HAWKSVILLE – We’re a week into training camp and one thing is clear, this Hawks team set to take the floor this season is a much improved bunch from the one that left the floor in that series against Cleveland to end last season.
How much better is still up for debate.
But it’s clear that this team has a chance to get back to where it finished last year and perhaps beyond, based on the early vibes emanating from the Hawks’ practice court.
“This is by far the best group and the best first week of camp we’ve had in my time here,” one keen observer noted after Sunday’s practice. “Not since Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock have we had a group like this that could get it from the first guy through 12.”
Watching Jamal Crawford explode the way he did in Sunday’s scrimmage was the first real indicator of just how deep and potentially explosive this team could be. He didn’t just attack the Blue team (starters and a couple reserves), he went directly at Joe Johnson (haven’t seen anyone do that before now either) with the scrimmage on the line and finished (Joe had an open look from the corner that could have won it for the Blue team but his jumper didn’t fall). While it was a bit of a shock to the system of those that have been watching the Hawks the past few years, Crawford didn’t seem particularly fazed by his performance. I mean, he’s not cocky in the least bit but the man knows he’s good. He knows he can score at will, regardless of who is trying to guard him. I think everyone else knows it now.
“With Jamal and Jeff Teague, we have a dynamic we haven’t had since I’ve been here,” said Hawks forward Josh Smith. “We’re bringing two guards off the bench that can score every bit as good as our starting guards. That’s a nasty group right there, when you can put your backup guards in and still keep the pressure on. If we do it right, we’re going to be coming at you from so many different angles that you’re going to need a while to figure out where it’s coming from. And hopefully by then, we’ll have shifted into another gear on you and made you think it all over again. It’s going to be fun to see us in action once we get this thing cranked up.”
Everyone seems to have an opinion. So what better time to tap our friendly neighborhood Hater of the Millennium for his take on all things Hawks? Blog-Z has been in attendance for all of the portions of camp outsiders have been allowed to view (and thanks to the Mad VP and the media alert being on red, we haven’t seen as much as we’re used to). So we asked him for some quick thoughts on camp and what it’s looked like from his perspective.
Hawks Blog: So you saw Jamal Crawford get loose Sunday, how good was he?
Blog Z: He was crazy good. But the thing he and Jeff Teague bring that no one is talking is about is that they push JJ and Mike Bibby to play at a higher level, even in practice. Bibby’s been as good as anyone in training camp. He’s shooting lights out. He’s defending and finding guys in stride and he’s leading the team the way you’d expect from a seasoned veteran. But yeah, even the hater in me can’t deny that these guards are going to make for an interesting mix. They’re just so explosive on the offensive end. And Crawford’s best and probably most underrated asset is that he’s a much more complete player than he gets credit for. It’s scary how good he is when you consider all the mess he’s taken over the years for being on crappy teams.
HB: So maybe you’re more excited about this team than you were earlier in the summer, when you said you didn’t see any major improvements and that this team has no chance of shaking up the top three of the Eastern Conference?
BZ: And maybe you’re more interested in writing scripts than you are reporting what someone actually said. Read my lips player, I remain committed to the facts. The Hawks didn’t go crazy this summer and find that missing piece to the championship puzzle. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Crawford is a monster addition. he’s going to be great in this town, on this team and in the role they have slotted for him. But he alone isn’t the answer to the bigger question of whether or not this team (as presently constituted) is capable of challenging for a top three spot. I say no.
HB: Will you at least admit that this team has a chance to shock some people this season?
BZ: I won’t admit to anything. And these “people” you’re talking about, where might they be? I saw what the national experts had to say about the Hawks this season. They don’t seem particularly convinced that this team is going to shock the world. Now one of my guys, you all know him as RA, took offense to what the experts had to say. He sent me this email Sunday:
Thanks for showing what the rest of the sports writing universe has to say about our Hawks, but in reading their…appraisals, I noticed several glaring omissions:
Ian Thomsen mentions implies that Hawks ownership is cheap and while he does add that the moves that they’ve made this offseason were all “winning moves” he does not fully explore the impact that those moves can make. For example, what is it going to mean for this team to have Crawford, who can come in and spell Joe Johnson while at the same time being able get his own shot from anywhere and set up his teammates. What is it going to mean to have Joe Smith’s experience and physical play on the roster, and Collins who gives the Hawks another big body off the bench that they just didn’t have before? I feel like those additions were simply dismissed as bargain basement pickups representing an unwillingness (or inability) of the Hawks brass to go out and get front line talent. I feel that his assessment is incomplete, at best.
