The Hawks gaze at the Thunder, see their younger selves

A rare sight: Marvin Williams gets assertive (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

A rare sight: Marvin gets assertive (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Even in losing, the Hawks felt flattered. What they’ve done is what Oklahoma City is endeavoring to do. “A mirror of our team,” Mike Woodson said afterward, and when was the last time anyone else in the NBA regarded the local franchise as anything to be emulated?

Not many teams can match talent with the Hawks. The Thunder did it Monday and left a three-point winner. “That’s a great young team over there,” said the ancient Josh Smith, who’s all of 24 and who nearly generated a triple double. “They’ve been able to have a lottery pick and get a marquee guy every year.”

The past three Thunder drafts (the first coming when it was based in Seattle): Landed Kevin Durant with the second overall pick in 2007 and traded for Jeff Green, who was the fifth pick; drafted Russell Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in 2008; drafted James Harden with the third overall pick in 2009. They have 12 first-rounders on the roster, six of them lottery picks.

The Hawks likewise boast six lottery picks. And if it weren’t for the improvement shown here these past few years, Oklahoma City might well be charting a different course. “People are starting to copy that model, instead of panicking,” Woodson said, speaking before Monday’s MLK Day matinee. “I think more teams will do it.”

The idea: Accumulate young talent and hope it coalesces. The Chicago Bulls tried — at one point they had Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler and Brad Miller and Ron Artest under contract — but got antsy and started dumping players. Said Woodson: “They were spoiled [from the Jordan Era]. They didn’t have the patience to wait.”

It took the Hawks four seasons from the drafting of the Joshes — Childress and Smith — to make the playoffs, a fifth to finish above .500. But the team that went forever without winning awoke Monday atop the NBA Southeast, and the Hawks’ method has opened eyes across the league. Both Oklahoma City and Portland are trying the build-with-youth method, and it’s working even faster both places.

Woodson: “It wasn’t easy, man. I took a lot of shots [many from this correspondent] … We had our bumps along the way, but we’re winning now, and a lot of that has to do with the fact we held our core together.”

Well, yes. For acquiring so many good players, Billy Knight deserves credit in absentia. (He resigned as GM in 2008.) But watching the Thunder trip the Hawks, an old feeling came rushing back. With the second pick in the 2007 draft, the Thunder (then the Sonics) took Kevin Durant, who’s one of the 10 best players in the sport. With the second pick in the 2005 draft, Knight chose Marvin Williams, who’s of the 10 best players on his team.

“We always got smacked in the face for not drafting [Chris] Paul,” Woodson said, but it’s the whiff that keeps on missing. Even with a new contract, Williams remains inessential. He’s averaging 10.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, both marking significant sags off last season’s yield. On Monday he played 21 minutes, scored seven points, took two rebounds and managed no assists. (Durant: 29 points, five rebounds, five assists.)

Durant was the difference Monday even when he didn’t touch the ball. The Hawks keyed on denying him an inbounds play with 19 seconds left, but Green took the ball at the top of the key and got Smith leaning and drove for the clinching dunk. Not many people dunk on Josh Smith, but Green did it with vigor.

Said Al Horford, drafted one spot after Durant in 2007: “They’re definitely as athletic and as talented as we are.”

And this day the Thunder was a tad hungrier. “They play hard,” said Crawford, who took almost the same shot to tie Monday as he’d hit to beat Phoenix on Friday but saw this one roll off. “They compete.”

Here he smiled. “It’s like looking at the Hawks of a couple of years ago.”

That brought some consolation. If other folks are doing as the Hawks did, it means what the Hawks did is working.

86 comments Add your comment

Reid Adair

January 18th, 2010
6:20 pm

I was disappointed that the Hawks lost, but it certainly seems that the Thunder are following the Atlanta plan and committing to their “youth.”

Sonny Clusters

January 18th, 2010
6:21 pm

Whoa! Almost a Clusters!

Mark Bradley

January 18th, 2010
6:23 pm

Almost, Sonny. But it was Reid A. by a skinny minute. Kudos!

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 18th, 2010
6:26 pm

Doestn’t explain away the poor shot selection of J. Johnson down the stretch, however gives patient credit to the maturing of Josh.

Bad loss none the less.

