The new Atlanta Hawks: They’ll run, and it should be fun

Lou Williams puts the ball in the air, as is his wont. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Lou Williams shoots, as is his wont. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Draftees of high risk/reward are described as “boom or bust” picks. The 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks will be a boom AND bust team. They’ll have nights when the pace is fast and the shots drop and they win by 30. They’ll have others when those shots get rerouted to Brick City USA and nobody guards anybody and they lose by that much.

In sum, this will be a scary team in both senses — scary to play because of its firepower, scary to coach because of its defensive liabilities. For those of us who have only to sit and watch, these Hawks should be tons of fun.

“Clearly our strength is our speed and shooting,” said Danny Ferry, the general manager who arrived in June and redid a stagnant roster in the course of a coffee break. “We have three shooters (Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and rookie John Jenkins) who are as strong as any team’s.”

You could argue all day as to which of the three shooters is the sharpest, and this doesn’t take into account Lou Williams, the import who’s among the NBA’s most ardent hoisters. Toss in guards Jeff Teague and Devin Harris, and then recall that Josh Smith and Al Horford have been known to make a hoop or two, and you’ve got a team capable of playing fast and scoring big.

“It’s very exciting,” said coach Larry Drew, speaking after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve played a certain way for a number of years, but obviously our personnel changed.”

Here Drew paused a beat, perhaps for effect. “But I also want to defend. It’ll be fun to play (fast) like that, but we don’t want to turn it totally into an up-and-down thing.”

Given that true centers are nearly as rare in today’s NBA as left-handed third basemen are in the major leagues, you’d think more teams would spread the court and bank on quickness and shooting. You would, alas, be wrong. The league has become a numbing series of pick-and-rolls, the intent being to put the ball in a superstar’s hands and let him work some wonder. By trading Joe Johnson, the Hawks shed the closest thing they had to a superstar. It was a great move financially, and perhaps aesthetically.

“We don’t have a ball-stopper,” Ferry said, meaning a guy who gets it and dribbles (and dribbles, and dribbles). Horford and Smith, the nominal big men, are superb passers, and they’re also capable of taking a rebound and leading the break. Not many teams have two such guys, and trying to go with a bigger lineup (meaning moving Horford to power forward and Smith to small forward) would lessen the effect. Not many teams should beat these Hawks down the court.

But here we come to the caveat: The new-look Hawks are tiny. There’s no real small forward on the roster — Korver, who has long been an off-the-bench gunner, might start at 3-spot here — and the guards are puny: Harris is listed as 6-foot-3, Teague as 6-2, Williams as 6-1. The Hawks will face the classic dilemma of a tiny team: Its quickness makes it hard to defend, but its lack of size makes it tough to guard the other guys.

If the Hawks are forced to play half-court games, they’ll lose most of them. (As good a shooters as Korver and Morrow and Williams are, defensively they’re swinging gates.) Since the holdover Hawks are accustomed to playing half-court, the temptation will be great to slow down. That’s an urge that must be resisted. The only way this team will be good is to play to its strengths and see what happens; we can already guess what will happen if it doesn’t.

“I totally trust them,” Drew said, perhaps overstating. “This is the way they’re going to have to play. We’re going to take some bumps and lumps, and there will be times when I’m going to be mad when we’re turning it over. But I’m hopeful these guys enjoy playing this way and can be confident we can play this way.”

With so much salary having been offloaded by Ferry, the outlook beyond this season is rosy, and the season itself needn’t be a raging dud. The Hawks are trying something new, and if they get it right more nights than not they could go 48-34.

Said Ferry: “I think we can be competitive. If we build an identity of playing fast and solid and smart, I’m hoping we can get a rhythm and a momentum.”

The bad news is that this way might not work. The good news is that Ferry will have cap space to remake this roster again next summer if it doesn’t. But here’s hoping this stylistic experiment doesn’t blow up in the lab. Here’s hoping this little team plays big.

By Mark Bradley

53 comments Add your comment

MatthewH

October 31st, 2012
4:53 pm

First and now I am going to get candy

Mark Bradley

October 31st, 2012
4:54 pm

So am I, MatthewH. Trick or treat kudos.

