season.  Well, I'm not saying we've gone backwards, but I am saying that we are stuck in mud as a team. The amount of growth that our players can make is close to being tapped out. Short of giving minutes to Jordan Crawford and Jeff Teague, our players are who they are and the chemistry is what it is (unless of course, you get a new coach and new system).  And so for all the barbs this town takes for being apathetic about the team (some of which is all the way fair), it's hard to muster up money in this economy when you know that your team didn't show up in the past 2 years during the postseason and you determine that the coach and 3 bums and a 3rd string shooting guard are the answers to the question "How do we get better?" So, am I surprised that there are few sellouts and enthusiasm in the building this year? Absolutely not. People were 100% more excited last year because they believed that we could be BETTER than last year. Now that we've seen what Jamal, Collins, & company can do - we understand that we needed MORE this offseason. No team that isn't trying for more lottery balls does nothing in an offseason where they were swept and thinks, yeah - we're going to be better than the teams WHO GO ADD PIECES to the teams already better than yours. Fans aren't that idiotic, ASG, and I'm sure by the lack of energy at the Celtics game that even the most casual fan is up on it.  Basically, the gig is up. Expect poor fan support this year and by extension - expect a pretty average home record this season.
  6. We have a leadership problem - Yes, I'm sure this is no surprise to anyone, but here's the glaring example of how it has been manifested.  It's been said by a few that it's not very instructive to watch pre- and post- game comments or to see what is said in the media about your team.  And in some cases, that's absolutely correct, but in 3 years of blogging about the Hawks - I'm still waiting on the organization to have laser like focus on the SPECIFIC issues that face the team in the micro and macro senses and then do something about it.  Prime example - we've heard repeatedly when games like the Celtics game happen.  Al, Josh, Joe, Coach Woody and now Coach Drew tell you how bad it is and that they have no answer.  Rarely does that "how bad it is" comment come with the accountability in action.  So, a coaching action when something like that would be - sit all my starters in the first 5 minutes of the Celtic game.  A playing action would be - here's where I decided to PLAY my way through the issue and then, counsel other players to do the same.  I've yet to hear someone call out Bibby and Crawford for their defensive struggles, yet some kind of way Jeff Teague doesn't get to play garbage time minutes and Jordan Crawford does. Josh Powell does. And where's Etan Thomas? Doesn't he have a poem on leadership we can use right about now? And let's keep it real - we're past time for players to be called out.  I'm ready for the Coach Drew press conference where he says - I expect Joe Johnson to play like the highest paid player this offseason and if he doesn't - we'll be playing Jordan Crawford. Phil Jackson told Kobe 2 seasons ago that if he couldn't starting making shots he should sit. Read that last sentence and then, go back and see who won the title that season.
  7. No further judgments can be made until the 2nd round of the playoffs - And at this rate, we probably won't be there to participate in them.  
 So, you want to get me excited about the season, Coach Drew. Then, start Teague. Play Jordan Crawford ahead of Jamal Crawford. Bench players who don't give max effort.  If it means we'll lose games, so be it.  Put your stamp on this team because right now, you're losing the battle and war and it's barely your fault.  You see - you thought you had a professional basketball team who wanted to win a title and that's just not the case.  You have Al Horford and a bunch of guys who either are mentally unable (Josh Smith, Joe Johnson) or physically unable (the rest) to do that, so the sooner you start exposing these guys - the sooner you'll get players that you can mold into YOUR team.  That should be your only goal at this point. Forget trying to be the #3 or #4 seed.  Try uncovering the hearts and minds of our Atlanta Hawks.  Tall task, but anything short of that will have you on the unemployment line, much sooner than later.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Game Recap: Jazz @ Hawks

Preamble Ramble

So, the goal for the game vs. the Jazz should not only have been to show that they could bounce back from an embarrassing loss vs. the Milwaukee Bucks (a game that should give pause to anyone who believes that the Hawks have a tight stranglehold on the 4th seed in the East), but also to send the message that the Bucks game is not indicative of the mental toughness that the team will display throughout the season.