Sonny Clusters

January 18th, 2010
6:26 pm

Gazing at thunder is a lot like listening to lightning. We enjoyed that game today and knowing almost nothing about basketball we could see the Hawks don’t drive much and when the jump shots don’t fall they get in trouble. Still, they have some players. Pitchers and catchers report February 19. Clusters like baseball best.

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 18th, 2010
6:27 pm

This is one of four loses to this point and wonder why.

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 18th, 2010
6:28 pm

2/19 signals warmth.

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 18th, 2010
6:31 pm

Wes Durham on the “Buffet” tonight, check your local listings.

Sonny Clusters

January 18th, 2010
6:31 pm

Clusters will try to go to Spring Training this year. We might walk on and see if we can’t hit better than Melky Cabrera.

willie martinez

January 18th, 2010
6:37 pm

Mark, you must have picked the Hawks, right?

willie martinez

January 18th, 2010
6:42 pm

do the ajc bean counters get mad when you go ahead and post the newspaper version on line a day early?

rms

January 18th, 2010
6:50 pm

“If other folks are doing as the Hawks did it must mean what the Hawks did is working”

Yeah, but they are doing it much faster and more effectively. They don’t overload on drafting forwards and their coach creates actual plays to run instead of ISO-plays and relying on jumpshooting.
Foolish journalists!!!!!!!!!!!

Najeh Davenpoop

January 18th, 2010
7:07 pm

At this point it does no good to compare Marvin to Durant — he has clearly proven he is not a star, let alone a superstar in the making. Marvin didn’t ask to be picked #2, and it’s time to judge him as the role player that he is. That said, in this game he didn’t even deliver what a role player should. When your role in the offense is as limited as his, you should focus on one or two specific things that you are called upon to do and do them well. In Marvin’s case, this is man-to-man defense and spot-up three point shooting, and in today’s game he did neither of those things well. In fairness, he has been a good man-to-man defender for most of the season (although there is still room for improvement) but on offense he needs to be as automatic from 3 as Bruce Bowen was for the Spurs, since that’s essentially his role on this team.

O'Brien

January 18th, 2010
7:08 pm

Mark,

Kevin Durant, who you called one of the 10 best players in the league played 38 minutes. Who is his backup? Joe Johnson, (who has Crawford as a very capable backup) played 45 minutes. What’s up with that?

Its no surprise that JJ looked tired in the fourth (physically and mentally), and that leads to bad shots. I remember that horrible 3 point shot he took against Phoenix with about a minute to go last game.

And one major difference between the Hawks from years ago and this OKC team, is at the time, we had Joe Johnson, a big name free agent. OKC is doing this with all young talent, and they are far enough under the cap where they can add another piece to their team this offseason.

They outplayed us today, and Scott Brooks outcoached Woody.

One thing I agree with you on. Marvin’s disappearing act. He is paid $7.5 mil for this year (and the next 4), but he is not living up to the contract. I remember you lauded Rick for resigning him, but looking back in hindsight, don’t you think Sund overpaid?

No playoff team was going to give Marvin that kind of money to be their starting SF. And none of the teams that were under the cap would have given him that money either. Rick Sund bid against himself.

crunchtime..not

January 18th, 2010
7:11 pm

Things not so rosy in Hawkland…just have a look at their scoring in crunchtime at home in 4th quarters lately….they managed about 15 points against Orlando, Cavs, Suns and Thunder. They are very predictable and easy to shut down…no one goes to the hoop…when the outside shots stop falling (because teams “D” up on them in the crunchtime) they seem doomed. They become stagnant and fall into that isolation game, but they have no clear finisher. How many chances did they have to take the lead late in the game today, but nobody finished.

Jody

January 18th, 2010
7:20 pm

Mark,

Good blog article. When do you think the management will make a move (personnel) to take this Hawks team to a TRULY elite status?

Habitat for Humanity

January 18th, 2010
7:23 pm

For every brick in today’s game, Americans from all 50 states have pledged to donate a real brick to build real homes for disadvantaged Americans.

We at Habitat for Humanity are proud to announce that we now have enough bricks to make Boise, Idaho, a more developed city than New York, New York. Thank you, Hawks!!

