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Enemy: Atlanta Hawks
3SOB Prediction: 43-39

Photo: Brett Davis / USA Today Sports

What’s the Next Step for Atlanta?

The Hawks have been a rising team for so long they are now old but have never gotten over the hump despite some talented players. This year’s team seems likely to continue the habit of being good but not advancing far in the playoffs.

Last year’s disappointing 38-44 record ended on a high note as they gave top seeded Indiana all they could handle in the first round. The Hawks actually led 3-2 before falling in 7 games. Paul Milsap and Jeff Teague led the Hawks in the playoffs with both averaging 19+ PPG but their lack of a true 3rd scorer and the lack of a legitimate big down the stretch cost them the series.

The Hawks don’t have to change a lot however. The record from last season can be explained partially by the loss of star big man Al Horford after a mere 25 games. The Hawks won’t be a large team but they will be difficult to handle combining solid position interior players like Horford and breakout star Paul Milsap with perimeter players like Teague, Kyle Korver, Mike Scott and Former Grizzlies draft pick DeMare Carroll.

Former Spurs Assistant Coach Mike Budenholzer brought over the Spurs motion offense and when the team was healthy looked like a potential 3rd seed in the East. The Hawks rely on outside shooting (2nd in the league in 3 pt attempts)and ball movement (2nd in the league in assists) but their lack of interior size hurt the team last season (28th in the league in rebounding). Surprisingly despite losing their interior force the Hawks managed to remain respectable on defense finishing 15th in the league in points per game allowed.

If the Hawks can remain healthy, continue to adopt Budenholzer’s offense and continue their hard pressing defense Atlanta should be back in the playoffs with ease and a tough matchup in the 1st round for most teams.

What are they cooking with?

The Hawks are a perimeter offensive team with two solid big men who can stretch the floor somewhat and know how to rebound. In many ways the Hawks represent a smaller version of what the Grizzlies want to become.

Horford and Milsap are not as big as Gasol and Randolph but they are quicker. The Hawks have size behind their starters with 1st round draft pick Adreian Payne (6-10, 245) adding size sorely missing last season. He’ll compete with Gustavo Ayon and Pero Antic for backup minutes in the post. Mike Muscala, a second round draft pick last season, has looked promising at times as well.

Jeff Teague is the Hawks Mike Conley. He is fast and can get into the paint and create or shoot but his perimeter shot (32.9% last season) needs to improve to be a real threat. Teams will attempt to play off Teague and surrender the perimeter shot to keep him out of the lane. Backing up Teague are veteran Shelvin Mack and interesting prospect Dennis Schroder. Schroder has looked impressive playing for Germany over the summer but how well that translates to the NBA is still anyone’s guess.

The Hawks have a perimeter sharp shooter in Kyle Korver. He’s the best long range threat in the league but does little defensively and can’t create his own shot. Any team leaving him unmarked will get punished however. Thabo Sefolosha was signed to a 3 year deal this summer from OKC and will provide better defense on the perimeter when needed. Former Vandy guard John Jenkins returns after missing most of last season with a back injury and feels he needs to prove himself this season.

Mike Scott was re-signed after an impressive season last year. Scott improved his 3 point shooting last year and nearly doubled his scoring as well. The Hawks are hoping he can continue that development this season. Another pleasant surprise was the play of DeMarre Carroll. Carroll hit 36% of his 3 pt shots and took nearly 4 a game proving it wasn’t a fluke. Always a tenacious defender, Carroll’s improved offense was a big factor in the Hawks playoff run.

This team should be competitive every night and probably can reach the 2nd round of the playoffs but they don’t appear talented or tall enough to make any real noise in the playoffs.

How do the good guys stack up?

Photo: Brett Davis / USA Today Sports

The Vibe Behind Enemy Lines

To venture into the Hawks-centric viewpoint on the upcoming matchups between Memphis and Atlanta, we have enlisted the help of ESPN TrueHoop Hawks blogger Bo Churney, whose work you can check out at the always-entertaining HawksHoop.

Bo Churney: When the Hawks see the Grizzlies coming up, they should realize that they will be facing a team that matches up well to their strengths. The Grizzlies defend well at every position, which is a good way to start to neutralize the Hawks’ pass-heavy offense. A positive for the Hawks, they will have a day off before both games against the Grizzlies as a way to prepare for the physicality that Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen bring.

