2008 Record: 47-35, 2nd in Eastern Conf. Southeast Division, lost in Conf. Semis. Head Coach: Mike Woodson, 6th season Key Additions: G Jamal Crawford Key Losses: G Speedy Claxton, F Solomon Jones, G Acie Law 1st Round Draft Picks: G Jeff Teague 2nd Round Draft Picks: G Sergiy Gladyr
2008-'09 Hawks Review:
Forget the season-ending sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Forget the notion that their first-round win over the Miami Heat was one of the worst seven-game series in NBA Playoff history. What matters in the big picture is that the Atlanta Hawks improved from their first-round playoff exit in 2008, gained home-court advantage in a playoff series, and made clear forward strides as an organization. Coach Mike Woodson is steadily squeezing more and more results out of an athletic but decidedly imperfect lineup. As awful as their halfcourt offense was at times, the Hawks outjumped and outfought most of their opponents because of an assemblage of rangy players with springy legs and considerable reserves of energy. Yes, the triumvirate from Cleveland, Boston and Orlando proved to be supreme in the East last season, but it's no small matter that Atlanta found the number four seed in the conference.
2009-'10 Hawks Preview:
Now, the going gets tough for Atlanta. The Hawks were the best team behind the Big Three last year; the trick is now for Woodson and the rest of his coaching staff to get the Hawks to fly even higher. If that accomplishment is to be attained, a few things have to happen:
First, Al Horford has to be healthy for the whole season. The former Florida Gator gives Atlanta an impressive combination of scoring and ruggedness near the rim. Zaza Pachulia can bang, but the limited center can't score the ball the way his teammate can. Tito Horford's son will have to do the heavy lifting if the Hawks are to have a big year.
Second, the athletes have to become scholars. Josh Smith and Joe Johnson simply must become intelligent operators on offense: They can't stand around in halfcourt sets or settle for long jumpers near the end of the shot clock, and they must incorporate better decision making into each and every possession. This has to be Woodson's biggest project as a coach; if he and his assistants can succeed, perhaps Atlanta can achieve even more than it has in the past few successful seasons.
Third, backup point guard Jeff Teague--a draftee from Wake Forest--must be able to spot Mike Bibby throughout the season. It's not as though Teague has to become "The Man" at Phillips Arena; the speedy Teague must simply be able to provide creditable minutes and save Bibby's 31-year-old legs for the playoffs. If Bibby can be appreciably fresh come the Spring, perhaps the former Sacramento stud will rekindle some of the magic that brought him within one win of the NBA Finals in 2002. But in order for that to happen, Mr. Teague must step up from November through early April.