After being accused of being a Premiere SourPuss over at Peachtree Hoops yesterday, we turn to the more light hearted assessment section of the Season Preview, a quick look at the five (likely) starters for the Birds in 2009-2010.
So You've Decided to Be an NBA Starter:
Al Horford is a Gator...and this one fact buys plenty of good will when it comes to reviewing, watching, explaining, or anything to do with his game. We love his enthusiasm, athleticism, and all of his intangibles.
He is a very good rebounder and has good timing on shot blocks. He can run the floor better than any center in the East and finishes with what the children in THHB's neighborhood call "authority." He flexes muscles, he shouts at perennial all-stars, and he does all the little things (if you call setting proper picks, moving without the ball offensively, etc. "little") that any club would want a Top 3 pick to crave doing.
We have long pointed our itchy trigger finger at the offensive philosophies of Coach Woodson as a reason for Horford's relative absence on the offensive end. At Florida, he showed he can score from the post---In Atlanta, we've seen bits and pieces of that, but his two seasons with the club, one has to classify such events as "cameos." We've argued that he has been relegated to nothing more than a clean-up-on-aisle-seven fellow in Woody's eyes and therefore has been stunted in his growth as an NBA big man, especially given his offensive gifts.
But, as our Ebenezer Scrooge like Season Preview pointed out, this is unlikely to change. The post is a gimmick in Woodson's perimeter friendly offense, so this is probably an area that will not improve. Horford has little control over this, but we believe that there are places he can make further impact on the offensive end.
Horford sometimes wallflowers on the offensive end, taking his subservient role a little too literally. Horford needs to play with abandon on offense, since it's less likely he would pick up a foul on that end. If he can shed his reserved approach, he can make a serious impact by going stronger to the basket from the post and also not trying to sneak the ball into the hoop, rather, making anybody pay for attempting to distract the ball from going through the rim. We feel we haven't seen the cut-loose Horford yet, the kind of animal that snuck out against the Celtics two seasons ago in the playoffs and then again against the Bulls very early on in last season.
The goal for Al Horford should be to make his presence felt every night he steps on the floor. There were too many games last season where he was just another solid guy---this season needs to be 82+ games of passionate fire on the court from The Godfather.
What Are You Waiting For? Dazzle Me!
In most statistical simulations, there comes a time where potential ceiling for a player's career become par with where he is currently. This usually doesn't occur until someone has played a few seasons in the league and established his baseline.
This might be the last season to push that ceiling up before the baseline is set for Josh Smith.
Sure, there can be tweaks--such as the chatter about eliminating those pesky jump shots, but it's unlikely that Smith will somehow become all-world, or even all-star. We've been waiting to see what he can become---and we may have already seen it.
Now, before that comes across as completely negative, let's add this. What Josh Smith is on nights where he is on it he is a force that can be a steadying as any other on the team. His aggressiveness in regards to deterring shots inside can instantly trigger a break---one in which Smith, with his outstanding speed and ability, can be both initiator and finisher. Offensively last season we saw a player blooming in his ability to finish in a half court set by taking the ball from the wings, head into the lane, and then either draw a foul or finish with a graceful touch around the rim.
Those are the good nights. There are also the bad nights when Smith seems content to stand on certain spots on the floor---as if they had NBA JAM like different point totals underneath where he resided---and launch from the first pass that hits his hands, regardless of whether he could have driven towards the hoop to score in his much more efficient way. It's on those nights defensively where he isn't anywhere to be found inside. Those nights he is erratically jumping passing lanes and leaving the team 4 on 5 until or if Josh gets back into "position." On those nights Smith is a major liability to the Hawks and as the "4" on the team heavily contributes to the Hawks deficiencies on the glass.
THHB feels this is it for Smith. We've long said we wouldn't deal him in a perceived equal value deal, because what he does few can do--and you can't just deal those guys William Nilly. What must be done is to heavily invest in Smith on the nights he has it--and manage his minutes when he doesn't to seem to be locked in.
Here's hoping for a higher ceiling.
He's All Growns Up!
Nobody had a more drastic improvement last season than Marvin Williams. He did it statistically, mentally, and he did so while winning over the fan base with his effort. No moment in the season was more telling than when Marvin returned to the court after missing a few injury plagued weeks. The standing ovation that came was a tribute to what Williams had shown and accomplished in less than a season and what he had become to Bird Watchers.
He made big threes in games--heck, he made threes. He rebounded, ran the floor, got to the line, made his customary mid range shot---he looked like he belonged on the court consistently for the first season in his young career.
The Hawks need him to continue his journey, as his position on the floor requires someone of his skill sets to man. While the won/loss record was alright while he was out, his production and activity on the floor was sorely missed--and understanding that led to the ovation when he returned.
All of that plus his Rubik's Cube abilities, his dumpy walk, and of course, his stunning, all-powerful mustache add up to one of THHB's all-time favorite Hawks and we can't wait to see him back in action.
And Now---The Backcourt
There are games when The Backcourt gets hot from outside and flattens an opponent's resolve. In last season's 3-pt revival, Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson were reverends in the Church of the Long Shot.
The Hawks offense is built around the capability of both guards to score, and Bibby and Johnson do little to shy away from accepting that particular challenge.
Really? Thirty-One Years Old? That's All?
No player makes things more difficult strategically for the Hawks than Mike Bibby. Play him and the defense has to pull together to cover and loses any margin for error given his lack of defensive ability (not effort, ability). Take him out and the Hawks offense loses a prime integral weapon that it needs to succeed; a cold sniper who will make teams pay for leaving him alone.
Bibby also tosses one of the best rim-lobs in the game---and given Smith and Horford's abilities to finish such passes, they make for pretty tasty plays.
There's talk about limiting the number of minutes Mike plays throughout the season, but it will largely depend on how both Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague pick up the slack when he sits. THHB guesses there is a reason why the Hawks felt it necessary to lock him down for (3) more seasons---when you finally get your triggerman for your offense, you ride him until he rides out into the sunset.
Three Time All Star
Miscast as a star, but not as an all-in-one workhorse--Joe Johnson can do anything on the basketball court short of playing all five positions at the same time. It's not the minutes per game that trouble THHB most (although we frown upon it), it's the type of minutes he has to play. Johnson routinely matches up on the toughest defensive assignment, then takes the ball on offense and, in a lot of games, grinds out the production needed on that end. It might say (40) minutes in the box score, but it's (125) in Joe Minutes.
If he were a running back in the NFL, he would be getting 40 carries a game. The Hawks have to find ways to distribute the workload to others to get the most efficient play they can from Joe.
THHB hopes that fans enjoy watching Joe, because he is one of the special players to have worn the Hawks uniform. His late game heroics, his killer sauce, ungodly range, and his give me the ball mentality at any point in the game, and ultimately his production has to be acknowledged and admired.
He is in the last year of his contract and who knows---maybe he will choose to take on a different role with another team next season after wearing the badge of Best Player on the Hawks since his arrival. If so, take a long look this season---what he gives is a lot harder to replace than you might think.
We already pitched in a few bucks to try and get Marvin Williams on Dancing With The Stars, so contributing to Joe's new contract is out of the question. THHB continues the Season Preview with Part Three: The Bench on Wednesday.