The Atlanta Hawks training camp begins Tuesday, which means the heralded (or unheralded, depending on how you see it) Larry Drew shall now ensue. Of course, the full story will not be revealed until the season gets going, and even then we’ll still be abuzz about the playoffs, and the expectations going into them (is it wrong to assume playoffs?).
But first, there is camp, where more shall be revealed than Drew’s offensive philosophy. To begin with, there is the training camp roster, courtesy of Peachtreehoops.com. Originally, the word was that the roster would only include the fourteen players that the Hawks have under contract. However, there have been some few additions that include forward Ricardo Marsh (Old Dominion), guard Richard Delk (Troy), and forward Evan Brock (Alabama). To learn more about these three long shots (don’t look for them to be making the team), click on the link a few sentences above.
In the meantime, let’s look at different elements of the Hawks team and coaching staff, and pontificate on what may or may not come to the surface during training camp.
We all know Larry Drew is going to do his thing, installing a new look offense that may finally be what everyone has been talking about, but never saw – the full use of the thoroughbreds in the stable. Everyone who talks about the Hawks ends up using a single adjective to describe them – athletic. Maybe Drew is the man to optimize this attribute. But what about the other guys on his staff?
Who do you feel is going to be the most influential on Drew’s staff? Lester Connor? How about Kenny Gattison? Is Nick Van Exel the proverbial darkhorse?
Connor seems to be the guy tasked with getting this team to defend effectively, something they struggled with a lot last year. Getting these guys to play good individual and good team defense would be the key here. He has two very solid defenders in Joe Johnson and Al Horford, and a dynamic elite-level capable defender in Josh Smith. Marvin Williams is capable of solid defense, but lacks consistency to the point of where even his good defensive showings tend to go largely unnoticed. Mike Bibby is weak on defense, but can do a passable and even reasonable job when his effort level is high. From the bench, there is both potential and question marks. Jeff Teague is quick enough to stay in front of just about everybody, but needs to learn more solid fundamentals, and quit relying on his still-stunning athletic ability to make up for a busted play. Mo Evans can be quite solid when he’s not forced to defend somebody who is too big and long, and when he’s concentrating. Jamal Crawford is a straight up liability, who may never get any better (or he might get a little better, you never know). Zaza gives the effort and succeeds more often by being in the way of an opposing player than anything else. Jason Collins and Etan Thomas are limited to low post banging (but then, isn’t that why we have them?), and the jury is completely out on Josh Powell, Jordan Crawford, and Pape Sy.
So, does Connor have a motley crew, or is there a lot of potential here? How will he make up for players with deficiencies? Will the defense be his to command in a Tom Thibodeau sort of way, or will he be more Larry Drew’s right hand man on offense?
Kenny Gattison may or may not have an extensive resume, but then neither does Tyrone Hill. Arguably, if both could play the game right now, they’d be tougher than any low post tandem the Hawks have. Toughness begins in the mind. Can Gattison and Hill instill this in the minds of the Hawks big men? Will they make a notable enough difference, or will it be the same ol’, same ‘ol? What about helping to evolve the Hawks big guys’ offensive games? And with Mark Price gone, who will be working with Josh on his jumper and free throws??? Not that Price seemed to be much help when he was here….
Nothing the Hawks do personnel-wise seems to be all that controversial (or that exciting, for that matter). Cue the hiring of former NBA guard Nick Van Exel, and that changed somewhat. Some were elated about this move. Others scoffed. So what’s different about that? Well, it seems that the Hawks are serious about developing guys now. Or at least, the approach is different. Larry Drew has been the point guards/guards coach the whole time Mike Woodson was here, but it didn’t seem to matter much, what with management preferring veteran guards, some of whom were over-the-hill. Larry Drew’s influence with the young guards who were brought in seemed non-existent or insignificant. Some blamed that on the departed Mike Woodson, others used it to question Drew’s coaching capability.
