Greetings, basketball fans! This week, we at 3 Shades of Blue will be culminating the Assessing the Enemy series by analyzing the Grizzlies’ remaining foes, so be sure to swing by daily to supplement the pre-season action with a look at the opponents lurking in the Southeast Division!
Enemy: Atlanta Hawks
Coach: Larry Drew
Potential Starting 5: Jeff Teague, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith, Al Horford
Other Key Players: Devin Harris, Lou Williams, Deshawn Stevenson, Ivan Johnson, Zaza Pachulia
Threats: Shot-blocking, Post defense, Rebounding, 3pt Shooting
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 1-0
Atlanta Hawks fans, there’s only one way to respond to this past season, and it can be summed up with the eloquence of this statement from long-time reserve big man, Zaza Pachulia. Okay, well not exactly, but the clip is too amusing not to share. This offseason marked the advent of a “remodification,” if you will, of the Hawks roster. The transactions that they engaged in could either provide to be part of the remodeling that they have been sorely in need of exploring in order to remove themselves from the strip their name from the one-and-done purgatory of first round knockouts. Regardless, the liberation from Joe Johnson’s utterly extravagant deal affords the franchise a valuable deal of flexibility, that will prove to be essential in the organization’s attempts to move forward in whichever direction that they desire to, be it building up a bit higher, or burning the roster all the way down and truly rebuilding. If the goal is to propel themselves further in their push for glory, the Hawks must truly believe that they can match the offensive production of the shipped out Johnson. The incoming crop does not have to replicate his output in terms of style or even production for that matter, but they must provide stable definition and reliability at a position that has been locked down for years.
If one thing is true, it is that the Hawks made a commitment to acquiring deadeye shooting over the summer. New acquisitions Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, and draftee John Jenkins all carry with them a stark reputation as incredibly reliable three-point gunners. It’s no secret that Johnson was a very good shooter for them, so clearly they’re trying to compensate here. To be frank, if things go as planned, these guys could end up providing an even better result in that regard, as Korver and Morrow have already proven at the NBA level to be remarkable operators at moving without the ball to get open from the arc, where they’re most effective. Johnson, or “Iso Joe” as he was so endearingly called, was notorious for being a ball-stopper, disrupting the flow of the offense to get his looks. The issue here is that the new guys are also responsible for playing on the other end of the floor. Defense is something that Korver and Morrow are notoriously allergic to, and to make matters worse, the Hawks also traded away versatile defender, Marvin Williams. Defensive specialist, Deshawn Stevenson was brought in to try and alleviate this, but it remains to be seen if he will play enough minutes to make an impact.
I mentioned the trade of Marvin Williams, which was used as a revamp to the point guard position. On the other end of the deal, they brought back Devin Harris from the Jazz. Harris is a scoring lead guard, who carries with him a solid, but somewhat lacking resume. He has put up pretty good numbers across the board on his career, but since being shipped out of Dallas years ago, has not tasted very much team success. He stands to tangle with the emerging Jeff Teague for the lead spot running the show, and in this sense will have a full plate ahead of him. Teague is cat-quick and very adept at driving into the lane, and his long term projection with the team should help his case against Harris. The guard rotation closes out with one of my favorite players, super-sub or potentially starting two, Lou Williams. Lou plays well above his size, and excels at just about everything you can ask a guard to do. He’s heady, confident, exciting, tenacious on defense, and not afraid to take and make a big shot. Personally if I’m the Hawks I keep him as a weapon off the bench, because he can change the flow of a game almost instantaneously. He made a lot of fans happy in Philadelphia this way, and if Larry Drew knows what’s good for him, he will take advantage of this.
With the heavy reliance on newcomers and youngsters to hold down the fort on the wings and at the helm, tremendous pressure, more than ever before, will be placed on Josh Smith and Al Horford, to keep this train a-runnin’. The duo forms a versatile frontcourt with phenomenal prowess for hitting the boards and sending guards that make their way into the paint home packing. Smith is consistently atop the league in the shot-blocking ranks, while Horford has been quietly carving out a fabulous Alonzo-Morning-like role in the league, for himself. While they’re great at deterring drivers, Smith is not quite the greatest man defender in the post, leaving them vulnerable to teams possessing more skilled big men. Additionally, there is a lack of consistency due to Horford’s inability to stay on the court. Off the bench, Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson are absolute grinders, but not necessarily the most efficient or reliable options.
I’m generally not in the business of making predictions, but allowing so much to ride on the uncertain durability of Horford and the unpredictable Smith does not appear to be a promising model for NBA success going forward. As an opposing general manager, I’d keep my finger to the pulse, and attempt to poach these guys that are still just entering their prime, before the rest of the market takes wind. The Hawks are in the process of learning that unless you strike gold, you can’t just build your way up out of the mediocre-playoff-team mold, without first burning it down (a reality that similarly the Grizzlies stand to face yet again, if they don’t put up this year). The NBA salary cap structure is just too unforgiving for such to be feasible. We play the Hawks twice this season, the latter falling slightly prior to the February trade deadline, which will potentially take place amidst a period of turmoil for the opposition. Of course, the teams being at full strength is a bit more interesting to discuss though. While I like some of their pieces, especially their versatility in the paint, I don’t see them having anything that our guys can’t adjust to. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the recently bulked up Rudy Gay shift over to the four to check Smith, whose athleticism figures to be a bit for Zbo to handle. The only factor truly belonging in the Hawks’ favor in our matchup figures to be their long range gunners. We consistently have trouble guarding the three, and they’ve got the personnel to make us pay for it. We’ll get a first look at how these two teams stack up in our third preseason game, on this coming Sunday, so be sure to keep an eye out.