What's on the Menu? "mmmmmm . . . Basketball!!!!"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 23. Atlanta Hawks

Overall Win/Loss Record:  38-44,  fourth place Southeast Division

2014/2015 Projection: 36-46, fourth place Southeast Division, twelfth place Eastern Conference 

Preseason Rank

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 101.0 (15th)
  • Points Allowed: 101.5 (15th)
  • Team FG%: .458 (13th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .462 (21st)
  • Team FT%: .781 (6th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .363 (13th)
  • Rebounds per game: 40.0 (28th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.5 (24th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.5 (22nd)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.5 (9th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Al Horford (18.6)
  • Rebounds per game:  Paul Milsap (8.5)
  • Minutes per game: Kyle Korver (33.9)
  • Assists per game:  Jeff Teague (6.7)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Al Horford (.567)
  • Free Throw Percentage:   John Jenkins (1.00)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Kyle Korver (.472)
  • Steals per game: Paul Milsap (1.7)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Al Horford (1.5)

Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

  • Jeff Teague (PG)
  • Kyle Korver (SG)
  • DeMarre Carroll (SF)
  • Paul Milsap (PF)
  • Al Horford (C)

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

  1. Kent Bazemore (G)
  2. Thabo Sefalosha (G/F)
  3. Mike Scott (F)
  4. Adreian Payne (F/C)
  5. John Jenkins (G)
Last season was supposed to be a swan song for the Hawks as both the team's long time franchise cornerstones Josh Smith and Joe Johnson parted ways with the organizations; yet despite bidding farewell to both their stars along with an early season ending injury to the team's leader, Al Horford, Atlanta managed to scratch and claw its way grad the final spot for the playoffs.  Not only did they manage to defy the odds and keep their seven year long playoff streak, which is currently the longest in the Eastern Conference, but they also managed to shock the the NBA fan world by coming within one game of beating the top seeded +Indiana Pacers.  Last May's seven game basketball battle seemed as the perfect ending to an otherwise taxing season for the Hawks which had seen themselves steadily decline in performance and production over the past three or four seasons.  Now with a new season underway and Eastern Conference that looks to be pretty wide open save for the first two spots which have been conceded to the +Cleveland Cavaliers, who have welcomed back their hometown hero, +LeBron James, and the +Chicago Bulls, who also welcome back a finally healthy +Derrick Rose after two straight years of sitting on the sidelines nursing injuries.  Unfortunately this is not the same Eastern Conference as last season as the Hawks will find themselves once again trying to claw its way to the post season, but this time they will not be so lucky and their once proud playoff streak will finally come at an end.

For starters, the Eastern Conference has greatly upgraded in terms of the quality of competition thanks to the not only of James' return to Cleveland, but the arrival of Western Conference alumnus +Kevin Love, who will be joining both Lebron and incumbent all star +Kyrie Irving  to form one of the most terrifying three man tandems in the league.  And despite losing their one time savior, the +Miami HEAT, also will remain a strong force in the East as the team retained to of its once mighty "Big Three" re-signing both +Dwyane Wade and +Chris Bosh, as well as bringing in quality free agents during the off season to offset the loss of Lebron in +Loul Deng and +Danny Granger.  In addition to Heat, the Hawk's two other divisional rivals, the +Washington Wizards and the newly minted +Charlotte Hornets, look to stand in their way once again as the both look to build on their successes last season.  Washington not only returns with the same team that shocked the Bull beating them in the first round of the playoffs, has also bolstered its roster by adding more size to an already imposing front court with the signing of the former Mr. +Kim Kardashian+Kris Humphries, but also the addition a veteran will a championship pedigree in +Paul Pierce.  Charlotte can also pride itself with a rather successful not only in the this summer's NBA Draft with the selections of +Noah Vonleh and +Pj Hairston, but also in free agency, by acquiring one of its sought after prospects, +Lance Stephenson to an already young and talented group.

