My Facebook friend John Hollinger of ESPN.com is a fine fellow and a fine writer. (I am, as we know, neither.) But Hollinger had a Bradleyesque moment last fall, picking the Atlanta Hawks to go 31-51 and describing their bench as “a FEMA disaster zone.” (The Hawks finished 47-37 and their bench was rather good.)
I mention this because Big John — I call him Big John, although he’s actually quite slender — has made his 2009-2010 Hawks forecast on ESPN’s Insiders, and I wouldn’t say he gushed. Indeed, he picks the Hawks to backslide. He still has them as the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference and the second-best in the Southern Division, which is how they wound up last season, but he crunches his numbers and decides they’ll go 44-38. (Link requires registration.)
Some Hollinger highlights:
In the end the Hawks won 47 games, and there was room for them to go higher — Josh Smith had a disappointing season that saw him slump to 58.8 percent from the line, Joe Johnson had his second straight midseason funk that suppressed his overall numbers, and Williams missed 21 games and was useless in the playoffs due to a late-season wrist injury.
All told, it was a hugely successful and somewhat bizarre year that saw the Hawks, five years removed from a miserable 13-win campaign, finally become one of the league’s respectable teams. Now the challenge is whether they can stay there…
“The Hawks bring back the same team that won 47 games a year ago, with a few upgrades: [Rookie Jeff] Teague offers a vast improvement over the departed [Acie] Law as a fourth guard, and Joe Smith provides a fourth big man that simply didn’t exist a year ago.
“On paper, all that should make the Hawks a better team than a year ago, but not so fast. [Jamal] Crawford is a better player than [Flip] Murray if you’re comparing careers, but he’ll be hard-pressed to match the season Murray put together a year ago. Similarly, [Zaza] Pachulia and [Mike] Bibby may also struggle to match their solid 2008-09 campaigns.
“And the Hawks aren’t as youthful as they once were. While they still own three 23-year-olds in the frontcourt, the four veteran backcourt players are 31, 30, 29 and 28; additionally, Smith is 34 and Pachulia’s listed age of 25 is only believable if you use a 500-day calendar.
“Between the limited scope for improvement and the lack of star power, it seems the Hawks shouldn’t be much worse than a year ago … but neither should they be any better. It’s quite possible they’ll finish this season in the exact same position as last season — at the top of the East’s pretender heap, but miles away from the ruling Cleveland-Boston-Orlando trinity.”
Much of that I’ll buy. But I think the Hawks have made themselves a 50-win team, and I’m not so sure they can’t pick off one or two of the so-called Eastern trinity in the playoffs. Though it must be said that Big John can be wrong about everything the rest of his life and still not be as wrong as often as I’ve been.
Oh, and one thing more: Big John was slightly distressed last year when I mentioned, in conjunction with his Hawks’ dismissal, that he lives in Atlanta. I certainly don’t want to make that mistake again.