*Habitat for Humanity and the Atlanta Hawks: rebuilding America, brick by brick.*

willie martinez

January 18th, 2010
7:33 pm

Mark Bradley

January 18th, 2010
7:40 pm

Not sure what that move is, Jody. Got any ideas?

Season Ticket Holder

January 18th, 2010
7:41 pm

This was the first game that I witnessed an ego problem with Joe Johnson… it appeared he was trying to prove he is “still the man” and he forced too many shots (more than even he usually forces). On several occasions Jamal Crawford was open – several times begging for the ball, and JJ just looked him off and went into is isolation mode. JJ is going to have to learn to play with Crawford or he will find himself playing without Crawford… and no, it won’t be Crawford that’s gone. Crawford is an asset and Joe Johnson needs to be more secure with his play – man up and hit some shots or learn to pass when the other go to player (Crawford) is WIDE open. I hope Woody addresses it because I know he had to witness/sense it as well.

Mark Bradley

January 18th, 2010
7:41 pm

Here’s the problem, O’Brien. Crawford actually backs up Bibby more than he does Johnson. And you’ll note that Jeff Teague, who’s the Hawks’ fourth guard, played three minutes and 54 seconds.

Mark Bradley

January 18th, 2010
7:42 pm

No, Willie. That’s the way of the Digital World. Post ‘em as soon as you got ‘em.

Mark Bradley

January 18th, 2010
7:43 pm

I didn’t realize how evocative an image I’d struck with “gazing at Thunder,” Sonny. Thanks for pointing it out.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

January 18th, 2010
7:51 pm

Mr. Bradley, I could not have written a finer, more equacative phrase myself. I shall send you a complimentary year subscription to the National Review. WFB

willie martinez

January 18th, 2010
7:52 pm

yep, like back in the war, smoke em if you got em.

Sonny Clusters

January 18th, 2010
7:56 pm

Sometimes we write something and when we get through we just cry and cry. Gazing at thunder was something like that. We was thinking maybe DQ could sponsor this blog and we could all get some DQ treats on the house.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

January 18th, 2010
7:58 pm

I do find it rather dismaying, Mr. Bradley of an association with one of the more, shall we say, “progressive” daily publications in all of the United States.

Perhaps you would be better served proffessionally to persue a career with a more “right” minded newspaper such as the Washington Times.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

January 18th, 2010
7:59 pm

I always was rather a fan of the cinema moving picture known as Blazing Saddles.

Mark Bradley

January 18th, 2010
8:02 pm

I think this blog definitely needs a sponsor. Cuz’s notion of the Two Idiots Marketing Group never took flight. (Another image.)

William F. Buckley, Jr.

January 18th, 2010
8:03 pm

I’m afraid, Mr. Bradley, if you are intimating that the National Review should somehow, shall we say, endorse this blog is truely out of the question. WFB

William F. Buckley, Jr.

January 18th, 2010
8:05 pm

I am constantly foraging around for appropriate venues for expression, mind you.

Gore Vidal

January 18th, 2010
8:08 pm

Mr. Bradley, please pay no mind whatsoever to that mindless robotic right wing fanatic.

Noam Chomsky

January 18th, 2010
8:10 pm

Mr. Bradley, you certainly have a most august group contributing to civil discourse on your website.

Mark Lane

January 18th, 2010
8:11 pm

there was a second gunman.

Jody

January 18th, 2010
8:12 pm

Mark,

My point in asking was I was wondering if you thought the Hawks were actually open to making any personnel moves to improve the team in areas where they need help (rebounding and defending the paint).

I’m a Hawk fan and want to see them win, but I honestly don’t think they can beat Cleveland or Orlando in a 7 game series as currently constructed.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

January 18th, 2010
8:15 pm

I do not comprehend this seeming obsession with body art that is so prevelent at the present time among athletes that are monetarily compensated for plying their wares in front of a citizenry that is merely jealous of the inescapable fact that they could not accurately throw a basketball into the Atlantic Ocean.

