Wing Clipped Again?

Posted by By at 27 March, at 12 : 20 PM Print

The Atlanta Hawks defeated the New Jersey Nets last night to lock up a playoff spot, and most likely a first-round matchup with the Orlando Magic. While their place in this year’s playoffs was already a near certainty before the game even took place, the formality of making it official hardly seems to be a positive. That probably has more to do with the way the Hawks are heading into playoffs more than anything. In taking a look at their playoff record the last 3 years I can’t say I’m overly excited to see them in the playoffs, but they’re there so I don’t have much of a choice at this point.

As much of an enigma as any team the league the Hawks are almost impossible to figure out. The positives include 3/5 of a starting lineup that has as much talent as any three teammates in the league when they’re on. Then there’s Jamal Crawford, who could start for just about any other team in the league with the exception of a handful, but comes off the bench and plays almost starters minutes. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where they end.

Joe Johnson’s game is as smooth as any wing player in the league. It almost reminds you of his name. There’s nothing spectacular about it, but at the end of the game you look at the box score and see his 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and are left asking yourself if you even remembered seeing any of them? Whether he’s shooting a jumper or driving to the hoop, everything he does on the floor looks so easy, like he’s not even breaking a sweat.

I watch Josh Smith and I instantly think of a younger Lamar Odom, a player who appears to have all of the tools to be a top 5 player in the league, if he wants to. Last year it looked as though he was well on his way. A menace on defense, who regularly registers enough blocks and steals to make you think one day he’s going to win a Defense Player of the Year award, he finally looked to be grasping the notion of using his athletic ability in the post instead of letting it waste away on the perimeter shooting 3′s. After attempting 152 treys in 2007 he cut that number all the way down 7 last year. In looking at his career stats from beyond the arc that almost looks like a typo, but I assure you it’s not. Then this year he attempted 7 in the first 7 games. There went super efficient Josh, and back came same old Josh.

Al Horford is the low-post version of Joe Johnson, almost exactly. He’s 3 inches taller and only 5 pounds heavier according to the Hawks media guide. Adept at using his left or right hand in the post or his near automatic baseline jumper, he’s got an assortment of moves at his disposal to use to get his points. Watching him rebound almost reminds you of Kevin Love. He’s not a high flyer, but always seems to be in the right position no matter where the ball comes off the rim.

One of the bigger problems with the Hawks is that after those three,  Kirk Hinirich, and Crawford there’s little-to-no depth, which doesn’t leave much room for foul trouble or injuries. Speaking of injuries, Joe Johnson left last night’s game with a thumb injury, which would force Crawford into the starting lineup at shooting guard and leave who to come off the bench? That question wasn’t rhetorical. Can you really name anyone on the Hawks bench if you’re not a Hawks fan? In his 6th year, Marvin Williams’ game looks almost the same as it did when he was drafted. I’m thinking we should’ve seen a bit more improvement by now. Zaza Pachulia has had a few good games here and there, but 4 points and 4 rebounds isn’t going to get it done on most nights. Jeff Teague looks like he will be someday be pretty good, but his minutes are limited so the sampling size is small. That’s the extent of the Hawks rotation with the exception of the odd appearance by Jason Collins, Damien Wilkins, or Josh Powell.

Other than Hinrich and Crawford, the core is the same group that lost to Boston in the first round in 2008, lost to Cleveland in the second round in 2009, and lost to Orlando in the second round last year. But this year was supposed to be different. Wasn’t it? I mean they got rid of Mike Woodson, who increased his win total every year from 2004 to last year, in favor of Larry Drew. Okay, so we’ve already gone over the playoff shortcomings, but last time I checked Larry Drew had never held a head coaching position, let alone make it to the playoffs. So out went Mike Woodson’s isolate that centered around Joe Johnson and in came Drew’s motion offense which was supposed to get everyone more involved. Field goal percentage wise not much has changed. Atlanta shot 46.8% last year and are shooting 46.2% this year. They’re scoring less though, down from 101.7 points per last year, to 95.3 this year. So, to this point, that experiment doesn’t really appear to be working too well.

It’s generally a good idea to be playing your best ball at the end of the season so you go into the playoffs with momentum. A 6-6 February and a 4-8 record so far in March doesn’t sound like the way you want to end the season. There’s still 11 games left to right the ship and build some positive momentum to head into the playoffs with, but I’m wondering will that even help? In recent games it seems like the crowds at Philips Arena are either 50/50 or even rooting more for the opponent at times. There goes home court advantage. There just doesn’t seem to be enough there to make me think that this year’s playoff run will be any different than the last three. The way things are going now, a second round exit would be a surprise, mostly because it would mean they won their first round series.

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  1. Mikee, 9 years ago Reply

    These Hawks appear to be playing the underdog role right now. I have a feeling that they are going to surprise a team in the first round. JJ, Horford, Crawford, Smith and now with Hinrich are a serious squad. I wouldnt take them lightly

  2. JonnyP, 9 years ago Reply

    ATL. What else can I say about them Gordon but they are a bucnh of chokers. They always have a great regular season record then choke in th eplayoffs. I expect it again this year.

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