Saturday, October 08, 2005

Offseason Overview: Atlanta Hawks

One of the more dramatic, drawn-out controversies of the NBA offseason was the Joe Johnson/Hawks ownership saga. When all was said and done the Hawks got their man – for better or worse – and a guy who was the fourth best player on his team last year is now the franchise man in Atlanta. Whatever, guys. Marvin Williams comes on board via the draft and Zaza Pachulia via free agency, and both of them are raw but have considerable upside. Which is something that can be said about this year’s version of the Hawks. Well, not counting the considerable upside part.

The Stud: Joe Johnson, GF
Johnson built off an incredible end to the 2003-2004 season to be one of the most well-rounded players of last year, finishing a mighty impressive 22nd on the player rater. His numbers actually stayed relatively steady except for two major changes – a FG% jump from 43 to 46 and a 3 pointers jump from 1.0 to 2.2. Along with solid scoring, assist and rebound numbers it was easy to look past his relatively ordinary hustle category stats. The big question now is whether he can handle being The Man and how this whole point guard situation will work out. Even if Johnson isn’t the official point guard, he will have the rock more than anyone on the team, so expect an uptick from last year’s 3.6 apg. He will be harder pressed to match his gains in FG% and 3s, and the supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. But this is a guy who has two straight years of not missing a game while averaging 40 minutes per contest. Combine that with the fact that he’s the unquestioned #1 option and we like that a lot. Should be gone by the end of round 3.

The Support: Josh Smith, GF
I’m pretty predictable with the players I like and dislike. I don’t like players whose main strength is scoring. I love players who contribute in the hustle categories. I like players who offer a competitive advantage by excelling in a category that other players at that same position rarely do. So it’s obvious that I’m a huge Josh Smith mark. In just 27.7 mpg last year, the kid averaged 2 blocks per game! As a small forward! This is just absolutely nuts. The only fantasy sports comparison I can come up with is in baseball a closer striking out close to 200 guys. Only nine players blocked more shots per game than J-Smooth. The rest of his game is a little rough, but his FG% will remain good enough since he mostly dunks, he grabs rebounds at an extremely high rate and he should get at least one steal per contest. It’s a bit worrisome that the entire Hawks team seems to be comprised of small forwards, but Smith will get his minutes. In just 74 games at 27.7 minutes per, he finished as the 85th best player. He was top 50 in the last month. Expect some inconsistency, but 200 blocked shots from a small forward has a way of making inconsistency easier to deal with.

The Supporting Support: Josh Childress, GF
Assuming the Joe Johnson PG experiment takes, the Hawks will probably try to have a starting lineup featuring Smith, Childress and Al Harrington, giving all three the chance to be solid selections. After the all-star break, Childress was a legitimate fantasy option for the rest of the season. He looks like another Tayshaun Prince-type, a rangy player with a broad skill set who doesn’t really dominate in a single aspect of the game. If he can maintain those second half numbers – 14.5/7.7/2.4 with 1.2 spg, 0.4 bpg on 49% shooting – he’ll be well worth a mid-round pick. You could do worse than a young player with very solid percentages who grabs a handful of steals.

The Sleeper: Zaza Pachulia, FC
Pachulia is basically assured considerable minutes at center for the Hawks since even John Hollinger (sorry Chad, the torch has been officially passed) probably couldn’t tell you anything about any of his backups. That alone should make him an attractive pick, but he’s got a solid game as well. He finished 25th in the league in rebounds per minute, so he shouldn’t have much problem averaging double digits if he sees around 35 mpg. He could certainly block more shots, but he averaged more than half a steal per game in just 19 mpg last season, a very solid number for a center. Some people might overvalue him, as it shouldn’t be forgotten that just two seasons ago he averaged 3.3 ppg on 39% shooting for the Magic. He’s just 21, so improvement is expected, but we can’t be sure of exactly how much.

The Slacker: Al Harrington, SF
I was pretty down on Baby Al last season. Everyone was expecting huge things at the beginning of the season since he was going to be one of the only real weapons on the team. I saw a player who received 30 mpg each of the two previous seasons and never really established himself as anything special. Some people were disappointed in his performance, but what were they expecting? A line of 17.6/7.0/3.2 on 46% shooting and adding 1.3 steals is just fine. Were they expecting 25 ppg and a few 3s? Harrington is the more expendable than Smith, Childress and Williams, so a trade isn’t out of the question. That, combined with the presence of some other scorers makes Harrington a likely disappointment again.

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