The Grizzlies won both matchups last season, but both games came after a very important date; both were after Al Horford tore his pectoral muscle, which sidelined him for the rest of the season. The addition of Horford back into the lineup will be a huge factor, as he provides a lot of versatility on both ends of the court. The Hawks also added significant depth during the offseason, bringing in Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore, re-signing Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott, and drafting 3-point shooting forward/center Adreian Payne from Michigan State.

However, all of that is moot, as Memphis made the game-changing move of adding noted Hawks killer Vince Carter to their roster. Seriously, look up Carter’s career averages against the Hawks; they’re insane.

While the immediate frenzy surrounding these games may be centered around the the Millsap/Horford – Randolph/Gasol duos, these games will likely be decided by what goes on in an excellent point guard matchup of Jeff Teague vs. Mike Conley. Conley is an often underrated cog in both Memphis’ offensive and defensive schemes, and he will likely push Teague to his upper limit. If Conley can take advantage of Teague — who has been a poor defender the past few seasons — then that will likely give the Grizzlies the edge they need over the Hawks. If Teague can match Conley’s efforts on both ends, then the favor likely swings more towards the Hawks.

Until, of course, that damn Vince Carter shows up and saves the day for [insert whatever team he’s on while playing the Hawks here].

The Vibe at 3 Shades of Blue

Matthew Noe: Oh, Hawks. You’re always around the last week of April. You’re never around the last week of May. “Mired in mediocrity” was coined for you.

Yes, I’m aware that the Grizzlies could stand to look in a mirror were they to use such a phrase to describe another team.

Let’s look at the Hawks and see how they match up with our beloved Grizzlies.

Coaches-both still freshly minted NBA head guys, both with good defensive pedigrees (although no one would differ with the assessment that Budenholzer has perhaps the best available defensive pedigree in basketball). Both had some issues last season learning to properly use the weapons at their disposal, but both managed to salvage decent seasons.

Both will face heightened expectations this season, but for different reasons-Bud will be expected to get the Hawks out of the aforementioned mire because he’s got Payne, Schroeder, Millsap, and the usual collection of athletic guys to get the Hawks up and down the court. Joerger will be facing the microscope that comes with the whole “CDJ’s goin’ to Minny, oh no wait, now he and Pera see perfectly eye to eye” situation, and he’ll also be looking to exceed last season’s fifty-win mark due to that old chestnut “roster consistency”. The case could be made that Joerger has more weapons at his disposal (we’ll examine those assets in a moment)…but who can maintain health?

The backcourts: Jeff Teague is, to put it bluntly, a shadow of what Mike Conley has become. Conley is a bigger threat from outside, is a better defender on and off the ball, and is a better floor director. Conley gives up perhaps a bit to Teague as far as pure athleticism, but it’s hard to find another area in which Teague could outdo MC11. Perhaps the coolest aspect of watching the Hawks/Grizzlies backcourts will be to see a)who the Grizzlies put on Korver as a game progresses and b)how much success they have staying with him through the minotaur-maze of screens the Hawks will surely set for him. Hard to speculate about particulars, as the Grizzlies’ wing logjam could be “resolved” before the start of the season, but gotta figure TA will be getting to know Korver all over again for stretches.

The frontcourts: Al Horford is awesome. No two ways about it. If he can just stay healthy, his presence alone will make life tougher for Hawks opponents, including the Grizzlies. If Pero Antic (I wanna see an MMA match between him and Nikola Pekovic!) can drag Zbo away from the hoop, it’ll be tough for Marc Gasol to contain Horford on both ends. Can’t think that ZBo will spend all that much time on Horford, but who knows. The Grizzlies might think that Gasol’s defensive versatility might be better used chasing Antic around. Millsap is another strech-ish big man (maybe more stretchy than he should try to be) who could present problems for the Grizzlies-he’s too big for Leuer (although Leuer’s height advantage will help him) and a bit mobile for Koufos.

When Do They Square Off?

1/7/15 — Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA — 6:30 PM CST
2/8/15 — FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN — 5:00 PM CST

What Do Y’all Think?

Cast your vote below and reach out to the 3SOB Team on Twitter to discuss more on the matchup!

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