Sadly for the Hawks, they did not fare as well in what was considered one of the richest and deepest free agent talent pools in recent memory as even their vast amounts of salary cap space did not even make even middle of the range free agents bat an eye.  They were forced to settle with bottom of the barrel players such as Thabo Sefalosha, who is known for his six year tenure with the +Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as his reputation as a defensive stopper.  Although he had the talent and ability to do so Sefalosha, as the majority of his former teammates, was never much of a factor in the Thunder's offense as the ball was dominated by the team's superstar duo of +Kevin Durant and +Russell Westbrook--and that is very unlikely to change with his new team.  At 30 years old, he has virtually no more upside or room to grow as a player after spending he spent career in the shadows and wasting whatever potential he had on a team where he was considered an more of an afterthought than anything else.  Sefalosha will certainly have the opportunity to showcase the skills and versatility that made him such a enticing prospect to be selected thirteenth overall in the 2006 NBA Draft; however, don't expect him to become this hidden treasure that will blossom as Paul Milsap surprising did last season because that time has already passed.

Atlanta did however may have a found a potential diamond in the rough, signing athletic guard Kent Bazemore who showed plenty of promise late last season with the +Los Angeles Lakers as he took advance of the opportunity of playing on a severely depleted injury plagued roster.  In the 23 games that he played with the Lakers, Bazemore posted rather solid averages of 13 points, 3 rebounds, three assists, and a steal per game while shooting .451 from the field with .371 accuracy from the three point line.  The Hawks will certainly appreciate if Bazemore continues where he left off with Los Angeles and he will have plenty of opportunities to do so as he will no longer be buried behind the bench for the last year and a half with the +Golden State Warriors, and at the age of 25, still has plenty of upside to develop into a special player.  And even if he does not become that hidden gem that he is certainly projected of being, Bazemore can still be seen as a low cost, low risk but high reward commodity for the Hawks, who they can either trade away or waive if things do not work out.  Neverless, even at their potential best, neither Bazemore, Sefalosha, their first round pick Adrien Payne, or anyone else for that matter will get the Hawks for an eighth straight playoff appearance because the odds are so stacked against them.

As if it were not rough enough to enter the season already at fourth place in its division with the return of perennial playoff contenders in the Heat, Hornets and Wizards, plus the resurgent team in the Bulls and Cavs entering the scene the Hawks also have to tangle with six more teams who are equally matched if not better than they are.  The +Toronto Raptors will definitely look to maintain their position as the top of its Atlantic Division, and the +New York Knicks, a team that has greatly improved in the off season with a new look and new attitude, will look to silence any doubters who think that they will not be able to reach the .500 mark, let alone the post season.  The +Indiana Pacers, despite losing their star Paul George for the season, still remains a formidable opponent in the East as they still return with one of the league's most stingiest defenses and after seven years of hibernation, the +Detroit Pistons will look to also rise up again to playoff contention thanks to the leadership and guidance of its new coach/GM, Stan Van Gundy.  Let's not forget about the +Brooklyn Nets, whom despite their rather bloated payroll and even more broken down roster, will definitely look to keep themselves afloat the same way as they did last season, and an up and coming team in the +Milwaukee Bucks who sport two superstars in the making in +Jabari Parker and +Giannis Antetokounmpo.  Altogether, there will be ten teams, including the Hawks, that will vie for the six remaining playoff berths in the Eastern Conference, with four of them--namely the Knicks, Pacers, Pistons and Bucks--battling to capture the last available playoff spot that Atlanta looks to procure by the end of the regular season.   

Sad to say, but it looks as if all that will be too much too handle for the Hawks, whom for years had the relatively poor state of the Eastern Conference to credit for its long status as a member of the East's Playoff club for the past seven years.  It will go without saying that Atlanta will simply not just fold at these insurmountable odds, but the pressure of being squeezed at all size will certainly crush this fading team that has seen its post season grip wear down with each passing season.  As it stands now, there is no way that this team can get any better or even improve  from its 38 win season, even with the return of Al Horford, the team's star player who had been lost for the season after playing just 29 games.  To have him, or any of his fellow starters, shoulder the burden of carrying this team into the playoffs would be severely unfair and to even think they can is even more delusional. This season may the the proverbial straw that will break the camel's back thus forcing the Hawks to tear everything down and start rebuilding from scratch.