Atlanta Hawks roster: Fight or flight?

5-on-5: Taking measure if a consistently good team will ever become excellent

Originally Published: December 6, 2011
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network

Joe JohnsonKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIs this the season that Joe Johnson and the Hawks challenge for the top spot in the East?

Will the Hawks make a fourth straight trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals? Does this team have what it takes to make the next step?

John Hollinger gave his take on each player on the club. Now our 5-on-5 crew weighs in on what lies ahead for Atlanta in 2011-12.

1. For which Hawks player is the 2011-12 season most important?



Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Jeff Teague. Mike Bibby's gone, Jamal Crawford probably won't be re-signed, and Kirk Hinrich will miss at least the first month of the season so Teague will get his first taste of regular playing time. If he struggles, it's unlikely he'll get a second chance with this franchise.

Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Marvin Williams. He may be six years into his NBA career, but we haven't seen much growth at all from the 25-year-old. He came into the league full of promise, and was given a sizable role from day one. Yet Williams never capitalized on all of that opportunity, and his time in Atlanta is running out. Williams may never again see an NBA situation this forgiving, and if he has any hopes for moving his career forward, he needs to show some progress this season.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: Josh Smith is still the most important player on the Hawks roster. Yes he's inconsistent, yes at times he's Derrick Coleman-like in the way he squanders his talent, but he still has that elusive ability to completely dominate a game on both ends of the floor.

J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: With rumors swirling around Josh Smith's interest in potentially relocating, J-Smoove may need to change his approach on offense to boost his trade value and make himself more attractive to the rest of the league. His athleticism and his contributions on defense are well documented, but improved decision-making could help him punch his ticket out of town.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Josh Smith. It's time that this immensely athletic, supremely talented forward perform to his perennial All-Star capabilities. Joe Johnson is the man with the Powerball-type contract, but Smith is the player on the roster who is most responsible for how far -- or how far short -- the Hawks go in terms of becoming a series threat in the East. It's his hometown. In many ways, it's his team. And it's well past his time to deliver.


2. Who is the most intriguing player on the Hawks' roster?



Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Pape Sy. Sy had played less than 500 professional minutes over three seasons when the Hawks drafted him and struggled mightily in the D-League last season but has been excellent for an 8-1 Gravelines-Dunkerque team in France this season, averaging 11.9 points while playing just 15 minutes a game.

Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: The Hawks rightly turn Hollinger into a broken record: Joe Johnson "struggles to get by [his] defender," Jamal Crawford "rarely attacks the paint," and Kirk Hinrich "rarely attacks [the] rim or breaks down [the] D." With all of that in mind, I'm most intrigued by Jeff Teague -- a "quick, scoring-minded guard who can get to the basket and draw fouls."

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: Assuming he stays, Jamal Crawford is the most intriguing. As Hollinger indicated, he rebounds poorly, plays matador defense and isn't adept at getting to the rim. But the guy can drop 15-20 points in the fourth quarter, allow his man to do the same, and then hit the game-winning shot.

J.M. Poulard, Warriorsworld: At some point, one wonders if the Hawks players will realize that Al Horford is arguably the best player on the team and that he should get more opportunities on offense given his solid basketball IQ as well as his efficient scoring ability.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: I'm going with the guy who's name rhymes with 'intrigue.' None other than Jeff Teague. When he took over for then-injured Kirk Hinrich in the playoffs last season, Teague made the most of his opportunity and proved that he should be the point guard of the present and future for the Hawks. Teague has everything you need at the position with the exception of extended experience. The question is whether the Hawks hand him the keys from the outset.


3. What's the most surprising take in Hollinger's Hawks profiles?



Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Describing Josh Powell as having good defensive fundamentals. I've never seen someone defend the high pick-and-roll like Powell did last season, closing out hard past the screener and getting his hips perpendicular to the baseline, thus letting both offensive players get between him and the basket.

Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: I was a little surprised by the contrast in foul-drawing ability between Atlanta's two most prominent centers. Al Horford's versatile game tends to make his free throw rate a bit of an afterthought, but averaging only 0.20 free throw attempts per field goal attempt is pretty dreadful. On the other end of the spectrum, Zaza Pachulia quietly parades to the free throw line night after night. His FT totals are still low in the league-wide sense, but when we account for the context of minutes and usage, Pachulia is a certifiable foul-drawing machine.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: Although they are just projections, Hollinger has estimated that nine players on that roster will average at least 10 points. This would seemingly indicate that the Hawks pass the eye test as a deep, talented team that should be feared, but that is not the case.

J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: Jamal Crawford is as judicious in his shot selection as Allen Iverson; which consequently translates into low field goal percentage figures. No surprise there. But Crawford's inability to help his teammates out on the defensive end as well his shoddy rebounding rate are surprising and down right unforgivable.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: You could have given me a hundred guesses and I would have never figured that Al Horford led the league last season in field goal percentage from 16 to 23 feet, even beating out Dirk Nowitzki. It also means he's a power forward/center who excels offensively much further away from the basket than the Hawks need or would really like him to. Maybe Al's really a stretch four and not the rugged, bruising power player everyone wants him to be.


4. Based on Hollinger's profiles, what do the Hawks need most?



Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Players who can create or convert higher percentage shots: at the rim, beyond the arc, and by getting to the foul line. It's really difficult to be consistently productive with an offense built around two-point jump shots.

Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: A more functional offense. Atlanta has plenty of offensive talent, but little cohesion. What Atlanta needs more than anything is better possession allocation, better decision making, and a magical way to make all of their pieces fit together seamlessly. Unfortunately, I don't think that kind of concord can be picked up in free agency with the mid-level exception.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: The Hawks need another low-post scorer off the bench. Pachulia, Etan Thomas, Hilton Armstrong and Jason Collins are respectable defenders/agitators, but they don't have to be accounted for on offense. When Crawford and Hinrich spell Joe Johnson and Teague off the bench, they'll need the help of a big man who allows them to take more open shots.

J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Steve Nash. Atlanta was dead last in shot attempts at the rim last season because of an overreliance on midrange jump shots; consequently they need another player capable of creating high percentage shots for himself and for the terrific group of finishers on the Hawks roster.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: If Jamal Crawford departs in free agency, the obvious need would be for a boost off the bench. But a much more simplistic need is for some consistency. You never know what to expect from these Hawks. They are good enough and scary enough defensively to give anyone in the East problems. But the Jekyll and Hyde act destroys this team. The element of the unknown is mind-boggling. It's almost as if no one has a definitive role or is willing to accept one.


5. Will a shortened season help or hurt the Hawks?



Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Hurt. Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams might physically benefit from the late start to the season but the team's lack of depth will pose problems during the compacted schedule.

Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Neither. Expect the same old Hawks in the year to come, with few roster additions, minimal adjustment, and the same, consistent results. It's hard to see how the post-lockout conditions would impact Atlanta all that much; a shortened season doesn't much affect the current core's solid (but underwhelming) standing, one way or the other.

Rashad Mobley, Truth About It: The answer is neither. Whether there are 66 or 82 games being played, it isn't difficult to write the script for the Hawks. They'll have an above-average regular season, they'll get a 5- or 6-seed, they'll be world beaters in their initial playoff series, and have an unceremonious exit in the second one.

J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: Help. The condensed schedule should favor teams with relatively young players given their ability to play heavy minutes and recover quicker than most veteran teams. Save for Joe Johnson, every Hawks projected starter is 26 years old or younger and thus could take advantage of some older teams, especially when opponents are coming off of back-to-backs.

Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Most definitely help. These guys get bored quickly. They're also as streaky as they come in the league. So the hope for the Hawks is that with a shortened season, there will be fewer stretches of complacency and more night-to-night focus. Make the season a 66-game sprint instead of an 82-game grind, and you might not find a team with better legs to play a coast-to-coast brand of basketball than the high-flying Hawks. That's if they stay interested.