Atlanta Hawks: First Impression

Now that the Hawks have played three games (and I’ve seen two of them), I would like to give my first impressions. They are 1-2, in the midst of a brutal season-opening stretch, and would be in a great shape if they can emerge from the first 10 games with 5 victories. Some individual observations:

The Hawks are a team of cliches:

  • “this guy’s contributions don’t show up on the stat sheet, but he’s very valuable”
  • “this team needs a leader”
  • “you don’t even notice this guy throughout the game, and then it’s over and he’s got 16/7/7

Mario West is like that guy that the other team always has; that pesky, annoying guy that seems to be in the middle of every play…fulfills that cliché of “doing things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” like Darrell Armstrong. His defensive stop of Richard Jefferson as time was running out at the end of the first half was just great to see. With all of that being said, West is also like that guy that jumps from team to team, like Darrell Armstrong, because it’s hard to justify keeping him. It’s very hard to quantify what he contributes, which is crucial in today’s stat-driven age. So, enjoy him for this season, folks, because he probably won’t be here next year.

Someone must emerge as a leader for the Hawks. When they were in the middle of a 24-8 run by the Nets to end the 3rd quarter, that’s a prime example of when a leader is needed to say “Okay, fuck this. I’m gonna handle this. Get me the ball.” The obvious choice is Joe Johnson. But he has a tendency to fade into the background, like he did last night vs. the Nets. Josh Smith? Too young…but he does exhibit that tendency to drive the dagger into teams with his three-point shooting. Who knows who it will be? It just needs to be someone. My guess is Smith.

Josh Childress is one of those guys that you don’t really notice throughout the game. Then, you look up, and he’s filled the stat sheet. He’s the anti-Mario West, if you will. He’s the definition of a slasher, and he plays the role very well. He can finish, he can draw the foul, and he can kick it back out.

Marvin Williams is looking like he’s grown up a great deal. However, he is still flashing signs of immaturity. Just as I was noticing that he only had one foul midway through the 2nd quarter (he exhibited a propensity for foul trouble last year), he got whistled for two quick fouls. Again in the 4th quarter, he got two more quick fouls, and had to go to the bench with 9:50 left in the game. This contributed to him only scoring 13 points in the game, after he started out with 11 in the first quarter.

Horford is living up to every bit of praise lavished upon him thus far. He truly does look “polished.” Sure, he makes mistakes here and there (putting the ball on the floor a little too much) but by and large, he’s at the level of a 3rd year NBA player. However, he sucks at shooting free throws, which isn’t good for a big man (0-4 last night, 4-10 on the young season). He shot around 60% in college…because of their lack of low-post scoring, the Hawks really need him to do better than that.

The Hawks defensive rotation is still developing. There are times when it works out great, and times where they’re a step slow. And it’s not a lack of physical speed…it’s that split second where they have to think, where their reactionary time is crucial. They don’t quite have it yet. They’ll get it though, and when they do, look out.

We’ve got Ty Lue running the point in crunch time. If we could get anyone else in that role (or if Acie Law develops into that role) again, look out. Law started the game for the Hawks, and helped to establish a good offensive pace. But he’s not quite yet ready for prime time. And T-Lue never was.

Joe Johnson played a horrible game, which says a lot for the Hawks that they were still in it right to the end. He woke up a little in the second half with 13 points, after putting up just 2 in the first. But his poor shooting and perceived listless attitude will make it difficult for the Hawks to defeat anyone. He’s their all-star. He should start acting like it.

It scares me that this game reminded me of a lot of games last year–we were clearly overmatched, but our sheer athleticism kept us in the game. However, our lack of a leader (and of experience in general) kept us from wrapping it up. Let’s hope that once Zaza Pachulia and Lorenzen Wright return, our rotation can go a little deeper, and enable guys like Smith and Horford to have a little more energy in the 4th quarter, as it looked like they were a step slow in grabbing loose balls and chasing down rebounds late in the game.

Let’s give the team some time to gel. They’ve thrust two rookies into crucial starting roles, and everyone will need to adjust. The guess here is that they’ll make that adjustment, and continue on the road to the 2008 playoffs.

-ASF

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