A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

NBA Franchise Power Rankings: #20 – Atlanta Hawks

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Al Horford, the 3rd pick

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Previous rankings:

#30 - Charlotte Bobcats (+ introduction)
#29 - Phoenix Suns
#28 - Denver Nuggets
#27 - Detroit Pistons
#26 - Milwaukee Bucks
#25 - Philadelphia 76ers
#24 - Houston Rockets
#23 - Portland Trailblazers
#22 - Toronto Raptors
#21 - Indiana Pacers

#20 – Atlanta Hawks

Total Trade Value Ranking: #19

Best assets: PF/C Al Horford (young legitimate all-star), PF/C Josh Smith (borderline all-star), SG/SF Joe Johnson (old, expensive borderline all-star), PG/SG Jeff Teague (young borderline starter), 2012 1st, 2013 1st, PF/C Zaza Pachulia (borderline starter)

Bad contracts: SF Marvin Williams (3 years, 22.3 million)

Other chips: PG/SG Kirk Hinrich (expiring)

Finances Grade: C-
Management Grade: D

Overall Synopsis:

When ranking the Hawks, I had to make an important distinction on my list. This is not a prediction of future success and potential. If it was the Hawks would rank lower. Truly, no other team in the league is treading water as much as Atlanta. But, if the team chose to make drastic moves to put them on a course trending upwards instead of downwards – they could put themselves in a better position than the below 10 teams. Just because a poker player misplays a decent hand, doesn’t mean the hand wasn’t decent. The Hawks do not have a bottom 10 hand despite a disheartening future to say the least. The biggest criteria I use for ranking this list is total trade value. Despite a future projecting between a flatline and downturn compared to a younger team like Toronto, the Hawks having an elite young piece in Horford and another borderline star in Smith still gives them the better hand at the moment.

So what do they have?

The young stud: Al Horford is a borderline franchise power forward/center. He’s strong defensively, he rebounds, he’s efficient, he has an outstanding character and he’s made two all-star teams as a result. He’s the type of C everyone wants and thus extremely valuable from a trade asset perspective. He’s also at risk for spending much of his future prime on a mediocore to poor team and being the player the basketball academics call underrated in 15 years, also known as getting Mitch Richmond’ed. As I said, just because the Hawks are not in a good position to use their Queen Jack suited hand in Horford, doesn’t mean it isn’t a good one.

The crazy/hot gf: Josh Smith is a stunning athlete, finisher and capable scorer and passer, with a terrible attitude and mediocore basketball IQ. He’s worn out his welcome in Atlanta as most headcases do.

The bust: Marvin Williams is an underrated player who may have mini Luol Deng potential as a defender and midrange shoter – But he’s simply too expensive for a team gasping for financial air like the Hawks. I’d take him on the Toronto Raptors personally. Our opening day SF will be James Johnson.

The free agent: Jamal Crawford – Technically Crawford is a UFA, but it seems like he wants to stay in Atlanta. They’ll be hard pressed to do it without going over the luxury tax though, unless they amnesty Marvin (not an ideal move for a financially struggling team, they’d be paying Marvin’s 8 million a year for nothing, to go along with Crawford’s new 7 to 10 million contract annually. It’s a misconception that amnestying helps poorer teams – it’s more likely to help rich ones who have the deep pockets to pay players to leave and sign new ones in their place. In other words, New Jersey is more likely to amnesty Travis Outlaw than Atlanta is Marvin Williams.) Expect Atlanta to make a cap clearing move if they resign Jamal Crawford.

The only prospect: Jeff Teague is a mildly intriguing undersized SG in a PG’s body who started to come on statistically last year, the problem is there’s so many players like him. Still, it’s refreshing for Atlanta to have one intriguing piece like this.

The grenadeJoe Johnson. This is where the intrigue is for me in Atlanta’s future. Right now he could attract value on the trade market because he can be the lead guard on a playoff team, despite being past 30 with an insane 5 years, 100 million left on a contract. The problem is at literally any moment he could become the least valuable player in the league. Remember how one day Rashard Lewis just became an average player making maximum money? That’s what’s going to happen to Joe Johnson at some point and everyone knows it. It could be when he has 3, 4 or 5 years left on his maximum contract, but it will happen. We will see Joe Johnson the hilariously bad albatross contract that his team doesn’t have a shot in hell of getting out from underneath of. That’s why I would move him immediately. You just don’t know when that grenade is going to explode and take any chance of Atlanta escaping a fate worthy of a bottom 5 ranking on this list for the half decade following with it. It’s just not worth the risk. Especially considering Johnson already dropped somewhat statistically last year. When players start trending down after 30, it usually ends badly soon after. I’ll save my argument for the perfect trade destination for the Joe Johnson grenade later, but let’s say it this way, they’re a team that rhymes with Morlando Bagic and they may or may not have been desperate enough to trade for Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu on the same day last season.

The solid expiring vet: Kirk Hinrich – Atlanta probably should’ve realized Hinrich isn’t good anymore when they dealt Jordan Crawford and a 1st round pick for him, but hey, I didn’t watch the Wizards much last year either. If he has a solid season now that he’s accustomed to Atlanta he could be moved for a late 1st round pick once again.

The underrated vet: Zaza Pachulia is the player I would be calling the Hawks about if I was another team. He’s an ideal backup energy big and Atlanta may simply give him away to get the cap relief to sign Jamal Crawford under the luxury tax.

Finances/Management: D – The Hawks have one of the league’s most “dangerous” contracts in Johnson and another horrible one in Williams’ and they simply don’t have a history of spending well. Likewise, the Hawks management has long been near the bottom of my list. Whether it’s moves like trading essentially 2 1sts for Hinrich last year, taking Shelden Williams 5th in the draft or taking Marvin Williams over Chris Paul or Deron Williams when they had a SF and needed a PG, or going way back, trading rookie Pau Gasol for an aging and overrated Shareef Abdur-Raheem in an ill advised win now move, it’s just been one mistake after another. Coaching wise, Larry Drew seemed like he did a solid job last year despite his league low salary.

Next season: Unfortunately for the Hawks I’m predicting bad things for Joe Johnson’s production after his “Trending downward! Beware!” season last year. Nevertheless, the Hawks should still have a top 10-15 defense due to Horford, Smith and strong length on the perimeter. Offensively the two interior options combined with the lead guard Johnson should once again lead to solid, but not spectacular play from the field. Projected ORTG: 18th, projected DRTG: 9th, projected record: 44-38

Projection: Downward. Assuming the Hawks hold onto Johnson, I project a further statistical decrease if not full on descent into average player and worst contract in the league territory. This should hit their total asset value and ranking on this list fairly badly.

Written by jr.

November 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm

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