Offseason Improvement Rankings: Southeast Division

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May 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) shoots a basket over Indiana Pacers power forward David West (21) in the first quarter of game six of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

  • Atlanta Hawks – Ryan Chastain (Soaring Down South)

The Atlanta Hawks summer hasn’t been anything for the major networks to go crazy over. The main move of the summer might not have even been a free agent signing, but a lack of a signing. Letting Josh Smith walk was a huge decision for Danny Ferry, but it is probably the right decision. Al Horford is now the most tenured player on this roster. He will probably be the next player representative for the players union. He is currently spear heading basketball without boarders for the league, and former college coach Billy Donovan called Horford one of the best leaders he has ever coached. He will be on board from day one with Coach Bud and his staff making it easier for the rest of the roster to fall in line. He’s the perfect face for this new look Hawks regime.

There is no doubt that Ferry wants to build on the Spur’s model, but what exactly does that mean? In my opinion, the thoughts that sum up that model are tempo control, offensive efficiency, and help oriented rim protecting defense. It also means acquiring blue collar, non-controversial, and, for lack of a better word, boring players.

When we start talking personnel things get complicated. I hold my stance that the NBA, and basketball as a whole, is as talent dependent as any team sport in the world. Most sports are this way, but basketball is the most uneven playing field. Every year in football and baseball you see that there are up to 10 teams in those leagues capable of winning a championship. In the NBA there are honestly 2 or 3. This comes from the fact that NBA athletes are the rarest athletes in the world based on human genetics. There are more 6’3″ people in the world than 6’10″ people. There are more non athletic people in the world than elite athletic people. In the NBA you have to have both. Then throw in, like every other sport, an extremely high level of skill.

That being said, add in that the NBA playoffs are a seven game series. This takes out the results of less talented teams pulling upsets. So, basically it’s a have or have not league, and there a fewer haves than have nots.

So, lets look at the 2012-2013 season. In my opinion the Spurs, at best, were the 6th-9th ranked  roster in terms of talent (Heat, Thunder, Knicks, Lakers, Celtics, Grizzles, Nets, and Warriors). As you can see, some of teams on the list  were extremely talented, but couldn’t put it all together (we’re looking at you LA). What San Antonio has been able to do is understand a few key factors. 1.) Making the most of offensive possessions is key when you have less talent 2.) NBA defenses are all about rim protection and contesting three point attempts and 3.) Pushing the tempo is key because every defense is always the weakest in transition.

My overall point being that the Spurs didn’t belong on the same floor as the Heat, yet they had the series won if not for a desperation three. They get the most out of their players.

Now we can take a look at the Hawks off-season moves. Josh Smith was replaced by Paul Millsap. Millsap is in no way Josh Smith defensively, and i’m going to end that conversation right there. However, he is a much more efficient scorer. The slight lack of defensive production by Paul will be off set by the opportunities gained on the offensive end.There isn’t much more to say about this signing besides the fact that it was the steal of the off season financially. Although this will be controversial topic among most fans, I think when it is all said and done the Millsap for Smith swap will be a wash.

My favorite signing of the summer was probably DeMarre Carroll. I remember when Millsap signed with us I spent most of the day checking out his game film. As I watched, it was the other Jazz free agent we signed that continued to jump off the screen. Carroll certainly lives up to his nick name, “The Junk Yard Dog.” He’s an all-out effort guy. A good athlete who defends his butt off, and when you watch him play you wonder how he can go more than 10 minutes at a time with this level of effort. He dives on loose balls and takes pride in guarding the other teams best wing scorer. This isn’t the kind of guy the average fan goes crazy over, but people who watch a lot of NBA basketball realize that these guys are rare and very valuable. Also, he’s another guy who will understand that the only time he shoots the ball is when he has an open corner three or attacks in transition. Another “efficient” player. I see him as the starting SF this season.

Bringing back Jeff Teague was a really smart move. I was on the fence going into the off-season about giving him something like 4 years and 40 million, but 4 and 32 doesn’t sound nearly as bad. There is no doubt that Dennis Schroder is the point guard of the future, but he’s defiantly a few years away. Jeff should prosper in the same system that featured Tony Parker for so many good seasons. He will be charged with pushing the tempo with less Josh Smith – Point Forward moments this year. Also, this will be a very movable contract two years from now when Dennis is ready.

Kyle Korver comes back on a really good contract for four years. He will continue to spread the floor with his great three point shooting. That’s all we need to know.

Elton Brand was an awesome one year pick up. He’s a veteran with some low post game left, and a big body inside on defense. This is where I go crazy on “rim protection.” I think there is an imperfect understanding on what Interior defense is. When I say “rim protection” the first thing that comes to mind is shot blocking. I’m not going to make an argument that shot blockers don’t protect the rim, that would be a dumb statement, however shot blocking isn’t the whole story. Sometimes protecting the rim is all about defensive positioning. Example:

Player A blocks three shots per game. Sounds great right? What we don’t see in the stats is that player A likes to open his body up letting ball handlers go by him and follows to block shots. This type of player may block 3 shots per game, but he also gives up positioning constantly putting his team in bad rotations and allowing plenty of scores in the paint or good interior passes.

Player B blocks .5 shots per game, however he constantly puts his body in front of ball handlers deterring their penetration resulting in kick outs and awkward 10 foot baseline jump shots. Most of the time this type of player helps protect the rim (and paint) rather than just accumulating blocks.

That being said, Elton Brand plays like Player B, and will be a solid defensive addition to this roster.

Last main point to mention is that Lou Williams will be coming back this season. He’s a regular sixth man of the year candidate. He averaged 14 points, 3.6 assist, 1 steal, and 2 rebounds in 29 minutes played last season.

I won’t get in to Dennis, Lucas Nogueira, Shelvin Mack, Cunningham or Gustovo Ayon right now, mainly because their contributions won’t be huge this season.

The additions and subtractions to this roster weren’t dramatic, but if you follow Spurs, and now Hawks, basketball you can see where this roster is going. Guys who will know their role, play defense, and get on board with the blue collar work ethic that has been brought to Atlanta.

Everyone said after the Joe Johnson trade that the Hawks were tearing down their roster. They made the playoffs. Many people are saying the same type things this season. I believe we will see the Hawks right back where they usually are, somewhere between the 3rd to 6th seed in the east.

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