Bradley’s Buzz: John Hollinger picks (on) the Hawks again

Zaza Pachulia: Operating on a 500-day calendar? (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Is Zaza aging? (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

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.

94 comments Add your comment

Northside Native

October 1st, 2009
10:47 am

Guess no one cares about the Hawks

The Truth

October 1st, 2009
11:00 am

Will

October 1st, 2009
11:05 am

I just became a Hawks fan this year and I have to say they have some of the worst reporters. Do hawks writers know anything about basketball or do they just know how to write.

Stotts Era

October 1st, 2009
11:06 am

every player has to play ridiculously good for us to improve this year i just doubt that will happen

Mark Bradley

October 1st, 2009
11:07 am

Actually, Sekou Smith is the Hawks’ beat writer. And he’s the best in the business.

theneatguy

October 1st, 2009
11:27 am

I think if this is what is expected of our team, we’ve come a long way. If we continue to exceed expectations then only good things will come.

Hawks2388

October 1st, 2009
11:29 am

I think it is very unprofessional to accuse a player of lying about their age. If he has no proof, there is no place for a comment like that. It is a huge accusation that has a lot of consequences if true (lying of age mainly occurs in the MLB with international players). I would love for him to be personally called out for his attack to Zaza as a person (because he is basically calling him a liar). For gods sake how old does he think Greg Oden is? 58? NBA players are freaks of nature, doesn’t mean they are older then they state. Their crazy athletic abilities are WHY they are NBA players. So Hollinger can just eat it.

TommyP

October 1st, 2009
11:32 am

I don’t watch many Hawks games but it’s hard to agree with Hollinger when he says they might be worse. What????

They lost hardly anything, made major upgrades in bringing in Teague and Crawford, and added a serviceable big man in Smith that should be great for the younger players to be around.

Oh yeah…it’s best talent (Johnson and Josh Smith) are young and getting better…not to mention Williams.

So our young talent is going to buck the trend of younger players getting better with more experience??????

Clint

October 1st, 2009
11:33 am

I think they’ll win at least 50 and win the Southeast. You can’t tell me that Orlando is going to be better without Hedu. I know they got Vince Carter, but when has he ever been on a winning team? By the way, your numbers are wrong on the Hawks record last season 47-37 add up to 84.

EW

October 1st, 2009
11:35 am

MB All due respect but why quote Hollinger’s prediction? I mean it’s interesting to see what he thinks but what do YOU think?

I will tend to agree that we finish around where we did last year but there are a few interesting variables that will determine if we can improve:

1. JJ is in a contract year now. Don’t underestimate the drive of a man trying to get paid.
2. If Josh Smith can harness that all-star ability and focus on scoring in the paint and forget that the three point line even exists, he get’s better this year. On the flip side, if he improves mid range game in the off-season he will be unguardable. This will go hand in hand with improving free throw % bc we know he goes to the line A LOT if he decides to take it to the hole.
3.Did Acie Law even play? If Jeff Teague provides ANY valuable minutes off the bench it will be an improvement (but I think he plays very limited minutes. (Ok so that really isn’t a variable at all, just a thought)
4. Mike Bibby needs to decide if he wants to step up and be a veteran leader. JJ may be gone for big money next year so I don’t know how much he will be a vocal leader.

Mark Bradley

October 1st, 2009
11:49 am

Why quote John Hollinger? Because he’s a respected analyst for the Worldwide Leader, and he knows his hoops.

JSS

October 1st, 2009
11:52 am

The Hawks are maybe the 3rd highest subject in terms of the blogs on the AJC… Only GA Football and DOB’s Braves sojourn has more loyal commentators… Sekou Smith’s Beat Blog is never slow… Moreover, the AJC Hawks Fan Blog is now back up and you rarely get the silliness (like race baiting) that you see in the Columnists Blogs. They come to discuss the team, the coaches, and to sometime vent… The Hawks will win more than 50 games, the question is what will they do on the road and in the playoffs…

EW

October 1st, 2009
11:54 am

I am not downplaying that and thought that it was clear I knew who he was…Only trying to say that you are also a sportswriter…with thoughts…and opinions…and a KEYBOARD. One smarta** response deserves another right? Take it as a compliment, I’d rather see your thoughts here than get bombarded by more ESPN talking heads.

