2009/10 Review:

The final year of the Mike Woodson’s reign in Atlanta proved to be another solid and consistent season, but ended in an ugly fashion note at the ends of the Orlando Magic in the second round of the playoffs.

Still the Atlanta Hawks improvement through the last years can’t be dissociated from the fact that the rebuilding process has started with the hiring of Woodson. Here are the regular season records with Woodson being the Hawks’ head coach:

2004-05 13-69
2005-06 26-56
2006-07 30-52
2007-08 37-45
2008-09 47-35
2009-10 53-29

Last season the Hawks won 53 games – holding the third seed in the Eastern Conference; they advanced to the second round by beating the Bucks in 7 games; they sent two players to the all star game and they had on the their roster the Sixth Man of the Year and the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year for a terrific season if you think about it.

They featured the second best offensive unit during the regular season and they were arguably one of the most explosive and entertaining teams to watch in the league.

So what went so wrong for the Hawks to be swept by the Orlando Magic in just 4 games losing each game by 43, 14, 30 and 14 points?

Well, it was all about bad matchups for the Atlanta Hawks! The Hawks based their offensive game plan to a tight half court set with a lot of isolation plays. During the regular season they were the 4th slowest team in the league; the 4th best team in scoring fast break points and the 5th best team in scoring points in the paint. In playing against the Orlando Magic, the Hawks were facing the best defensive team in the league in those 2 areas and naturally they were completely shutdown by the Magic in the series.

It was the case of a terrific season, but the main highlight of such achievement went for the bad reasons and that left a bad taste in the Hawks executives.

2009/10 Advanced Stats:
Pace 27th 93.5
Offense 2nd 108.8
Defense 14th 104.0
Rebounds 16th +0.33

2010/11 Outlook:

Projected Depth Chart:

PG: Mike Bibby, Jeff Teague
SG: Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Jordan Crawford, Pape Sy
SF: Marvin Williams, Maurice Evans
PF: Josh Smith, Josh Powell
C: Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, Jason Collins, Etan Thomas

The Hawks had a really busy offseason although they didn’t make any substantial change in their roster.

It all started with the firing of Mike Woodson and the promotion of Larry Drew to the head coach duties. Drew was assistant coach during the tenure of Woodson and he has interesting ideas for the team, as he wants to implement more of a motion offense to avoid the stagnation that often plagued the club and made them an easy target for well-prepared defenses like Cleveland and Orlando over the past 2 years. However it is easier to say than to materialize those ideas on the floor and this will be one of the biggest team challenges for this season.

The Hawks stunned most people by making Joe Johnson the highest paid free agent this past summer! That’s right… of all the free agent players that signed new deals like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer, it was Joe Johnson that received the best contract - a fresh $124-million deal! Sure that the Hawks retained their best player, but the consequences for such huge contract will be felt sooner or later.

With Al Horford working to receive a contract extension before November, the Hawks simply don’t have the cap room to maintain the current roster for the future. While other Eastern Conference teams like Miami, Chicago or the Knicks worked hard in the summer to improve their teams, the Hawks are stuck to a roster after giving $124 million to a player in the same span, ironically right?

Despite being overpriced for the next years (is it really his fault for that?), Joe Johnson is still a nice all around player. Last season he averaged more than 20 points per game (21.3ppg) for the fifth consecutive season, while shooting 45.8% from the field. He also dished 4.9 assists per game and grabbed 4.7 boards per game. He has been a durable player and the face of the franchise in the last years. However he is not a superstar player, but he is paying to produce like he belongs to the elite and his playoff production is questionable at best: In the last 3 playoffs appearances, Joe Johnson was able to shot only 40.9, 41.7 and 38.7% from the field!

Al Harford is going to be the next Hawks guy that will receive a nice check raise, but truth be told: he has been the true leader of this team on the floor like Joakim Noah has been for the Bulls.

Quietly he has become one of the best centers in the league with solid numbers across the board by averaging 14.2ppg and 9.9 rpg, while shooting 55.1% from the field – all career high numbers! He is a bit undersized for his position, but he fights well such handicap with a tremendous resilience and a high competitive spirit that put him on the all star game last season. Horford is part of the Hawks foundation and he will lead the team by example.

After coming from a subpar season in 08-09, Josh Smith bounced back with a spectacular season. For the first time in his career he finished one season shooting above the 50% mark (50.5%) and part of reason was the dramatic cut on his 3 pointers attempts! When you are a subpar 20% and something shooter behind the arc, you just can’t attempt more than one 3 pointer per game and Smith for some reason loved to launch the big bomb. However last season he attempted only 7 treys in the entire season and his FG% appreciated that a lot. He also showed his usual terrific “superstar level” defense by grabbing 8.8 rebounds, 2.10 blocks and 1.60 steals per game. Entering now his 7th season as a pro, Josh Smith is only 25-years old and a lot of upside to develop. New head coach Larry Drew said he wants to install a more dynamic offensive scheme: Josh Smith would benefit with such changes.

Mike Bibby will still be the starting Point Guard until youngster Jeff Teague develops into a confident player. Last season Bibby averaged career low’s 27.4 minutes per game and we can expect similar numbers for him this season. He has that veteran presence that playoff teams love (look for Derek Fisher and the Lakers), while Teague is still working on becoming more aggressive and confident on the court. Jeff Teague is the Hawks’ project for the future, as his athleticism fits well for what the Hawks are looking for the PG position. He did well in 3 games when he started by averaging 12.7 points and 7.3 assists per game, but asking for him to run the show is dangerous and so look for him to get more minutes as long the season goes.

Jamal Crawford or Marvin Williams? That’s the dilemma the Hawks are battling right now as sooner or later one of them will be out of town.

Crawford is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, as he is coming from a terrific (offensive) season being the go-to guy in plenty of opportunities for the Hawks last season! Basically he did what he is doing in this league with the difference of playing for a winning team instead being in a loser team like the Bulls, Knicks and the Warriors were when he played for them. Being a one-dimensional player hurts his value on the market and the Hawks certainly knows that.

The only Hawks player that has failed on his development is Marvin Williams. He saw his numbers last season decreasing in points, FG%, rebounds, assists and 3pts% - basically everything! He is now entering his 6th season as a Hawk and despite receiving a starting role on the Hawks since day one, he hasn’t been able to turn that opportunity into anything more than a mere role player. The time is expiring for Williams and the only good news for him is that with a new offensive system maybe he’ll get more touches in the ball.

The Hawks second unit was a solid, but not great unit last season. Zaza Pachulia and Mo Evans bring some toughness and aggression to the court, but offensively speaking they averaged a combined of 10 points per game. They signed Josh Powell from the Lakers and Powell has some offensive skills with him, but his 9.2 minutes per game weren’t enough for him to prove it. In Atlanta he will get more playing time and the Hawks are expecting him to be part of the rotation.

After 6 consecutive seasons in which they improved every year, it is almost impossible to ask Atlanta to improve from their 53-wins achievement last season. They are involved in the likely toughest division in the NBA and several Eastern Conference teams made all efforts to improve their rosters, while the Hawks are hoping that a more freelancer Head Coach combined with a improvement from their own farm are enough to make them a powerhouse in the East once again.