Joe Johnson has the gaudy numbers and the monster contract, but the single most important reason the Hawks have been one of the last eight teams remaining in the playoffs every year since 2008 is this: They have two dynamic, fast, versatile big men who contribute on offense, defense and on the boards.
One of those two men — Al Horford — is out for the balance of the regular season , and given the burden the Horford/Josh Smith duo carries on both ends, it will be interesting to see whether this is the kind of injury that has a larger trickle-down impact than we might anticipate. After all, Horford is “only” averaging 12.4 points and seven rebounds per game. Zaza Pachulia, Atlanta’s best backup big, has averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes through his career, so he could duplicate Horford’s raw production if given more run.
Toss in Marvin Williams’ continued production (once he’s healthy), some small-ball lineups with Vladimir Radmanovic (perpetually underrated) at power forward, playing time for Internet sensation Ivan Johnson and some Jason Collins appearances against the right teams (Orlando, basically), and the Hawks would seem equipped to cover for the absence of a 12-7 big man. Jeff Teague looks like a solid starting point guard, even if his first season a starter has been a bit scattershot, and the Hawks are one of just a half-dozen teams to rank in the top 10 so far in both points scored and allowed per possession. If they play hard and keep the pace down, they’ll win enough ugly games to avoid the lottery. Right?
But the NBA is of course more complicated. The per-36-minute stats of Atlanta’s backups look nice, but there’s a reason Horford and Smith are the guys actually playing 36 minutes. Atlanta’s other big-man options all have limitations that will get exposed with increased playing time. None even approaches Horford as a two-way contributor capable of greasing the wheels on both ends. Read More…