O'Ventbrel

October 31st, 2012
5:12 pm

It’s annoying to hear co-workers and friends trash this team and act like they’re going to ignore them this year. I don’t think any of us actually think the Hawks will be a really strong team. However, the future is certainly bright, and I personally can’t wait to watch the Hawks be a nuisance to the rest of the league this season. Plus, if the Hawks are truly that bad, Ferry could work some magic with a couple of lottery picks next year.

AA

October 31st, 2012
5:12 pm

ag

October 31st, 2012
5:32 pm

I disagree. I think the Hawks will do very well. Like Bradley said, the Hawks have to play to their strengths, – if they get wrapped up into a half court game they will loose.

ag

October 31st, 2012
5:44 pm

Andrae

October 31st, 2012
5:48 pm

everyone including the hawks and staff should look at film on the Tulsa teams around the years of 2000-2003ish. they were a very small and quick team and only one person with some hieght. but they balled hard and were very good. they kncked off cincinnatti when they had kenyon martin. they also as a program won more games than any team over that three year span. Anyway they way they played was fun and exciting BUT they won. Losing is never fun, and even if they are fun and they lose the fans wont support them in this town. so play fast but WIN!!!!

Andrae

October 31st, 2012
5:51 pm

BTW those tulsa teams had great coaches starting with Bill Self.

Kevin Hawk

October 31st, 2012
5:58 pm

I am really excited about getting this season started. We are going to put a very exciting product out on the court. This is just the appetizer for what is to come in the next few years for the Atlanta Hawks.

Vesper

October 31st, 2012
6:03 pm

This group of Hawks need to cause a lot of turnovers with their speed. Play defense Falcons Style!

Hawks93

October 31st, 2012
6:06 pm

GO HAWKS! We’re going places this year and Josh is taking us there! Anyways if you need some info on basically anything or you love basketball or you wanna play a free casino game then check out http://www.bballfan4life.com

Mark Bradley

October 31st, 2012
6:07 pm

That Tulsa tree goes back even further — to Nolan Richardson, J.D. Barnett and Tubby Smith.

Meanwhile...calling Hick Carpenter?

October 31st, 2012
6:17 pm

Mark there is a real simple solution to the lack of height/defense problem: Post up Teague and put Josh Smith at the top of the key, behind the three point line. Teague can muscle up on some of the undersized forwards like LeBron James, or if double teamed, can pass it out to a wide open Smith for the high percentage 3.

The advantage being of course, you’ll have Smith at the ready for transition defense for those times the Hawks don’t score.

Schematically speaking, it’s a no brainer. The obvious question, as you might have already surmised, can Coach Drew ever convince Josh Smith to take a wide open three?

Retired HS bball coach

October 31st, 2012
6:24 pm

Mark, I am glad you added the other names at Tulsa. Isn’t it amazing how Tubby’s style changed over the years….

Nativebird

October 31st, 2012
6:30 pm

Hawks? The Atlanta Hawks? Did you say Atlanta has a professional basketball team and what is this NBA you speak of?

Nativehawk

October 31st, 2012
6:47 pm

Nativebird must be one of the 5 hockey fans left in Atlanta

George

October 31st, 2012
7:54 pm

I just can’t get excited about professional basketball. It’s all I can do just to type this comment. Professional basketball seems always to be about three or four really good teams who travel about the country beating the lowly teams that never really have a chance. It reminds me of the Harlem Globetrotters and their perpetual opponent (and beat-downs), the Kentucky Colonels. I suppose there is some merit in the fact that these teams create jobs for those who work at the games and some diversion for others who have little else to do. I will stop now.

ag

October 31st, 2012
8:04 pm

I was looking at the Bleacher Report’s 50 Most Worthless Players in the NBA for 2011-12. Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Collins and Vladimir Radmanovic made the list. Of the new Hawks, our buddy Johnathan Petro. Thanks LD for cutting Benson!

Mark Bradley

October 31st, 2012
8:06 pm

Washington Generals, you mean. The Kentucky Colonels were a very good team in the old ABA.

