The Hawks want to continue to build on the culture and on-the-court personality change that has been underway under Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer. They are hard nosed, great shooting, share the ball types that are a tough matchup for any team, any night.
It's the kind of team that's built for the postseason, as the Pacers found out. The Hawks surely want to pick up where they left off last season, playing an elimination game in front of a hysterically loud Atlanta crowd, and unleashing the power of the Pac-Man to advance.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
4th in Southeast Division - 8th in Eastern Conference
Lost to IND (4-3) - Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
The 2013-14 season was a year of change for the Atlanta Hawks. Only half of their 2012-13 roster had returned, they moved on from the Josh Smith era and chose not to renew the contract of head coach Larry Drew last summer. Replacing Drew was first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer, who had spent the 16 previous years as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs.
As productive as Josh Smith was throughout his nine-year tenure in Atlanta, it was time for a change of scenery. The Hawks were fortunate enough to find a big time replacement via free agency as they were able to land Paul Millsap, who went on to average 17.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in his first year with the team, where he earned his first NBA All-Star selection. Millsap's 2013-14 campaign boasted career-highs in scoring (17.9 PPG), assists (3.1 APG), steals (1.7 SPG) and field goal attempts per contest (14.1) while he added a new dimension to his game. Millsap knocked down 76 of 212 three-point attempts (35.8%) when the most threes he had previously taken in a season was 39. Atlanta reeled him in on a pretty reasonable two-year, $19 million contract, to boot.
Last season also brought us some of the best all-around basketball we have seen from Kyle Korver, who is worth every penny of the four-year, $24 million contract extension he signed with Atlanta last summer. The sharpshooting swingman went crazy from beyond the arc; even crazier than usual. Korver lead the league in three-point percentage for the second time in his career (47.2%) and completed a 127-game streak of hitting at least one three-point shot. Thanks to his long-range efficiency and 92.6% mark from the free throw line, he also lead the league in true shooting percentage (65.3%). He averaged 12 points per game, which is his best since 2006-07, to go along with four rebounds and a career-high 2.9 assists per game. Korver has always been a lights out three-point shooter, but he continues to improve annually on the defensive end of the floor as well as with his his ball handling, as he is now able to do a lot more off of two or three bounces than earlier in his career. After stints with Philadelphia, Utah and Chicago, it looks like Korver has found himself a home.
Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott played their best basketball to date, as well. You thought Paul Millsap transformed himself as an outside shooter? Throughout Mike Scott's five-year NCAA career at the University of Virginia, he shot an accumulative 44 three-point attempts and took just one as a rookie in the NBA. Last year, however, he came out of nowhere to put up 200 long-balls and shot a respectable 31% as he established himself as a quality floor spacer and pick n' pop threat off the bench.
The real downside of Atlanta's 2013-14 season was Al Horford's second torn pectoral injury in a three-year span. The big fella was perhaps on his way to a career year himself, as he was averaging 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds on 57% shooting before he went down just 29 games into the season. This has got to be frustrating beyond belief for Horford, but nobody is doubting the two-time All-Star's work ethic. He'll bounce back.
Even without Al Horford for the entire second half of the season, Atlanta was able to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs as the eighth seed and they earned their spot once the lights were on. In fact, they gave the number one-seeded Indiana Pacers all they could handle, forcing them through a hard-fought seven-game series. The Hawks came up short in Game 7, but you've got to imagine things could have gone differently if their leader and best player was in the lineup.
Regardless, the team displayed a lot of growth and fight all year long. With a healthy Al Horford, there's no reason to believe they can't make more noise in 2014-15.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne, Kent Bazemore
Key Losses - Louis Williams, rights to Lucas Nogueira
Atlanta didn't necessarily make a big splash this offseason, but they improved on the wing as they upgraded their starting small forward spot by signing Thabo Sefolosha to a three-year, $12 million deal. DeMarre Carroll had an excellent season last year, but is best used as an energizer off the bench and Sefolosha's superior outside shooting and ball skills will be welcomed with open arms.
The Hawks also re-signed backup big man Elton Brand to a one-year, $2 million contract in order to maintain depth on the front line. Brand played under 20 minutes per game last season, and the 35-year-old will have even more competition this year. In the 2014 NBA Draft, Atlanta came away with Michigan State's Adreian Payne with the 15th overall pick. Payne will have to fight for minutes right away, but should have a successful career as a quality rotation big that can bring multiple things to the table. He's active, a solid pick n' roll/pop outlet, has a soft touch and a high motor.
In order to save some money, Louis Williams was dealt to Toronto along with the rights to Lucas Nogueira in return for John Salmons, who the Hawks waived immediately. Williams' role could be filled with free agent acquisition Kent Bazemore, who scored 13 points per contest in a 23-game stint with the Lakers last season. The move could also free up more time for Shelvin Mack, who the Hawks re-signed on a three-year, $7.3 million extension, with the third year coming as a team option.
Perhaps Atlanta's biggest news of the summer came in the form of unwanted headlines. In early September, Bruce Levenson announced that he would sell his share of the franchise after admitting to a racist e-mail from 2012. Danny Ferry has since relayed racist comments regarding Luol Deng, which took shots at Deng's ethnic background in a scouting report. As a result, Ferry has been asked to take an indefinite leave of absence which is likely to lead to his eventual departure from the Atlanta Hawks.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Al Horford / Pero Antic / Mike Muscala
PF - Paul Millsap / Mike Scott / Elton Brand / Adreian Payne
SF - Thabo Sefolosha / DeMarre Carroll
SG - Kyle Korver / Kent Bazemore / John Jenkins
PG - Jeff Teague / Shelvin Mack / Dennis Schroeder
X-FACTOR - Al Horford's Health
As mentioned above, Horford has suffered two torn pectoral injuries within the last three seasons and has missed a combined 98 regular season games because of it. With Horford in the lineup over the last three years, Atlanta is 65-49 (.570). Without him, they are 57-59 (.491). Over the last two seasons, which may be more fair to say without Joe Johnson in the picture, they are 58-45 (.563) with Horford and just 24-37 (.393) without him. Past rosters may not have much impact on the present and future, but those numbers go to show you just how much of an impact Al Horford has on winning.
Horford is Atlanta's undisputed leader. It is no secret that if they want to progress, they need their top gun on the floor. If he can stay healthy, especially around playoff time, the Hawks may have a chance to compete in the East. Without him... well, good luck.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
The general consensus is that Cleveland and Chicago will be at the head of the Eastern Conference this coming season, while the rest of the pack is generally wide open. If the Hawks are gifted good health, there is absolutely a chance that they could make a little more noise in the playoffs and perhaps even earn homecourt advantage in the first round if all goes well. Best case scenario for the Hawks, Derrick Rose isn't quite Derrick Rose anymore and Cleveland's Eastern Conference Finals competitor is completely up in the air.
However, I don't think we're looking at a contender here. If I had to put money on it, I would predict a second round exit for Atlanta at best unless key injuries occur around the league to shift the landscape. This will be a good squad, but I still think they are one piece away from contending for an Eastern Conference title.
3rd - Southeast Division
6th - Eastern Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Dallas Mavericks team preview, coming later today.