Game Recap - Jazz 90, Hawks 86

Overall Observations:
  • The case for bouncing back was made.
  • The case for mental toughness was a little more mixed.
  • Why is it that first and second round players for teams like the Jazz get playing time during the season vs. good teams and ours don't.  It shouldn't be lost on the front office with regard to Sund's ability to find talent or the coach's decision to use the regular season to develop players you will need to avoid playoff embarrassment when you see Earl Watson competently spell Deron Williams or watch second round draft pick Jeremy Evans provide 6 minutes of energy and production while the starters rested for the stretch drive.
  • Welcome back small forward rotation.  It was no coincidence that the team looked closer to its normal self, but it does strike us as interesting that Jason Collins can go from starter to DNP.  It probably highlights that he probably shouldn't have been playing at all small forwards missing or not.
  • I've normally used the Utah Jazz as a good barometer game for the Hawks due to the fact that you know they are well coached, won't quit, and will force you to execute in order to be successful.  Our home game vs. the Jazz in 2008 was probably in the top 4 wins of that season. So, this game should be taken with some mixed messaging. On the good side, we were back to competitive vs. a very good team and on the bad side, we were watching the type of team that executes its scheme no matter what time in the game it is vs. the occasional reverting to bad habits exhibited by our Hawks. It would be illuminating to see the Hawks not give up about 15 possessions a game doing things we aren't good at doing.
  • How refreshing to see a new end of game play being run. Let's not let the end result take away from the fact that an easy shot was created to tie the game. Kudos to Coach Drew for realizing that using Joe and Jamal as decoys can be a very successful way to create an end of game shot.
Str8 Butter Award - First Str8 Butter Award of the Year goes to Joe Johnson. Nothing spectacular, but he did provide a solid presence down the stretch.

Starter Kudos/Smackdown -

* M. Williams - Good to see Marvin Williams back to knock off some rest and get back into the process of establishing himself as a critical member of this basketball team.
* Josh Smith - Honestly, Osh has had a really good shooting season, but it will continue to vex me as to why he is allowed free reign (he's acquitted himself well enough so far this year to allow for necessary jump shots) at outside shots.  This is not Karl Malone we're talking about here.  Additionally, why is Josh continually allowed to bring up the ball.  On 3 occasions, he made bad decisions on the fast break. It's the POINT GUARD'S job to bring up the ball...
* M. Bibby - I've been especially harsh on Bibby as our starting guard and this needs to be given some context.  Mike Bibby is a good offensive presence for this team.  What he is not is a good leader or defensive presence.  When those things are necessary - he needs to be on the bench.  Unfortunately, that's not how he's seen. Guys like Mike Bibby should not be portrayed as Derek Fisher type winners for a franchise and unfortunately, that rears its head in the kinds of machinations used to keep him on the floor, which simply are not sustainable for an elite team t maintain. As long as he's starting, the Hawks will be guaranteeing themselves Pretender status (though it's reasonable to assume that starting Teague will not change that - it only removes it as a guarantee and replaces it with upside that is missing right now)
* J. Johnson - See Str8 Baller
* A. Horford - Missed FTs happen, so there's not much to take from this as an indicator for the season, so I will only say that I hope Al never has to take a desperation 3 again.

Bench Kudos/Smackdown

* Ja. Crawford - actually saw him try on a few plays of defense. Baby steps, baby steps.
* J. Teague - Simply put - he looks like a guy who doesn't have the confidence to run a NBA basketball team.
* M. Evans - Nice to have you back...
* Josh Powell - For a guy without a lot of offensive success, you sure do get up shots.  Not sure if it's the Josh Smith captaincy at work, but I've never seen more power forward jump shots for guys without great strokes ever. 
* Z. Pachulia - Not really much of a factor tonight..
* Jo. Crawford - DNP
* J. Collins - DNP
* E. Thomas - Inactive
* P. Sy - Inactive


Coaching Kudos/Smackdown


I've given Coach Drew his props for the end of game play call, but it was a little disconcerting to look at the starters work so hard to keep the lead vs. the Jazz bench.  Now, he can't be held accountable for the fact that we have such a weak bench, but I think it would be more effective to employ the strategy of win the war, not the battle (well, let's win the battle too, but not at the expense of the war).  That means - every game has to come with enough time for the team's bench.  I even made the comment at the 6 minute mark that the Jazz has rested his starters for the stretch and that may make the difference. Lo and behold...the Jazz looked fresher and executed when it mattered.

