If you like watching the Spurs, you’re gonna loooove the Hawks. Or at least that’s one way to try to sell fans on this team, which has one of the most empty and depressing stadiums in basketball despite a fairly long period of success with 7 straight playoff appearances. If you don’t really like watching the Spurs, and think that adopting a team with even quieter, lesser-known players is going to be somewhat boring, I would say that you are absolutely right and that this is not the squad for you.
Atlanta does boast a fairly good team, and looked like the clearcut #3 in the East last year, behind the Heat and Pacers, before losing their best player C Al Horford to a pectoral injury. Between Horford and frontcourt mate Paul Millsap, the Hawks have a very versatile big man duo that can cut, pass, and shoot mid-range jumpers (and in Millsap’s case 3 pointers) very competently. This made it easy for 1st year coach Mike Budenholzer to institute a motion-based offensive system very similar to the one in San Antonio, where he was an assistant to Gregg Popovich for many years.
After losing Horford, Budenholzer adapted by loading 3 point shooting into every position. He already had the record-setter for consecutive makes and professional derp Kyle Korver at the SF position and unleashed recently signed Macedonian center, Pero Antic to play an ultimate big floor-stretching role. There are very few players in the NBA who can realistically play the 5 and also shoot 3s at a decent clip (Kevin Love, Spencer Hawes, anyone else?) and Antic gave the Pacers nightmares during their first round play-off series as Roy Hibbert was far too slow to run out to the 3 point line and contest his shots.
Even with all the shooting, though, and a disciplined offense, this is just not an exciting team to watch. Their uniforms are a drab dark blue, you can’t tell if anyone is actually cheering at their home games, and, most importantly, they lack a truly explosive player (though this may change with new signee Kent Bazemore leading the league in bench celebrations).
Their very modest offseason in which they grabbed Thabo Sefolosha from the Thunder and sent Lou Williams over to the Raptors was completely mired by a leaked report of GM Danny Ferry using the entirely questionable adjective “African” to describe Luol Deng. Other NBA stars, including Carmelo Anthony, have gone on record to say that this made Atlanta even less of a desirable location for free-agents, so we are likely looking at a team that will continue to do what it has always done: make the playoffs, lose in the first or second round, and then disappear from our minds completely.
X-Factor= Al Horford
Credit their coach with re-engineering his team to survive the loss of its best player and still qualify for the postseason. However, if Atlanta wants to get there again it will need a strong performance and a sustained year of playing from their big man. Horford is one of the most underrated centers in the game and is a strong double-threat with his shooting and post moves. A full year of working with the All-Star Paul Millsap should really improve both of their games.