As for A.J. Adande’s assertions that the Hawks don’t have star power, I beg to differ. Joe Johnson has become a perennial all-star, Mike Bibby was making his bones in the Western Conference finals when Howard was cutting his wisdom teeth, and Josh Smith is pound for pound one of the most exciting players in the game. Now, none of the aforementioned have any championships, but last time I checked neither did [Dwight] Howard or King James. Also, if the Detroit Pistons of the early 90’s taught us anything, it’s that you don’t have to have a “Superstar.” You just need depth, talent, and proper leadership. I feel that Mr. Adande is ignoring the fact that at least two of these factors, possibly three, are in place.
Of all the experts that you cited, I feel that [Yahoo! Sports' Marc] Spears was the most fair. Of course, I think that he should have reserved his statement about the Hawks not finishing strong in the playoffs. The Hawks had three starters who were either out or hobbled in the second round vs. Cleveland. To be honest, they made a much better showing in games three and four than I ever would have expected. Under the circumstances of what they were dealing with, I don’t know many teams that could have done better and very few that might have done as well.
Like I said, I don’t think that the journalism for Atlanta has been fair or balanced, but I do hope that other teams take it seriously because it would be nice to sneak up on a few teams, although I doubt very seriously that that’s going to happen…
HB: Man, you’re a complete hater. You’ve even got RA hating on the national cats. I know Michigan got popped Saturday by Michigan State an all, but can’t you let go of your personal biases long enough to talk Hawks? I mean, surely you’ve seen some things in Hawks’ training camp that please you?
BZ: You would bring up the Michigan game (ya little punk). I ought to slap the … what was the question again?
HB: Some things that please you so far?
BZ: I didn’t say this group wasn’t impressive. It’s clear they’ve got a core group of about 10 players capable of competing against anyone on a given night. They had an adequate group last year and they added a couple of good players to that mix. But I’m not ready to anoint them or anything. I’m just taking a wait and see approach to this season, like most wise observers would. A good first week of training camp has never won anything. In fact, there isn’t much this team can show me in the preseason that will sway me one way or the other. I need to see what they at the end of this season and in the playoffs. That’s when they can prove to me that they’re moving into that upper echelon. Pump your brakes son. Building all these off the wall expectations and feeding all this hype is what will land a team in the hole if things don’t start right once the real games begin.
HB: Well, what about the guys trying to snag that final roster spot. Has anyone caught your eye?
BZ: I could make a reasonable case for just about every single guy. Othello Hunter’s activity and potential make him an enticing candidate. Same goes for Frank Robinson. With Mario West I know what I’m getting, and it’s usually all good because his motor revs at all times. Courtney Sims has the size and skill set you want in a big but I don’t know if he makes sense either. Aaron Miles has probably been the most surprising guy of the bunch for me, only because I didn’t realize he was this good. And what you get in experience with Mike Wilks and Juan Dixon makes up for their lack of ideal size and bulk at the position [point guard]. The one guy that keeps coming back into my head is the big boy, Garret Siler. He’s going to find a spot somewhere, maybe not this year but eventually, and you’d hate to have him now and let him go only to see him show up a year or two now helping some other team. And with all that said, there might be a better player and a better fit that falls through the training camp crack elsewhere. In any respect, this is a good problem to have, watching eight guys scrap it out for one roster spot. Another benefit of having a quality group like this is that if you need a replacement player throughout the season for any reason, you can reach back and grab one of these guys that showed well during training camp.
HB: For some super hater, you’re not nearly as nasty as you’ve been in the past. What’s with nice routine?
BZ: There’s nothing nice going on here partner. I’m just a little under the weather right now. All this rain has me in the dumps. But I’ll be back and hating better than ever before too long.
HB: So we can hit you up in a few weeks for some post training camp assessments?
BZ: There you go making stuff up again. I didn’t say all that chump. Lose my number!