Maybe we’ve got it wrong. Most of us figure the Hawks won’t be as good next season without Joe Johnson — they’re also without Marvin Williams, which seems more reason for optimism — and that not being as good is something new GM Danny Ferry is willing to accept in the short term. (One step back to take two steps forward, et cetera.) But now comes a stunningly rosy forecast that projects the new-look Hawks to …
(Pause for effect.)
Finish second in the NBA East.
It comes from Basketball Prospectus by way of ESPN Insider (link requires registration). According to BP, the Hawks will win 48.7 games, putting them behind only Miami in their conference. (Well behind, we should note. The projection is that the Heat will will win 60.5 games.) Behind the Hawks, BP slots the Knicks, the Celtics, the Bulls, the Pacers, the Nets and the 76ers.
Writes Bradford Doolittle of BP: “The Hawks’ offense without Joe Johnson will get better, trading in a lot of long jumpers for more trips to the foul line. Still, it’s not so much a matter of the Hawks’ getting better as it is the rest of the East backsliding.”
About that offense: Rob Mahoney of the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog believes the Hawks’ offense without Johnson will continue to function because Lou Williams, signed as a free agent, will essentially fill Johnson’s role. Writes Mahoney: “Williams doesn’t in any way disturb the Hawks’ new balance; he simply replicates what was Johnson’s most prevalent offensive skill in a more selectively applicable capacity.”
Meanwhile, Beckley Mason of ESPN’s True Hoop blog network sees Jeff Teague as the key. Writes Mason:
It appears the Hawks have decided to give Teague the keys to the offense. Instead of wing isolations, the new Hawks roster is well-equipped to adopt an up-tempo, spread pick-and-roll attack more along the lines of Steve Nash’s old Suns than anything we’ve seen from Atlanta in the last five years. Expect the Hawks to incur some dings and scratches early on, but this offense has the potential to be one of the most efficient and prolific in the East.
Me, I’m not so sure the Hawks will mirror the Nash Suns. I think they might more closely resemble the teams from Ferry’s alma mater, meaning the Duke Blue Devils. Not much size, but lots of shooters — already Ferry has added Williams, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and the rookie John Jenkins — and an emphasis on driving and kicking and spacing the floor.
I’m also on the record as believing the new Hawks will be a .500 team, give or take, and will do well to make the playoffs. But maybe I’m shooting too low.
Then again, maybe not. ESPN also offers a poll of what it calls “100 of the best basketball minds,” and all that assembled brainpower believes the Hawks will go 40-42 and finish eighth in the East, which means they’d make the playoffs and face Miami in Round 1.
By Mark Bradley