Running with Zaza

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Hawks' Roster Analysis - Big Men

Introduction: You can say whatever you want about Billy Knight. He missed on two of the best point guards that will play in the NBA over the next ten years. However, in the 2007 draft, Knight made the right pick in Al Horford. Horford quietly is establishing himself as one of the best young big men in the entire league. The best evidence of that was his selection to play on the USA Select team that scrimmaged this summer against the Redeem Team. Hawks’ fans should be very excited about Horford’s leadership ability, talent, and future in Atlanta. There are two problems I see with the Hawks’ front court. The biggest dilemma is that Horford and Josh Smith excel at the same position. Both are power forwards. Secondly, the Hawks do not have a strong offensive post player. Horford is the best option with his back to the basket in the post, but he is still learning on the offensive end of the court. Mike Woodson has a major task of finding an offensive system that puts these two players in positions to score; but, his most difficult task will be balancing the egos as Horford emerges as a bona fide NBA All-Star.

Al Horford: After watching the Hawks’ last year, Horford to me is their best defensive player in the low post. He fought Kevin Garnett on every possession during that great playoff run. In the playoffs, the pace of play slows down and every possession is important. During the first quarter of games, the Hawks tried to establish Horford in the post and he delivered with points. The best part of throwing the basketball into Horford is that he is an unselfish player. He finds open shooters. With Bibby, Evans, and Super Joe Johnson, Horford should have plenty of open shooters who can make shots. I am a huge fan of Horford, and I think that he has huge upside. He also seems hungry to improve and make his mark on the NBA.

Josh Smith: Luckily, the Hawks were able to re-sign Smith to a fair contract. Smith is worth 60 million dollars. Defensively, he is able to change shots and cover up for mistakes on that end of the floor. If he dedicated himself to becoming a better on the ball defender, he would be an NBA All-Defensive 1st team player every year. But, the tenacity is missing on a nightly basis. My advice to Josh Smith would be to listen to try something new this season. Listen to Coach Woodson and try to do everything Woody says. What if J-Smooth would listen? The Hawks have a chance to win 45-50 games. There two variables in the winning equation for the Hawks are Bibby’s health and production and Smith’s attitude. Smith has the talent to do virtually anything on a basketball court, but does he have the desire, the killer instinct?

Zaza Pachulia: I was inspired to start writing this blog, by Zaza’s fiery playoff series. When he went nose to nose with Garnett, it was a turning point for Atlanta fans and the team. Pachulia is more talented than many other centers in the Eastern Conference. The potential is there, but once again it’s the mental aspect of the game that eludes Zaza. If he can produce and earn consistent minutes, Pachulia will blossom next to Horford or Smith. He has to channel the emotions into his play on the court. Take the passion that his fans in his home country of Georgia and focus that on being the best player that he can be.

Solomon Jones: As I write this column, I am watching the Hawks’ opening night game with the Orlando Magic. Jones is actually playing some minutes here in the 3rd quarter. Coach Woodson has a small lineup in the game with Smith and Woodson together on the front line. Jones is very long and a good defender. I have read some articles about how much he worked on his game this summer. If he has improved, Jones gives Coach Woodson flexibility in his rotation. By providing depth, Jones really is a valuable member of the Hawks’ team.

Prediction: The Hawks’ frontcourt is much improved, but not by bringing in new players. All of these guys should be better this year simply because they are a year older and wiser. I see no drop off with the loss of Josh Childress. In fact, I see Woodson using some of Childress’ minutes to keep J-Smooth happy by playing him on the perimeter in short spurts. These guys are stronger on the defensive end than the offensive end. Coach Woodson has to figure out a way to get offense from these guys. Running in transition more will free up Smith and Horford to score without always having to post up and make back to the basket moves.

Hawks’ Season Prediction: The Hawks’ just cleared out for Flip Murray against J.J. Redick at the end of the 3rd quarter. Great play. Murray and Evans are going to be great additions to this team. The Eastern Conference is going to be much better this year than in the recent past. My season prediction is 46 wins and the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If they can avoid the Celtics in the 1st round of the playoffs, the Hawks have a chance to win their first playoff series in a very long time.


Hawks' Roster Analysis - Small Forward

Introduction: Here is the dilemma for Coach Mike Woodson: Marvin Williams has been penciled in as a starter at the “3” spot for a couple of years, but does Williams have the talent to start at small forward?

Marvin Williams: In all honesty, I think Williams can be a productive and impactful NBA player, but he should not be starting. I see his role as an offensive force coming off the bench. Because of his size, he presents match up problems for other teams, but he is reluctant to post up. From what I have been able to read about this preseason, Williams’ focus has been on shooting better from 3 point range. He seems to want to be strictly a perimeter jump shooter. He cannot beat regular small forwards off the dribble, but he could face and beat power forwards. His defense at the position is below average. The thumb injury might be an excuse for Coach Woodson to bring Williams off the bench. If the Hawks could then get off to a hot start, Woodson could stick with that rotation and Williams would have to accept his role as an offensive spark. He could flourish as the second scoring option on the second unit

Maurice Evans: I briefly broke down Evans in my shooting guard post, but he is clearly a “3” man. Evans should start for the Hawks. The smaller and quicker line up is a way to start the game with more energy. Evans is a tough defender that can guard Turkoglu, Pierce, and all. He is a better outside shooter than Williams. He will not penetrate very often, but he stretches the floor. I probably would argue that Evans is a better passer and quicker in the transition game than Williams.

Josh Smith: I talk about Smith more in my front court analysis, but he has the physical tools to be a dominant type small forward. If he would take time to work on his ball skills, he could play on the perimeter. I have read where he has worked on his shooting and his strength in the off season. That is great, but he needs to learn to be a better ball-handler and passer. He would be a match up nightmare for opposing teams.

Prediction: Defining the roles for Williams and Evans is critical for Coach Woodson. The other positions seem to be falling into place. Bibby, Joe, Horford, and Smith are going to start. What Coach does with that “3” spot is going to be interesting to watch. Depending on who starts or not, Evans and Williams could be a 6th Man of the Year award candidates. I think Williams can flourish off the bench, but he probably does not want to do that in a contract year. Can the Hawks trade Williams to Olympiakos for Childress? You could start Evans and bring Childress off the bench. Wow, that scenario sounds about perfect.