NCBravesFan

October 31st, 2012
8:11 pm

I agree completely, Mark. Not sure they’ll be better this year, but they’ll be different for sure. And that is a good thing.

OldTimer

October 31st, 2012
8:17 pm

If they seem like they’re making an effort I might catch a game.

JDH GT

October 31st, 2012
8:33 pm

Mark,

Very good piece. I think this team is going to be fun to watch. Horford isn’t bad on defense, and Smith is actually a solid defender. If some of the guys can be aggressive on the perimeter, I think this team will be okay.

Stuart

October 31st, 2012
8:36 pm

Need help at the 3, especially defending the LeBrons and Carmellos of the league. Another true center (Petro aside) wouldn’t hurt either… But all in all, should be a playoff-caliber team and fun to watch!

E43

October 31st, 2012
8:46 pm

“and the guards are puny: Harris is listed as 6-foot-3, Teague as 6-2, Williams as 6-1.” Mark, I do apologize for this disservice. I will ask the gods to provide more of your 7 foot stature self.

Tom

October 31st, 2012
9:17 pm

Looking forward to seeing josh lead the team this year

Teedub

October 31st, 2012
9:28 pm

I can’t wait! Gonna be a fun year of hoops in the ATL

Najeh Davenpoop

October 31st, 2012
10:13 pm

ESPN’s preseason projections love this team, for whatever it’s worth.

Of course, even with a new GM, some incompetence never changes. Two Sunday games this month, going head to head with the Falcons, all but assuring that nobody in Atlanta will watch them.

Atlanta Sports Fan

October 31st, 2012
10:31 pm

Really….no body cares about the Hawks in Atlanta!

HAWKS365

October 31st, 2012
10:53 pm

Atlanta sports fan ALOT OF PEOPLE LOVE THE HAWKS !! And for the people wondering about(defense) undersized etc. let me explain …good defense aint about all size its alot to do with HELP DEFENSE ..IT AINT LIKE WHEN BRON OR WHEN MELO GETS THE ROCK THAT EVERY ONE ELSE DISAPPEARS ….THERE IS 4 other players available to help defense …soooo mainly its about basketball I.Q. And most of our hawks have a very high I.Q. THIS YEAR…BTW IM WATCHING MARVIN WILLIAMS GO OFF FOR THE JAZZ

Tree Rollins

October 31st, 2012
11:09 pm

I’m excited and will support the players, coach, and GM. A championship is nowhere on the horizon, but we Atlanta Hawks fans are used to this. Onward and upward. If only we could trade our owners.

BillVol

November 1st, 2012
12:15 am

Mark, you know better. The Hawks are always going to be the Hawks. Remember Cliff Levingston’s brick? Stan Kasten skulking? The 12 games in New Orleans? Run DMC and Whodini after games?

IlliniDawg

November 1st, 2012
12:37 am

I concur with George and ASF and Nativebird: the development of the two “super teams” – Lakers and Heat and the lack of a competitive playing field, together with the isolation, pick-and-roll, half-court style of the NBA has killed what little interest I have ever had in pro basketball. I’d rather watch a Vince Shlomi (ShamWow, Slap Chop, Schticky) infomercial than have to endure any NBA game.

ptrepdaa

November 1st, 2012
1:14 am

Enter your comments here

jocrazy

November 1st, 2012
1:28 am

joe johnson is gone relax we have a future

tjhook

November 1st, 2012
2:23 am

Though I wish the players on the roster good luck, LD aka Loser Dude, is about to lead some uninspiring basketball once the season starts. Observers will be watching a highly compensated AAU squad and the players will ultimately usurp this scud of a coach. An undersized front Kurt needs as many athletic bodies as it can afford. Of course you need shooters but athletes help balance the attack and limit scoring opportunities. I’m praying Damien James is brought back to the roster before the first month ends. You don’t want this roster to be defeated emotionally which may happen if they start off with a losing streak.

tjhook

November 1st, 2012
2:24 am

Undersized frontcourt *

gnomeboy

November 1st, 2012
2:32 am

BIG YAWN!!!!!!! NBA Basketball. So when does the Atlanta Steam start?

