Let me start things off by getting one thing out of the way. This is NOT about Joe Johnson and his contract. Okay? I promise you, it’s not.
Whatever you may think about Joe Johnson’s contract, you already know what you’ll get out of Joe. He’ll score upwards of 20 points, gather in 4 or 5 rebounds, and dish out 4 or 5 assists. And he’ll do that just about every game. What’s more, he’ll give the Hawks some of the stingiest defense on a shooting guard or small forward you can stand, more often than we tend to give him credit for it.
But this isn’t about Joe. It’s about a lot of other guys. I know it’s just the preseason. I also know that I just typed one of the most cliched sentences in the history of sports. However, might there be some indicators in the preseason that point towards what we might see in the future? Are the Hawks going to get what paid for? Let’s take an ultra-early look at some guys that the Hawks have either re-signed to contracts a year ago, recently, or signed as “new” free agents.
The Contract: Reportedly 4 years, $19 million, signed a year ago.
The Offseason: The young center (24 yrs going on 25) from the Republic of Georgia spent time in the boxing ring to toughen up, get into better shape, and enhance his footwork. He’s also been quoted as saying that he feels better about his role with the team under Larry Drew, and has his mind on all the right things.
What We See So Far: Zaza seems to be rebounding well, and by most reports, looks pretty fluid on offense. And, he’s showing plenty of signs of mental and physical toughness already. But how is his defense? Will he earn the most time in the pivot if/when Al Horford moves over to the power forward spot for stretches during the game? Or will he lose time to Jason Collins or Etan Thomas?
The Contract: Reportedly 3 years, $18 million, signed a year ago.
The Offseason: Not much has been reported or said about Mike Bibby during the offseason. He’s a veteran player, so it’s expected that he will be ready to go when the lights come on. Besides, what would a guy his age work on?
What We See So Far : Bibby showed major signs of slowing down on both ends of the court as last season wore down, and even into the playoffs. While it’s probably unwise to assume much from early preseason results, his play so far is fairly uninspiring by most reports. Will Mike Bibby be able to survive in a defensive scheme that calls for more man-to-man coverage? Can he maintain his status as a low turnover point guard with a deadly outside shot, or will he find himself giving the Hawks less than 20 mpg?
The Contract: Reportedly 5 years, $37 million, signed a year ago.
The Offseason: He went to school, as I recall. As for work on the hardwood, not much was mentioned in too many circles, but if you have a link, feel free to post it.
What We See So Far: Following a disappointing performance last season, Marvin has only played one preseason game so far, but he looked as good as he ever has in that single game. More to the point, he feels good about his role…. so far. But what happens on nights when his scoring isn’t needed as much? Will he use his size and athleticism to provide the rebounding and defense that the Hawks so sorely need, or will he continue to confound and aggravate fans (and maybe teammates as well), making people wish for another true small forward? If Marvin can produce effectively and consistently, then he justifies both his salary and his status as a starter. If not, well….
The Contract: 1 year, veteran minimum
The Offseason: Collins spent some time overseas doing who knows what. The important thing is that he came back with less baggage. On his body, that is. Collins shed weight and now looks a lot more like the promising young big man he once was.
What We See So Far: At this point, Collins has recorded 6 points and 3 fouls in one game, in which he played 7 minutes. The good news? He hit all three shots that he took. This is far too small of a sample size, but 3 fouls in 7 minutes is Randolph Morris-esque. Rebounds and defense is all the Hawks really need from Jason, but like half the roster, he has to get healthy before he can contribute anything of note. Until then, the Hawks won’t really know if they have anything different this year in Collins than they did last year (which wasn’t much at all). Can he steal any minutes from Zaza Pachulia?
The Contract: 1 year, veteran minimum
The Offseason: Etan likely spent most of his season trying to get into NBA basketball shape and getting past his health issues, so that he could show NBA teams that he’s still worthy of a job.
What We See So Far: Thomas is tough and physical, and that helps in practice. But does it help on the floor in games? To this point, the center/power forward has compiled averages of 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, in just under 12 minutes per game. His turnovers and fouls are comparatively low. Can Thomas stay healthy? Is he a part of the solution to the soft Hawks defense, or part of the problem that they’ve been experiencing so far this preseason? Can he debunk the idea that cheap veteran contracts aren’t going to cut it, or will he make fans even more bitter towards the Hawks’ decision-makers, who haven’t succeeded in bringing more popular names?
The Contract: 1 year, veteran minimum
The Offseason: Powell spent his offseason polishing his second L.A. Lakers NBA Championship ring, and mulling his options. He decided he wanted more playing time than the Lakers were giving him (or so he says), so he headed East and ended up in Atlanta. So the story goes.
What We See So Far : Josh is producing 8.7 points on 55% shooting, along with 3 rebounds in just under 23 minutes per game. Reviews on him have been mixed so far, and it’s understandable. Powell is part of a bench squad that is routinely getting torched on defense, and his rebounding is not very impressive. To make matters worse, he is contributing an unhealthy 3 turnovers per game to a squad that is struggling in this category thus far. Powell won’t play this many minutes during the regular season unless Josh Smith is injured, so he will have to play better than this in the minutes that he does get. His health and youth should allow him to play more than Joe Smith did last year. But will he provide more? Or less? A team that struggles with rebounding has little use for a power forward off the bench who doesn’t provide much of it….unless he’s a dynamic defender.
Normally, I’d say draft picks don’t count. But perhaps we have to consider that the Hawks put some money up to buy the kid’s contract out from his European team Le Havre. Does that count, or is it irrelevant? As it is, Sy hasn’t played or practiced much (that we know of) after encountering back problems, so he is missing all sorts of valuable playing time experience. Would it have mattered anyway?
This walking, talking, hot-shot dribbling X-factor has managed to get on the back burner of the stove, yet keep the burner hot. Having more or less demanded a contract extension or a trade, Jamal has also stayed out of the mix with an “injury.” As with Joe Johnson, you know what you get when you put Crawford on the floor. But what do the Hawks get with him overall? As Crawford waits silently in the corner, his rookie namesake is lighting up the opposition, the court, and the headlines. Might the Hawks end up getting a useful player (or players) at another position in place of Jamal before it’s all said and done? Is Jamal’s head on right for the season, or will he be a distraction and chemistry issue? The Hawks know what they got for their approximately $10 million investment last year: 18 ppg and a Sixth Man of the Year. What do they get for their money THIS season, though?
The Hawks paid for what they got. But are they going to get what they paid for, and what precisely will that mean? Is it still way too early to be thinking about any of this?