Either way, everybody knows why Van Exel is here. What sort of influence and difference will he make for guys like 2nd year point man Jeff Teague, or rookies Jordan Crawford and Pape Sy?
What about Greg Ballard? Just figured I’d throw his name in there.
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Veteran players usually have revealed what kind of players they will be throughout their career, and defined themselves accordingly. That’s not to say that they can’t add to and refine their games. Just that they’ve pretty much revealed who and what they are. We know what kind of player Joe Johnson is, and has been. Will he turn out to be more of the guy he was in Phoenix, a deadly catch and shoot weapon that can also create his own offense off the dribble? We may look for Al Horford’s game to expand as well, as he hopefully worked on solidifying two or three solid post moves to go along with that 15-18 foot jumper. Word is that Josh Smith has worked on his moves as well, though we’re probably all still worried about that one part of his game -the jumpshot- more than we are anything else.
We also hope that Mike Bibby has lost no confidence in his deadly outside shot, and that he’ll come to camp with a little more spring in his step than we saw from him in the second half of last season. What about Jamal? Will he flourish in a similar way under Drew, or do so in a different way? Will he come close to those Sixth Man of the Year numbers, or will the team not require the same role of him? Is he even going to show up for camp? What of Jason Collins and Etan Thomas? Collins is reportedly a bit lighter on his feet, but none of us knows if Etan can even contribute to the game anymore. Josh Powell? Again, we won’t know until we hear something about him or see him in action. Beyond that, there is only youtube clips here and there, and those just won’t do a lot for you.
There is one veteran who comes into camp with possibly more questions than anybody else, and this Marvin Williams. Like it or not, he’s now a veteran. Going into his fifth year, all the cliches about development and “turning the corner” are over with. Yes, we’ve hashed this one to death, but the question STILL remains: Can Marvin become the type of player who deserves to be a member of the starting unit? He was back in 2008-2009, as he was the year before that. But this is a League that doesn’t work off of what you were able to do a couple of years ago. The question is, what can you do NOW? Some people feel Marvin has a lot to prove, and this coaching change will prove whether or not he can, or can’t. Others feel that Al Horford or Josh Smith has a lot to prove. Still others will assert that Joe Johnson, as the league’s highest paid player this last offseason, has more to prove than anybody. Which veteran player do you feel has the most to prove?
Not a lot is expected of Pape Sy, he of the pedestrian minutes played on a less than powerhouse French team. But head coach Larry Drew saw something in him, and despite what many of us thought would happen, the Hawks actually brought him over. The unprecedented move (for this organization, at least) has sparked some debate about whether it was a good move and an act of support for the head coach in his “inaugural season”, or if it was another less-than-wise financial investment by the Hawks decision-makers. Well, it’s all up to Sy and the coaching staff, and conventional wisdom says it will take some time before we know what we’ve got in Sy. But is conventional wisdom right? While it may be completely unreasonable to expect Sy to crack the rotation this season, might he display some skills that make it hard to not give him minutes? To be continued…
Conventional wisdom also says that Jeff Teague will easily have a more significant impact than Jordan Crawford will. It’s hard to argue against that reasoning, what with JC2 wondering how he’ll even get minutes behind all-star Joe Johnson and the high profile Jamal Crawford. Teague looks to show that he can take the reins of a 50 win team, and as it stands right now, we have no clue just how ready he might be by the beginning of the regular season. The safe bet is that he wins the job maybe by the halfway point of the season. Then again, we might see it happen 20 games into the season. Is there a chance he wins the starting spot for the season opener?
As for JC2, will it take a Jamal Crawford Exodus for us to see his talents on display? Is he as much of a work in progress as a later 1st round pick can expect to be, or are the pre-camp whispers a portent of things to come? It will be interesting to hear how the rookie guard fares against real NBA competition, as opposed to summer league fodder.
It’s all about YOU
What do you think will be the most revealing thing to come out of training camp this year? Who do you figure worked hardest on their game in the offseason? Which coach might prove to be the most influential? What questions do you have, going into training camp?