The Atlanta Hawks are coming off of their best year in a while. They made the playoffs and surprised everyone with a seven game series against the eventual champs.
Say what you want to say about their year (the East is weak, Boston was lallygagging in the first round, etc.), but Atlanta doesn't want to take a step back. In listening to Joe Johnson talk on media day (scroll down a bit for the video), I can sense the importance of an increase in wins and getting a higher seed.
So can they do it?
Maybe, but it's going to take some great individual performances. Joe Johnson has to do better than he's ever been. Mike Bibby has to be healthy and play at 100% all season. Josh Smith has to get higher for those alley oops, make those (or some more) outside shots. Al Horford has to get more than 10 points a game, maybe by taking some of LaMarcus Aldridge's outside moves. They've got the pieces on paper, they just need to get better individually and as a unit.
I'm also looking for Marvin Williams to improve.
Here's a quote from an article about him in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"I'm just trying to get better. I've been shooting a ton of 3s [3-pointers]. I've definitely been working on the 3-ball. And I've put on a lot of weight, too," Williams said. "I'm up to about 245 with seven percent body fat. I'm as big and strong as I've ever been. I'm finally starting to fill out my frame, and it feels good."
Of course, practicing your threes and bulking up doesn't mean you'll be a better player, but it does increase my expectations for him.
What do the "Experts" think?
I'm using Hollinger's Team Forecast for the Hawks and the 2008-09 Pro Basketball magazine as my "experts."
Hollinger is pretty negative on them, he predicts a 31-51 record, leaving them at 13th in the East. I don't think they'll be that bad. Here's some of his reasons: Childress was one of the best sixth men in basketball, and about the only thing that kept Atlanta's second unit from being a complete horror show. Atlanta's starting five might be the best in the division, but its bench might not win the D-League.
The Pro Basketball Magazine is even more negative on them. They predict just 29 wins for them, just four games ahead of the Bobcats.
I disagree with these "experts". Sure their bench is subpar, but does that mean that Bibby, Smith and Johnson can't take on more minutes? You may think this would run these guys down, but come on, these guys aren't payed millions for nothing. They are expected to perform at a certain level and this should be expected of your best players.
Bottom Line: The East is stronger this year, but the only team with a real chance of breaking out of the 9-15 range in the standings is the Heat. I am not more down on the Hawks this year because of the loss of Childress, I mean, if you look at the stats, the highest PPG for him was about 12 points. Johnson, Horford, Bibby, Smith and the rest of the Hawks can make that up if the want to. I am down on some of the organizations decisions, they need to learn how to negotiate with players.
As the pre-season gets closer, there are some teams on my radar. I will be making some more predictions soon!