Don’t Write Off The Hawks Just Yet

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson is either crazy or a man of serious basketball faith when he says his team “still has enough talent” to be one of the Eastern Conference elites after losing Al Horford for the remainder of the regular season with a torn pectoral muscle.

No one was sure they were “elite” even with a healthy Horford. And no team in the league causes more head-scratching than the Hawks. Who else follows a rousing road win in Miami, handing the Heat their first defeat of the season, with two of the more remarkable meltdowns of this young season in back-to-back losses to the Bulls and Heat? And then they rebound by the weekend and run the Bulls off the floor in Atlanta?

While most everyone assumes that the Hawks will struggle just to make the playoffs without their two-time All-Star center, I think the Hawks become an infinitely more dangerous team without him. Before you spit that coffee all over your computer screen, walk with me for a minute (and remember that this is the Hawks we’re talking about, a team that has found a way to become a postseason staple the past four years in spite of all of their Draft gaffes, enigmatic play and general dysfunction).

Despite Johnson’s belief in the Hawks’ elite status, I can promise him they wouldn’t have been considered elite by outsiders even if they did finish in the top three or four of the standings this season. Honestly, that might not matter anyway. To succeed in the playoffs during an abbreviated season such as this one, a team’s regular-season finish might not be the most telling factor.

The Hawks proved that last season, faltering during the regular season and then surprising with a win over the Magic in the first round and pushing the Bulls to the brink in the conference semifinals.

What the Hawks do have that can’t be measured is the undeniable ability to defy all expectations and common sense. They’ve been doing it since Horford entered the league, backing into the playoffs during his rookie season and then pushing the eventual champion Celtics to seven games in a first-round series.

Every season since then, the Hawks were supposed to stumble and fall back to the pack or fall out of the playoffs completely … and each time they’ve made a mockery of those predictions. Every metric, measurement and statistical analysis designed to study this team has been turned inside out.

For better or worse, the Hawks never follow the script.

Never!

I panned this team a bit in the preseason, suggesting that their refusal to tinker with their core all these years would finally cost them this season. So it only makes sense that they would race to 8-4 during their first 12 games and score significant wins over the two teams that played in the conference finals last season. (After seven years of watching this crew up close, it warms the heart to know that the Hawks continue to confound at every turn).

Still, this is a wicked blow for a team and a town that is currently reeling from the failings of its professional sports outfits, as Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution states clearly here.

Only a fool would dismiss what they’ve lost in Horford, a player that Hawks coach Larry Drew described this way Thursday night: “He’s kind of a glue for us. He’s a stabilizer. He’s a guy who huddles the team, who talks in the huddle. He’s a guy who’s not afraid to call people out. Certainly the guys respect him. You can see how guys respond to him.”

The Hawks are losing more than just the numbers (12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists), leadership, presence and stability. They’re losing the one player on their roster that is universally regarded as their most “important” player.

Yet, their top scorer (Johnson), rebounder and shot blocker (Josh Smith), assist man and steals leader (Jeff Teague) remain healthy and ready to go. By all accounts, Smith (and not Hoford or Johnson) has been the Hawks’ best player this season and really since that series loss to the Bulls in the playoffs. (No matter how many times you get frustrated with him, that’s the way it is. Go back and watch the games and see for yourself.)

Truth be told, the Hawks’ supporting cast is arguably the best it’s been since Horford entered the league. And Drew gives the Hawks a measured presence in a crisis that will pay dividends in ways that won’t be obvious to the casual observer.

The same teams the Hawks were going to jockey with for playoff position if Horford was in uniform  – the 76ers, Pacers, Celtics, Knicks and Magic –will be the exact same teams they deal with without him.

Bottom line: Don’t assume anything with these Hawks.

My guess is they aren’t going anywhere. And it would be a foolish move to write them off now, before we know exactly what they will try to do to compensate for Horford’s absence.

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14 Comments

  1. jonesyOZ says:

    what? horford? horford is rubbish, he gets dominated when he comes up against great centres like howard or bogut. bogut who’s all star spot he has unrightfully stolen the past couple of years.

  2. QB says:

    Honestly I only came to the hawks cause im a T-Mac fan. I’m not ashamed of it. Its not that i think he is gonna be a perennial all-star. Not even close to it. But when he doesn’t have a back spasm of some sort, play him a good 28+ minutes. He will be a scorer, or a playmaker. Just give him time. He is your 6th man at the end of the day.

  3. “Drew gives the Hawks a measured presence in a crisis that will pay dividends in ways that won’t be obvious to the casual observer.”

    Like when he instructed his team not to foul at the end of regulation of the home loss to Miami? Major dividends there.

  4. js says:

    its not rocket science here. if joe johnson plays up to the contract they handed him, they are as always a dangerous team. the problem is all too often he doesnt give them nearly the production that 18 million a year should give

  5. don says:

    all that have to do is start tmac and they’ll win ;)

  6. Vincent says:

    The Atlanta Hawks are very unpredictable, opponents coaches have a very hard time scouting them.

  7. Ivan the terrible says:

    How did you not talk about him??? He might get some minutes now.
    I must say though 125 million is a lot money which means that the hawks made 125 million mistakes. No way they are winning a championship with that. Letting Jamal go was another big mistake despite Jeff playing great.

    • Abdu'l-Karim says:

      Crawford didn’t play defense and we got a deeper (cheaper) bench with him gone. I liked Crawford, but for the first time in YEARS i think management made the right decision.

  8. jase says:

    exactly sekou. we know what we have to do and i think we answered that last night. sure it was the bobcats but they can be pesky and we blew them out by 30 POINTS. ivan johnson is a key player now and yes it hurts to lose horford but we are just fine. watch and see you non-believers.

  9. Traz says:

    Horford a two times All-Star? Only in the Centers-less East of the past years, he’s a good player, no doubt, but surely he’s not a player who makes a difference on the field. 12 points and 7 rebounds? That’s what a very average player does, not a star.
    And last year he went to the All Star Game while Bargnani stayed home, a guy who scored more than 20 points per game, a 7 footer who can shoot, dribble, probably one of the worst defenders around but hey, who goes to the ASG for their defence? Ask Melo, Dirk and others… I’m not saying that Bargnani is at their level, but he’s a guy who can make the difference, I really hope to see him play in another team with an adequate supporting cast where he’s not the only offensive threat.

    • Abdu'l-Karim says:

      He went as a power forward (his natural position) and you are neglecting all the other stuff mentioned in the article and evident in play.

      • Traz says:

        Nope, last year he was a center, this year hes a power forward. I’m neglecting the other things because they are not what makes an All-Star, in my opinion,

    • chris says:

      ok defense doesnt get you to an ASG? ben wallace was an all star.. i remember him being an offensive monster too.. and lets look at who started last year at the all star for the west.. tim duncan.. who averaged 14 and 10? horford last year averaged 16 and 9.. shut up please and stop ragging..

  10. coloradohawksfan says:

    You are so right on Sekou. (Miss you being on ajc.com, though MC is doing good job.) Smoove deserves an All-Star nod btw.