30 teams in 36 or so days: Atlanta Hawks
September 12th, 2007
Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Players acquired via draft:
First round: Al Horford (3rd overall), Acie Law IV (11th overall)
Royal Ivey (unsigned), Slava Medvedenko (unsigned), Esteban Batista (unsigned)
The Hawks got lucky, I think they would admit that. The Joe Johnson trade of 2005 left the Hawks owing two first-round picks to Phoenix. One of these had already been conveyed, and was used to select Rajon Rondo last year, whom Phoenix then stupidly sold to Boston. The other pick was still outstanding headed into this summer, and was only top three protected, meaning that Atlanta had to win a top three spot in the lottery.
They did this, despite only having the fourth-worst record and thus only the fourth-most chances of moving up (I say “only”, but that’s enough to make it a statistical improbability). For that, they should be thankful – had they not done so, they would have had a mediocre roster, with only an MLE and the #11 pick to work with to improve it. And that would not have been fun. Ironically, the three teams with worse records than Atlanta – Milwaukee, Boston, Memphis – all failed to move up, thus proving the worthlessness of statistical probability in the face of blind luck.
(Incidentally, the #11 pick itself was also subject to changes in the lottery – the pick was Indiana’s as a part of the Al Harrington deal last summer, and had top ten protection on it. Had Indiana moved up in the lottery, Atlanta would not have gotten it, and had Indiana moved up into Atlanta’s place moving Atlanta out of the top three, Atlanta would have had no first-rounder at all this year. Which would have been bad.)
Despite that little bit of sorely-needed good fortune, things could have been so much more profitable for Atlanta this offseason, were it not for a few things not quite falling their way. As welcome as it was to move up to the number three spot, the position is something of an anti-climax in this ‘two superstars’ draft: it only needed one more spot, and Atlanta had either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant to call their own. And if Billy Knight hadn’t decided last year that the holy trinity of Speedy Claxton, Lorenzen Wright and Anthony Johnson was so valuable that it was worth spending nearly $12.5 million on next year (and, in the case of Johnson, also costing the Hawks their 2007 second-round pick), Atlanta would also have had maximum cap room this offseason.
So that’s a bugger.
(That trio, by the way, combined to score 597 points on 658 shots for Atlanta last year, on a scintillating 39% shooting, topped off by 54% from the free throw line. And they aren’t there for their defence. Wright is now a third-string centre, and Claxton and Johnson are fighting it out for the third and fourth string point guard spots. Feisty!)
Still, regardless of what mistakes had been made prior, General Manager Billy Knight made the correct picks with his two first-rounders. Needing a young power forward/centre with an inside scoring game, and a point guard who could distribute the ball and play some defence, Knight chose Horford and Law. The two not only figure to be a good young tandem to add to an already highly talented young core of players, but they also sound like a very believable name for an accounting company. And that’s what matters, really.
Seemingly working to a budget, with both Josh Smith and Josh Childress to have their extensions (if signed) kick in next season, the Hawks haven’t made any roster moves outside of these draft picks. With 14 roster spots filled with guaranteed contracts, the Hawks didn’t have a lot of room to play around anyway. The only sub-plot to develop from the Hawks offseason has been surrounding the man himself, Esteban Batista.
Left unrestricted by the Hawks, Batista has attracted a modicum of interest around the league, largely based off of his performances in the FIBA Tournament this summer. It sure wasn’t for his performances in his first two seasons in the NBA – Batista played 576 minutes in his two seasons and 70 games with the Hawks, the majority of which came in garbage time. Given my undue and inexplicable love for deep bench basketball players and the garbage time in which they shine, I endeavoured to try and watch every single minute in which he played, and came fairly close to doing so. All Batista managed to demonstrate to NBA standard was his rebounding positional sense, and good strength. Everything else was lacking.
The NBA game looked too quick. And yet now, he’s hot property, due to his fine performances on the big stage as Uruguay’s personal one-man show. Maybe he got better or something. Or maybe I’m just wrong about stuff. That would a fair comment.
Last season, I pencilled the Hawks in for roughly 38-40 wins. I did not document this anywhere, which was probably best, given that they missed this mark by the worryingly large margin of 10 games.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see why they did so. Never a particularly deep roster to begin with, only one Hawks player managed to play over 72 games (Shelden Williams with 81), and even All-Star Joe Johnson’s consecutive games streak ending at 376, playing in only 57 contests for the year. Additionally, the unmitigated disaster that was the signings of Claxton and Wright did not help anyone, nor did the deadline trade for Anthony Johnson. Point guard play all season long was a massive weakness, as you would expect from any team which featured Tyronn Lue as its best, most consistent option at the position. And the back-up centre soap opera continued to disappoint with no real resolution to be found.
Despite all of what went wrong, though, I don’t believe that a similar prediction for next year would be too out of the question. Point guard remains a concern – Claxton’s knees may never be good again, and who knows how well or how quickly Law adjusts – but the Hawks should have more luck with injuries this year, and they also have an extremely talented roster, something often overlooked. With a line-up scheduled to feature Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Shelden Williams, Horford + Law Ltd, Josh Childress, Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams, Atlanta boasts a young rotation full of talented players who continue to improve, and who have mostly been together for quite a while now. While as a team they continue to struggle for consistency, their talent level counts for quite a lot, and having young role players like Salim Stoudamire and Solomon Jones on hand too is a further bonus.
Although they’ve had to trawl through some hard times, some bad luck and some mismanagement to get there, the Hawks have wound up with a core of players that almost every team in the NBA, bar about six, would dearly swap with. And that counts for a lot.
It just should have been better.
I am continuously intrigued by the esoterica and minutiae of all the aspects of building a basketball team. I want to understand how to build the best basketball teams possible. No, I don’t know why, either.
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