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Hawks

2010-11 NBA Team Preview: Atlanta Hawks

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A few sportswriters have written about the disease of more. It’s the concept that team success breeds individual greed. Players simply want what they perceive to be their fair share, whether that is more money, playing time, shots, etc. The result is that a successful team is nearly impossible to keep together over a long period of time, eventually being broken up or falling apart under its own weight.

Relative to their recent history, the Hawks have been successful the past few years. While their playoff runs have been no great shakes, you can see the disease of more starting to creep into the team. First came the crazy Joe Johnson max contract (which you can blame the Hawks more for than JJ). But more troubling is the recent Jamal Crawford I want a contract extension storm that’s brewing. According to Crawford:

“I waited 10 years to get here, helping my team to one of the best home records in the league, snagging home-court advantage and making the playoffs for the first time while helping the team to one of the best records in franchise history. It’s hard to be a part of all that and then feel like you are not a part of the future. But I’m a professional. And I need to make this clear, I want to be here, I want to be an Atlanta Hawk. If I’m not a part of the plan going forward, then that’s a conversation we need to have later.”

Right now Crawford is playing the good son and has showed up to camp fully invested in being on the team. But the NBA season is a long one, and “later” is probably going to come sooner than the Hawks would like.

Here is what the Hawks depth chart currently looks like:

Depth Chart

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

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When fantasy basketball imitates life

Last season, the Hawks had four players who finished in the top 100 of our 9-cat player rater: Josh Smith at 19, Al Horford at 20, Joe Johnson at 28, and Jamal Crawford at 65. That’s a lot very good, without an elite first-round type player.
A disappointing playoff loss led the Hawks to fire their coach Mike Woodson and promote assistant Larry Drew. Drew is looking to change the Hawks offense to feature more movement and cuts and less isolation plays. This could mean more involvement from guys like Marvin Williams, although we’ll have to wait and see exactly how much effect it has on the scoring output of the team.

Guards

Crazy $120 million contracts aside, Joe Johnson does many things well. He’s a very good offensive player, capable of scoring over 20 points a game. He can pass, rebound, hit the three with above average efficiency. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He soaks up minutes for the team while staying healthy. He’s one of the top 10 greatest Hawks of all time. On the other hand, JJ is a below average defender. He doesn’t block shots and is not overly aggressive on that end of the floor. He doesn’t draw contact on offense and get to the free throw line.

Johnson has the type of game that should be able to survive a loss of athleticism as he hits his 30’s and he definitely has a number of years of very good offensive performance left in him. You know exactly what you’re getting from JJ in a draft and he’s a solid foundation player for a team that needs his scoring.

One guy not near the top 100 fantasy players last year was Mike Bibby, who finished the season ranked at 142 by GMTR. Bibby has had a precipitous Wile E Coyote like fall over the past couple of years, going from 14 points and 6.5 assists a game in 2007-08 to only 9.1 points and 3.9 assists last year. In fact, Mike Bibby’s most similar fantasy player last season was Steve Blake. Bibby’s minutes are way down (only 27 a game) and he will have to fend off the motivated 22-year old Jeff Teague in camp (and Bibby is ok with that). I think it’s safe to say that Bibby is a clear stay away from candidate in fantasy leagues at this point in his career.

Bibby will probably not lose his starting job unless he’s horrifically bad to start the year or Jeff Teague finds “the Dog”. Bibby has that veteran presence that playoff teams like the Hawks love (it’s why Derek Fisher still has a job, right?), while Teague is still working on becoming more aggressive and confident on the court. Teague is definitely a PG to keep an eye on, although he is more likely to break out a year or two down the road, if at all.

Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford is at camp and is saying mostly sticking to the company line. He could still be traded before the start of the season if the Hawks find the right deal, but for now expect him to return to his 6th man role for the team. Crawford is another very good offensive player who averaged 18 points and 2.1 threes in 31 minutes a game last season. He is the Hawks’ worst defender, but on a team with Josh Smith and Al Horford, its ok to have a guy or two like Crawford who might as well hang out on one side of the court all game.

Forwards

Last year, I got some shit for taking Josh Smith in the third round of a mock draft. This year, Smith is being pegged as a high second round pick. The difference between this year and last is that Smith was able to bounce back in a big way from an injured plagued 2008-09. And during the bounce back, the 24-year old Smith has become a slightly more refined version of his beastly self. He’s still blocking over 2 shots and grabbing over 8 boards a game, but he’s stopped taking threes (never a strong part of his game) and as a result, saw his field goal percentage climb over 50% for the first time in his career. If you’re looking for a guy who can fill up a stat sheet (minus threes) then Smith is as good a beast as there is outside the first round.

One word of warning about Smith: Up to this point in his career, he’s alternated healthy seasons with injury prone ones. If that trend holds true, he could be looking at 60-70 games played this year. That’s if you believe in that kind of voodoo.

Marvin Williams has burned me in more leagues than any other barely-relevant fantasy guy ever. For years, I kept drafting him assuming he was going to improve and every year he kept getting worse. Last year was his worst statistical output since his rookie season with averages of 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds a game. There is some talk that Larry Drew’s new offense could allow Williams to become more involved again, but it’s time for me to sit this one out.

Center

Al Horford has quietly become one of the best fantasy centers in the league. We have him as our 3rd ranked center going into the year thanks in part to the big step forward he took last season on the offensive end of the court. He bumped up his scoring to 14 ppg last season, while shooting an insane 55% from the floor. Add to that 10 boards and over a block a game and you have a center who may not immediately pop out at you as one of the best, but is someone without a serious weakness to his game.

The Hawks’ plan to play Horford at PF more this season (with Smith at SF) would be a good one if they actually had a decent back-up center. In reality, Zaza Pachulia, Jason Collins, and Etan Thomas isn’t going to cut it and Horford still makes the most sense at the position.

The Bench

Last season, the two Hawks who got the most run off the bench behind Jamal Crawford were Maurice Evans (17 minutes a game) and Pachulia (14 minutes a game). That pretty much says everything you need to know about the Hawks bench behind Crawford for fantasy purposes. If Crawford were to be traded, rookie SG Jordan Crawford could fill in the Crawford shoes off the bench. He’s already demonstrated an ability to score in bunches while at Xaiver.

So, for the guys we want to draft… Here’s your official GMTR Guidance (for a 12 team league):

Josh Smith – 2nd
Al Horford – 3rd
Joe Johnson – 3rd
Jamal Crawford – 6th
Marvin Williams – 12+
Jeff Teague – Last round

Links

Fantasy Basketball Daily’s Atlanta Hawks Preview
Life is Just a Fantasy… Basketball Blog Previews the Hawks
Damn Lies and Statistics has a great plan to get Marvin Williams back on track
FantasyHype Looks at the Hawks 

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