Str8 Talk Love

No love...other than to the marketing team that got us those spicy chicken sandwiches.  Gotta love Chick-Fil-A!

Season Prediction
46-36..injuries, sameness in mental makeup do not offset the change in coaching style and strategy.  I still don't see how we are a top 4 seed and I'm settling into the thought that we could be will be struggling to keep from being in the unenviable position of the 6th seed.  Again, I don't doubt the Hawks ability to win basketball games vs. teams that have less talent than we do.  It's the doubt that we spend the season preparing for the playoffs like all other elite teams do.  Unfortunately, this season - it may result in some negative regular season spill over.  Let's hope not, but this 4 game losing streak coupled with a few shaky wins isn't trending very well right now. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Atlanta Hawks & Thrashers Deals

Readers,

As we provided last year, you can get your deals on Hawks and Thrasher tickets by using the links below or contacting our sales representative, William Stephens.  When buying from Ticketmaster, be sure to use the code ATLLD.  

Best,

HawkStr8Talk


Contact Info:

Name:
Will Stephens

Email:




Get in the game with the Philips Arena Insider! Below is your exclusive access to special offers from the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers and Philips Arena. Take advantage of our current deals below.

Click here to buy now PASSCODE: ATLLD or contact Will Stephens @ 404 878-3782


Click here to buy now PASSCODE: ATLLD or contact  Will Stephens @ 404 878-3782



We're BACKKKKKKK - 11% Season Review

It's pretty obvious that HS8T has been absent among the giants of Hawks blogging.  Year 3 has been a pretty tough one to provide timely and thorough analysis on a game by game basis.  We're going to get back to game recaps, but you don't come here for quick analysis. You come here to find out - ARE THE HAWKS GETTING BETTER PREPARED TO BECOME AN ELITE, CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDING TEAM?  So, let's talk about some things we discussed in our pre-season preview:
  • Leadership - I've been on a fairly consistent stream of consciousness regarding the lack of leadership for the Atlanta Hawks. Front Office, Management, Coaching, & Players.  None of them (not even Al Horford) give me a shred of confidence that the things they say and do come from a place of all falling in line with a sound strategy for growing into an elite team.  The game vs. the Magic to the Bucks is a prime example.  Again, the words uttered prior to the game reflected wanting to COMPETE with the Magic, not we are going to beat the Magic are concerning.  The actions displayed vs. the Bucks are just as concerning. No one should come on your floor and put a 79-36 run on you.  Granted, there are injuries, but pride has to come into play.  This coming off of 2 straight poor postseasons (and no, I will continue to repeat that winning two series against vastly inferior teams (talent-wise) is as much of an indictment of that as getting swept by vastly superior teams (talent-wise)).  The thrust from all parties should be to prove that we will ALWAYS play our hardest under every circumstance.  That goes to leadership and the lack thereof.  So far, my hope that signing Josh Powell and/or Etan Thomas would help in this area has not been satisfied.
  • Strategy - So far, my belief that the offense is and never was the problem has been pretty spot on.  Give Larry Drew credit - the offense looks like it could be better, more balanced, and a strength of this team, but that gets balanced with the thought that there still is a lack of discipline in shot making by players (Osh Smith, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Powell come to mind as guys who will take any shot and not always shots that they should).  So, let me be clear - Drew's Motion Offense is simply Woodson's Share The Ball Offense + a few wrinkles.  That being said - it's still the defense that will continue to be a problem and honestly, it's simply talent.  We don't have talented defensive players.  Hoopinion has started a campaign of sorts to prove how great Al Horford is at defense.  And I won't argue his value to this team defensively, but I think it's dangerous to take this too far.  Al Horford is a great defender vs. power forwards and as a help defender.  Josh Smith is a great help defender.  Other than that, the Hawks have very few players who are good at defense.  Jeff Teague is probably the 3rd best defender (sorry, Marvin).  I bring these things up because the flaw I've seen so far in Drew's defensive strategy is his lack of desire to actually play defensive lineups when stops are necessary.  I've seen a lot of time outs to stop momentum (which is a great departure from the Woodson era), but not many times when we've valued defense over potential offensive firepower.At some point, that has to change.