Gilley

October 1st, 2009
11:55 am

Sekou Smith>>>>>>_________

C’mon admit it guys yall laughed when you read Hollinger’s post: “Pachulia’s listed age of 25 is only believable if you use a 500-day calendar.”

The Hawks have been doubted and will always be doubted ntinue to use that as a motivational force. Despite our success, my friends still laugh at the Hawks because of their past and previous years in the new millineum. It’s all good. I think the Hawks will do fine and just hope Joe Johnson actually plays like its a conteact year ALL SEASON and don’t have his slump and that Woody doesn’t play him 40 + minutes every game. We have enough talent where that is no longer necessary. He says he didn’t trust certain players but how can they prove themselves without a chance to be trusted?! I digress, let’s go Hawks and use this as a means to get better each year.

Hawks2388

October 1st, 2009
11:56 am

Mark Bradley October 1st, 2009
11:49 am
Why quote John Hollinger? Because he’s a respected analyst for the Worldwide Leader, and he knows his hoops.

——————————————————————

If he is such a respected analyst, why did he take a shot at a players integrity that has never said anything about him? I like how you skipped by my comment already. Don’t stick up for him. It was a classless attack at someone. If he was Greg Oden and black, white (Basically American) and a freak of nature would he be questioning his age. Or is it because he is international. Sounds like extreme antisemitism to the international community if you ask me. I know you will defend him though so please go answer.. Go right ahead

Canton Dawg

October 1st, 2009
11:56 am

I think that the Hawks have improved relative to the rest of the East. The Cavs have done nothing to improve (Shaq will be a disaster), the Celtics continue to age (signing an old Rasheed Wallace doesn’t help) and Orlando I just don’t believe in. I can see the Hawks getting a 2 or 3 seed in the East with no problem and with a little luck the 1 seed.

Also, I have to agree with Bradley regarding Sekou Smith. He is regarded around the nation as one of the best NBA writers.

Richard Hamilton

October 1st, 2009
12:13 pm

Big John really stepped out on a limb with that forecast. If that is what you get for becoming an Insider, ESPN must be laughing all the way to the bank.

BugKiller

October 1st, 2009
12:29 pm

EW, don’t you know, Bradley’s prediction will come in the next few weeks. Hold on fella, it’s a comin’.

Hollinger was SPECTACULARLY wrong, Mark.

And here’s the thing, we’re seeing more and more ESPN talking heads take more definite stands on certain things that not even Vegas would.

Predictions this bad can’t disappear into ink anymore. They’re there on the internet for all posterity, forever and ever. It does take some guts to be wrong so often, by trying to pick ACTUAL final records.

The only league where that makes less sense is the NFL, where the fortunes of a franchise literally change from year to year. From the playoffs (or the Super Bowl) to the outhouse in one season (Arizona, Carolina, Miami).

The NBA is also hard to figure, because so many teams take the first half of the year off, because the only thing that matters is momentum going into the playoffs, because so many teams make the playoffs and they’re SO long. Some teams perfect this taking it easy until the last month strategy that it’s become expected (see: San Antonio and Boston).

It’s kind of like even entertaining the thought of counting Tiger out because he’s not within 9 shots of the lead at the beginning of the third day.

Sports. Where crazy s–t happens.

Navigator

October 1st, 2009
12:32 pm

Who cares, after all ESPN is famous for saying Atlanta is the worst sports town in the country. They need to stay in New England, forget what happens in the Deep South (cover word for describing all white southerners as member of the KKK), rather than the Southeastern USA.

Benjamin

October 1st, 2009
12:48 pm

Well played with your final paragraph, Mark Bradley. Well played, indeed….

Tony from Stone Mountain

October 1st, 2009
12:49 pm

I really don’t put much stock in what “Big John” has to say. Where’s Sekou Smith?

bigeasy830@yahoo.com

October 1st, 2009
12:50 pm

The hawks will win 50+ this year and probably another 4 seed. I don’t see them beating out Orlando in the South and Boston and Cleveland will be strong. The Hawks will win their frist round play-off series and we will roll the dice in round 2. Any way it goes, I love going to Phillips Arena and catching those games. I can’t wait for till the start of the regular season.

MightyQuinn

October 1st, 2009
12:55 pm

“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.”

I agree with Benamin, well stroked, MB!