Mark Bradley

January 18th, 2010
8:15 pm

Do I think they’re open to it? Yes. Do I think a big move will happen this season? No, I don’t. There’s no way the Hawks move to take on a massive salary — Antawn Jamison’s, say — with Joe Johnson’s contract about to expire and Al Horford not far behind.

dstdeelite

January 18th, 2010
8:18 pm

Right on, Season ticketholder! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed that. I think Jamal called him on it at the end of the 3rd quarter. Jamal had just hit back to back 3s and was clearly feeling it. With 4 seconds to go, Joe throws up a prayer with JC wide open in the corner. Miraculously, a goaltending call was made. Joe needs to really get over himself. Everyone knows this is technically his team. He needs to stop with the piss shooting contest. It’s starting to cost us games now.

Jody

January 18th, 2010
8:22 pm

Mark,

Good deal. I don’t expect them to make any major moves this season, but would be disappointed if they just stayed with the status quo of being a “competitive team” instead of exploring their options in the coming seasons when they have to make some BIG decisions (Joe Johnson, Al Horford) that will untimately decide how far they can go.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

January 18th, 2010
8:28 pm

Admittedly, hithertoo I was and am an appreciative admirer of the physical gifts these professional athletes possess and put on display for mass audience entertainment, I am disturbed by the economic disconnect so prevelent and illustrated in our society when one compares the compensation accorded to, say a basketball professional versus a more common man endeavour, such as higher education or law enforecement.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

January 18th, 2010
8:30 pm

I am a life long supporter of excellence, be it in professional sports or the man to takes away the rubbish on a biweekly schedule.

willie martinez

January 18th, 2010
8:31 pm

Mark, i thought Al Ford was still with the SEC. Time flies.

Loserville USA

January 18th, 2010
8:55 pm

Hawks may be deep and talented but when you can’t hold serve on your home court against inferior teams because you don’t have any critical thinking skills it will NEVER equate to anything.

Josh Smith needs to actually do SOMETHING before embracing a nickname.
Mike Bibby wants to be a shooting guard not a point guard.
Marvin Williams takes games off.

Overall taking 3s just to hear the PA announcer go ballistic is what this team appears to be at home.

Basically, the Hawks are still very immature and we’re just as close to the NBA Finals as we were a year ago despite having a more talented team.

Hawks — GROW UP!

NoleRick

January 18th, 2010
9:28 pm

Games like today is why no one wants to take this team seriously. I certainly want to, but then you get the let down. Built like the Hawks or not, coaching prevents teams from having these mental let downs against inferior teams. So much for being in First place….

O'Brien

January 18th, 2010
9:45 pm

Mark,

Thats true. Teague is our fourth guard. But he is our second PG. Crawford and JJ are not PGs.

And when Bibb’y contract is up, or he gets hurt, who will be our starting PG? We need to find out if Teague is capable, and one way of doing that is give him consistent minutes.

I just think Woody is forcing a square peg into a round hole. He has said he doesn’t give a *&%# about offense. But recently, its been our offense thats been the problem. Case in point, the 4th quarter against Cleveland, early in the 4th against Phoenix, 4th quarter today.

I just dont think he coaches to our strengths, and he doesnt utilize his bench effectively. I think this will come back to bite us in the playoffs.

The Grinch

January 18th, 2010
9:47 pm

I’ve noticed the Crawford/Johnson thing as well. Johnson is hurting us with his attitude and Woodson’s hurting us by continuing to feed it. He’s keeping Johnson on the floor almost as much as last year, despite a much better bench. A little less Joe (and preferably a little more unselfish) and a little more Teague would be an excellent plan, IMO.

Hawkshurrah

January 18th, 2010
10:25 pm

It’s time for Woody to start spending some time on offense – getting easier shots – because his total emphasis on defense will always make the Hawks an inferior team compared to what they could / should be. Hopefully, Sund sees this and has the guts to do something about it.

newkid

January 18th, 2010
10:27 pm

Jody,
Sund knows he must make a move. Not a move for the regular season, but one that will give him a better chance of advancing beyond the 2nd round of the upcoming playoffs, and one that will position him to further improve the ‘10/’11 side. He has chips and he’ll use at least one, but likely more. We’re not currently watching the collection of Hawks we’ll be watching on April 14th.

Anthony

January 19th, 2010
12:00 am

I think its time to admit the truth regarding Mr. Woodson. He’s just not good with game time management & player development. That’s a poor formula if you want to win a championship. I think he holds this team back from reaching its potential.

Mark Bradley

January 19th, 2010
12:06 am

I’ve not noticed anything between Johnson and Crawford other than respect.