  • Toughness - See Leadership section...again, not seeing elite level toughness. Forget the physical part, but mentally this team is not tough.
  • Defense - We said it above, so we won't rehash, but it would be nice if this team decided that the path to a title (and by team, I mean GM Sund sign players who play defense and coach Drew playing guys who play defense)
  • Front Office - Won't belabor this, but since the last 3-4 games our bench has stunk up the joint and no one determined that maybe we'd want to get some wing/perimeter help when we knew that Mo Evans had knee problems is a reason be disappointed.  This coupled with the fact that again, the 1st round draft pick has more talent than the guys we signed in the offseason yet he's at a position that we don't really need help at...yes, this is quite depressing.
  • Familiarity Breeds Success - We noted in the season preview that we'd start the season hot. Why? Well, we always do.  The team that has the same core is pretty much going to defeat teams who are trying to get their feel and rotations together.  The Hawks didn't harbor that issue. Now, this losing streak is connected to the fact that we had injuries and, of course, that lack of toughness and leadership. So, we'll just say - nothing has changed.  We'll still win 60% of our games this season.  That's a 48 win season.  What's interesting is that I'm already convinced that this success is a red herring...meaning we'll be the 4-6th seed and yet, we'll be the 6th best team in the playoffs at best and a prime candidate to lose in the 1st round.
  • (New) Injuries - Let's hope that this is NOT a sign of things to come. The Hawks have been incredibly lucky with the injuries over the last 2 years and now, could the chickens come to roost.  Maybe the silver lining is that this could highlight the point that many have noted and that's that you just can't put anyone in Roster spots 9-13. You actually MAY need to use those guys to win 10-15 games in a season.
  • (New) Player Development - Here's my biggest concern for our long term health and it's going to be pretty controversial I'm sure, but I've been on this train before and I'm never afraid to get on board again.  The key to this season is ..... STARTING JEFF TEAGUE.  Now, I say that for reasons that I'm sure people will disagree with, so let me start by saying - Jeff Teague has not demonstrated that he's a better point guard than Mike Bibby.  He could very well be a bust. He's actually on a career trajectory that mirrors one Mr. Acie Law IV.  Now, that said - Mike Conley, Rajon Rondo, and Chauncey Billups have all been on the same path.  The difference is - someone gave them the ball and said...you will learn on the job and prove to us that you are a bust or not.  These are the good examples of that.  If there's anything that's painfully obvious when watching Teague, he's not comfortable leading the Hawks.  He's a point guard who isn't leading the team's offense, which is the POINT OF HAVING A POINT GUARD.  His first inclination is to either - give the ball to Jamal OR to break down his man to dish or shoot a mostly unsuccessful floater.  That's it.  It's not to run an offense.  Until he is given the reins to actually be the person to run the offense, we won't get better as a team. Period. Having him as the guy who runs the offense and provide defense that Jamal and Bibby are unable or unwilling to do is the only way to improve this team.  I'll go down with the ship believing that.  This is something that requires stones.  It guarantees that you will lose games you probably could win otherwise, but it hopefully pays off in a Brandon Jennings type playoff run.  If it doesn't, it highlights why you have to get a point guard in the offseason (or better yet, midseason trade deadline). So, I say again - Jeff Teague is the key to the season.  I'll keep saying that as much as I can until someone listens.  And that's said with full knowledge that he looks awful right now, but it's the kind of awful that anyone who has played pick up basketball with people who have no confidence in your game.  It can intimidate you into not being able to help you grow.  Teague will never get better as the second string point guard ESPECIALLY when that means - dribbling up court to do a hand off to Jamal Crawford.  There's no growth or learning associated with that. Oh, and if we are trading Jamal, then let's get Jordan on the court more when it actually matters.
So, that's where we are and I'm headed to the Jazz game in order to post my first game recap of the season.  Leave your comments, peoples!!!!

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!!!