Don’t look now, but the Atlanta Hawks are creeping ever closer toward respectability. That this is the case is a testament to the power of good luck, because Atlanta has done virtually nothing right over the past few years.
They got almost nothing for Rasheed Wallace. They drafted two small forwards in 2004 after already acquiring Al Harrington (who they intend to re-sign this summer, against all logic). Then they drafted another small forward in Marvin Williams last summer instead of taking the Next Isiah Thomas in Chris Paul. Not only did the Hawks have the chance to take Paul and solve their point guard problems for the next 12 years, he actually wanted to play for them as well.
This was a miscue of epic proportions. Throw in the fact they overpaid for Joe Johnson to the tune of Boris Diaw and three draft picks (for a restricted free agent!) and you can see that the Hawks management has been just brutal over the past few seasons.
Despite all of the moronic moves, things are looking up in Atlanta. Johnson’s ability to be a true superstar was in question, but he has been downright fantastic this year, particularly since the All-Star break. He’s the only guy in the league, other than Iverson, to have games with at least 40 points and 10 assists, and he’s done it twice (in addition to a game with 42 and 9). He fills up the stat sheet, makes big shots, gets other players involved, and plays defense. Hard not to like that.
Of course, it is equally hard not to imagine him playing the same backcourt with Paul, but that is the challenge. We need to look at what the Hawks do have, not what they don’t have.
They have Johnson, a star perimeter player that is worth building around.
They have Josh Smith, an emerging star at small forward. Smith is a freakish talent who blocks shorts from the wing a la Andrei Kirilenko and Gerald Wallace. He also does a good job on the glass and his offensive game is coming around quickly. He hit a game-winning shot a few weeks ago and, out of nowhere, drained four three-pointers in a game last week. He couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn earlier in the year, so it is great to see him coming along so quickly. He’s inconsistent, but at age 20, looks to have a fantastic future.
They have Al Harrington, a good scorer that could be great bait for a sign-and-trade this summer. I honestly can’t fathom why they would want to keep Harrington and either try to pass him off as a power forward or let him hinder Smith’s growth at the 3. They need to move him for a point guard in the worst way. Whether they do or not remains to be seen, but at least with a bargaining chip like Harrington, Hawks fans can cling to the possibility.
They have Josh Childress and Marvin Williams, who are part of the small forward stockpile, but can either be used as nice rotation players (Childress at the 2 and 3, Williams at the 3 and 4) or bargaining chips to bring in players they need. While drafting these players were mistakes, they are both young and talented and having guys like that is never a bad thing.
They have Zaza Pachulia at center. I know Pachulia has a long way to go, but he is active, tough, and can shoot free throws. You could do worse in the pivot than a 22-year old kid who is going for 11 and 8 every night. Plus, his major downfall as a center is his lack of shot blocking ability, but with Smith there to swat shots away from the weakside, this weakness isn’t as glaring.
As you can see, Atlanta has some good pieces. Now, what do they need?
1. They need another guard. Johnson loves playing point guard and does a good job, so that gives them some flexibility. They can either move Harrington for a pure point guard and move Johnson over, or they can trade for more of a combo guard and let them both handle the ball. The main thing here is that they need to make a move. Find a team with multiple guards (the Bulls and Bucks come to mind) and turn Harrington into backcourt help.
2. They need a power forward in the worst way. This is a young team, so the ideal situation would be to get a veteran at point guard and go young on the inside, in order to allow the nucleus of the team to grow up together. Good news here for the Hawks: despite the fact that this is supposed to be a weak 2006 draft, they are probably going to get what they need come June.
Right now it looks like the worst they will do is get the 6th pick in the draft, a spot that seems certain to provide them with a young big man to plug into the lineup. LaMarcus Aldridge, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, and Andrea Bargnani are all going to be available this June and any of them would work in Atlanta. Thomas, who has been a freak of nature in the NCAA Tournament and is starting to look like the next Amare Stoudemire, would probably be the ideal guy for the Hawks, followed by Aldridge, Noah, and then Bargnani. The point is that any one of them could step in and provide immediate help and that Hawks fans should be very excited about this year’s draft.
Provided Atlanta’s management doesn’t screw things up yet again this summer, the Hawks should be able to come away with an experienced point guard and a stud rookie power forward without touching the Johnson-Smith-Childress-Pachullia nucleus or trading away their young talent in Marvin Williams.
Things are definitely looking up in Atlanta. For once.