Gary Tanner

November 1st, 2012
6:35 am

I think they’ve got more than a puncher’s chance to have a decent season. Unloading Joe’s contract still seems like a miracle to me.

Jamaaliver

November 1st, 2012
7:38 am

Have we traded Josh Smith yet?

Ken Strickland

November 1st, 2012
7:58 am

Once again during an interview about the teams prospects, Drew immediately starts mouthing off about DEF. Yet, he backs his pretended concern about DEF by cutting his 2 best DEF and rebounding prospects, DJames and KBenson. And he cuts them in favor of one dimensional jumpshooters, Korver, Morrow, Tolliver, and Stevenson, who, at this point, has yet to prove hes still NBA material.

People complain about JPetro being useless, but he certainly outperformed DStevenson last yr, and he gives us what we need most, more size, rebounding and interior DEF. We certainly won’t get an abundance of that from LDrew’s choice of Stevenson, Korver or Morrow and/or Tolliver.

Spud

November 1st, 2012
10:01 am

Ken, in reading these comments I typically select only comments of contributors that over time have proven knowledgeable and those of true hawks’ fans. Unfortunately I must state that your obsession with the two moves of DJames & Kbenson as a defensive loss has definitely worn thin. If your whole outlook for the season is hinged on these two moves then I must bypass comments of ‘Ken Strickland’ – not worth my time…

Spud

November 1st, 2012
10:01 am

Ken, in reading these comments I typically select only comments of contributors that over time have proven knowledgeable and those of true hawks’ fans. Unfortunately I must state that your obsession with the two moves of DJames & Kbenson as a defensive loss has definitely worn thin. If your whole outlook for the season is hinged on these two moves then I must bypass comments of ‘Ken Strickland’ – not worth my time…

Spud

November 1st, 2012
10:01 am

Ken, in reading these comments I typically select only comments of contributors that over time have proven knowledgeable and those of true hawks’ fans. Unfortunately I must state that your obsession with the two moves of DJames & Kbenson as a defensive loss has definitely worn thin. If your whole outlook for the season is hinged on these two moves then I must bypass comments of ‘Ken Strickland’ – not worth my time…

Kem

November 1st, 2012
10:01 am

Did I read on this blog where someone said( 10/31 @6:17pm ) to “Post up Teague”? Maybe I misread that. Who is he going to muscle up? High % three by Josh? Like TBS…………..Very funny.

I agree the Hawks at times will be fun to watch. Watch for a break year for LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!

Ryder

November 1st, 2012
10:42 am

How Drew handles Jeff Teague will determine how far the Hawks go this year. They are too small to compete with bigger teams, so they will have to rely on running more often than not. This would be the kind of team I can see a more developed PG taking to the Conference Finals. If Teague struggles out the gate will he get pulled in favor of Harris? If he doesn’t run the offense as effectively as Drew likes will we hear rumors of him getting traded for Chris Paul mid-season? I think they will be competitive but will struggle to make the playoffs.

The most exciting season for this team will be the off-season, when the draft picks and free agency comes into play.

@Only1MrGreen

November 1st, 2012
12:34 pm

We have to keep J.Smoove & Al together.. build the team around them, keep Lou Will also.. everybody else can go.

come on

November 2nd, 2012
9:24 am

even if we don’t have great year we finally have a direction we can head in. 2 first round picks and cap space the hawks can do something positive for the franchise and city for once. ferry seems competent, he was able to get someone to take joe johnson, and i think he will build us a solid team with the opportunity the hawks have been given to succeed.

J

November 2nd, 2012
12:11 pm

what gives? no mention of Home Opener on main sports page or Hawks AJC page? as a fan, i’d say that is messed up.

Jimmy Crack

November 2nd, 2012
1:11 pm

I am psyched too, Mark. I do agree that the AJC needs to liven up the coverage.

IT’S A BRAND NEW SEASON! Loads of new talented characters to figure out and plenty of fan favorites that will still DOMINATE!!! GO HAWKS!!

falCANS

November 2nd, 2012
2:24 pm

Hope too see Horford traded for young wingman…..extremelyconfident in zaza too replace Horfords 12ppg & 9reb