DawginLex

October 1st, 2009
1:05 pm

Mark,

I thought John Hollinger was Marlo Thomas’ boyfriend on “That Girl”.

mountain_jim

October 1st, 2009
1:07 pm

Someone from the Hawks must have peed in John’s cornflakes some time ago, just as someone from the Falcons must have likewise done to NFL Network’s Jamie Dukes. Non local pro-bias is one thing, but these guys are carrying around some hate.

Mark Bradley

October 1st, 2009
1:10 pm

That was Donald Hollinger, DawginLex.

DawginLex

October 1st, 2009
1:11 pm

Clutchy

October 1st, 2009
1:14 pm

you said we were 47-37, I think you mean 47-35.

Nativebird

October 1st, 2009
1:14 pm

Good to see competitive basketball back in Atlanta; now, if only the Hawks and Philips can improve the gameday experience for attending fans. Less thug, less strip (uh dance) team, more family friendly.

Tim

October 1st, 2009
1:24 pm

ESPN generally doesn’t give Atlanta teams credit until AFTER they’ve succeeded. Those east coast writers are always there to jump on the bandwagon (i.e. falcons) but they never pay enough attention to the south to see when something special is being built.

Some Sense

October 1st, 2009
1:42 pm

Sekou is, indeed, the man.

You’re the man also, Mark.

Mark Bradley

October 1st, 2009
1:47 pm

I’m not the man. But Sekou is. He’s great.

BugKiller

October 1st, 2009
1:48 pm

Mark Bradley is A man.

Sekou is THE man.

Hehe. Nah, Bradley, you know we got your back!

Kelvin

October 1st, 2009
1:53 pm

Boston will be better than last year. Cleveland and Orlando? Compare rosters: I would take Shaq over Al(this year not next) and LeBron over Marvin. Who else on the Cavs would you take over the Hawks? We may give Cleveland a run this year as well as Orlando, who just got worse defensively by adding Vince Carter. Brandon Bass does not scare me. Josh is better on both ends. I would not take Reshard over Marvin nor would I take Vince over Joe. We just may surprise Hollinger and the other infallible national experts.

Mark Bradley

October 1st, 2009
1:54 pm

I’m 40 — actually, I’m 54 — but I’m NOT much of a man.

Al Smith

October 1st, 2009
2:02 pm

Thank god joe johnson wont sign an extension dude just disappears in big games. Smh at the marvin williams contract though. lets hope teague is godly. fingers crossed

wxwax

October 1st, 2009
2:09 pm

Everyone complains about weather forecasters getting it wrong and still drawing a paycheck. How about “experts” like John Hollinger? His prediction is worth what we paid for it today. Nothing.

I mean, how can you take seriously a guy who contradicts himself? First he enumerates why “there was room for them to go higher” last season. And then he ends by claiming the Hawks have “limited scope for improvement”.

Well? Which is it, Hollinger?

I think the point a poster made about Joe Johnson being in a contract year is excellent. Johnson was sub-par for long stretches last season. He was not Mr. Reliable. He seemed tired. Betcha that all changes this year.

The oft-dismissed Marvin Harrison has lots of room for growth. Josh Smith has lots of room to refine his game and mature. Does anyone believe that last season’s Al Horford is as good as he’s going to get?

And while it’s certainly possible that the Hawks won’t be an elite team, the opposition is hardly overwhelming. An old Celtics team just got another year older. Cleveland may experience internal tension and dissension once it becomes clear that Shaq isn’t the answer. And Orlando remade important parts of their roster. Let’s wait and see how the team gels before declaring them just as good as last year’s team, shall we?

Mr. Hollinger is obligated to fill the screen with pre-season prediction words. That’s no reason for us to take him anymore seriously than we do the “experts” who dream-up the ridiculously inaccurate pre-season college football polls. It’s all blather.

Hawk n the Ham

October 1st, 2009
2:10 pm

And after all this time I thought Zaza was 14 years old, with the acne and all……

There are going to always be doubters of the Hawks, simply because the Hawks have never really been any good until they met the Celtics in round 1. So, there will be skeptics.

Go Hawks

Al Smith

October 1st, 2009
2:12 pm

The eastern conference is terrible apart from the top 3 so they should at least make the playoffs. I think they’ll be the 5th or 6th seed I think the Heat will be better than them this year.

Deacon Jones

October 1st, 2009
2:24 pm

Pundit Bradley, what do you think the proverbial ceiling is for rookie Teague in his first year in the league? Also for his career? I know you went on record early on saying he wasn’t your favorite pick. Has he changed your thinking in any way since the draft?

Keep up the solid work!

south ga boy

October 1st, 2009
2:28 pm

Around the “NBA writers coffee table” there is a “proove it to us” mindset with the Hawks that may or may not be justifiable. Nevermind that, they need to use it as fuel just as they used the “disrespect” card last yr. The big ? For me is Crawford. If he is as motivated as Sekou says he is in training camp to play defense and distribute the ball then Sund and Woody will have really pulled the rabbit out of the hat again with bench and roll players. Last yr Woody had a rotation of 8. This yr it should be 10 or 11. Tht could be a major dif in a long season in reducing inj and keeping plyrs fresh. So Mark wht do u think about the bench, not jj playing in a contract yr or Josh s ft percentage, being the difference between a 2nd rd loss and the conf finals. Whatta ya think Mark

supa

October 1st, 2009
2:30 pm

I wouldn’t underestimate chemistry. The Hawks performed better than expected last season because the chemistry was excellent. I think that’ll be the case again this season with largely the same team and a few improved pieces (Crawford, Joe Smith, Teague). Looking forward to the season.

When was the last time that we could legitimately get excited about the propects of the Falcons, Braves, and Hawks in the SAME season? Has it ever happened before?

DW

October 1st, 2009
2:47 pm

MARK: Is there actually some question about the validity of Zaza’s birth certificate, or is that comment by Hollinger just intended to be a clever little rip at him?

I have to say that I would be a little bit careful about raising doubts about an athlete’s age– if there’s concern that someone might be older than he really is, that’s real money lost in a contract. Maybe that’s just my lawyer mind going to work, but … seems kind of a risky thing to say.

frosgrim

October 1st, 2009
3:00 pm

I think the Hawks can challenge the top 3 in the east. Boston is a year older, and there C’s seem to be hedging their words on the status of KG. Orlando has a lot to prove. They made a very nice run in the ployoffs, but teams that do that a year or two early tend to regress the next season. Don’t fall asleep on Chicago though. They have some nice players.

Peter

October 1st, 2009
3:37 pm

Joe won’t sign the extension………so he will play well enough to get a good deal and leave…..

That says ALLOT !!!!!!!

The Atlanta Spirit is a slack organization, I have personally done business with them, so I can say that first hand.

No honesty, no follow up, lack of professionalism………… lack of integrity !

They will continue to lose money ………as over all leadership really cannot be there !

Ted Striker

October 1st, 2009
3:39 pm

Ditto what Mark says about Sekou. He’s fantastic covering the Hawks.

Mark’s good too but I gotta have more cowbell.

Mr. A

October 1st, 2009
3:53 pm

It is amazing that people that know what they are talking about can see what we have here in Atlanta. Big John realizes that with Woody coaching this team will never get anywhere!
Last years prediction was off but don’t count on him being wrong again. Simply put……………. FIRE WOODY!!!!!!

gafan1

October 1st, 2009
4:00 pm

I respect Hollinger and think he is good writer. More than likely, we will end up forth behind Orlando, Cleveland and Boston (in no particular order) The one glaring weakness we have is that we have no one Superstar that has yet to emerge. JJ is great and Smith is very good, but they are not elite talents that can carry a team for a strech of the season. We have a strong starting five and a fine bench. But at the end of the day, we do not have that one person to go to when we need those big buckets in the big games.

Scoots

October 1st, 2009
4:09 pm

I don’t think Hollinger is picking on the Hawks – I think he’s pretty much right on, except that I could see the Hawks possibly getting to 50 games.

I think the Magic can be had, but also think the Heat will be improved from last year. I think it will be Cavs-Celts-Heat, then Orlando or Atlanta.

Mark – would you agree the Hawks have about a 50-game ceiling until they get either a better coach or a true on-court leader?

Paul From Milton

October 1st, 2009
4:10 pm

I read Hollinger’s columns fairly regularly. If I am not mistaken, he has mentioned that he lives in Atlanta several times, most notably during the playoffs.