Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Hawks
2012-13 Record: 44-38; lost to Pacers in Eastern Conference first round
Coach: Mike Budenholzer (first season with Hawks)
I see the Hawks as one of several teams competing for the last couple of playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. I don't think they're as good as last year, when they won 44 games as the sixth seed.
The frontcourt pairing of Paul Millsap and Al Horford will be interesting. Both think of themselves as 4 men. Both can make mid-range jumpers, score on the block and rebound.
But it's not as good a pairing for Horford as Josh Smith was. I know Smith took a lot of bad shots, but he could influence the game defensively. He was able to make an impact even when he wasn't scoring. Millsap is an OK defender, but he's not a game-changer.
Horford is a willing defender, but he doesn't affect the game on that end the way Smith does either. Horford is tough and physical, but he's only 6-9 or 6-10. Playing a Spurs-type defense under Budenholzer, a former longtime San Antonio assistant, should take some pressure off Horford because he will have more help. It's a team-oriented system that helps post defenders well.
Point guard Jeff Teague was more consistent last year. His strength is pushing the ball. He is a great penetrator and has a variety of shots in the paint. He could have a breakout year under Budenholzer if Teague is open-minded. Think of Teague as Tony Parker: He will get a lot of freedom, have the ball in his hands a lot. He's coming along as a three-point shooter, but you still give him that shot and try to keep him out of the paint.
Dennis Schröder [a first-round pick from Germany] has a Rajon Rondo-like body. He puts pressure on people because of his speed with the ball. Offensively, there are similarities. Defensively, he's not close. He can be fun to watch. He'll be on the highlight reels once a week making some kind of crazy play. He's a very good athlete. He plays at a fast pace.
Kyle Korver was a big re-signing for them. He is going to take pressure off Horford and Millsap, and he'll make life easier for Teague by keeping the floor spaced so his man can't help. You have to find him right away in transition or he'll hit a three. He battles defensively, but it's not his strength.
If Lou Williams [who has not returned yet from February knee surgery] can come back healthy, he will stabilize the 2-guard spot. He is a very good offensive player who could be an 18-point scorer. He has a good mid-range game, he can beat people off the dribble and he has the floater. At the end of games, he could be the guy who has the ball in isolation plays and can score or get to the free-throw line. His lack of size hurts him defensively.
Forward DeMarre Carroll is a good complementary guy. He can guard three positions and he will bring energy. He will have a night or two where he will make some outside shots, but you can't depend on that.
Elton Brand is far removed from his days as a focal point of an offense. He can still hit jump shots. Like Horford and Millsap, he often has to defend bigger players. Brand is the one backup for Millsap and Horford with a lot of NBA experience; the Hawks also have 31-year-old rookie Pero Antic, second-year forward Mike Scott, an undersized 4 who has some scoring and rebounding ability, and third-year big man Gustavo Ayon, who will miss the start of the season with a shoulder injury.
Second-year guard John Jenkins is intriguing. He can shoot, but he has to become a better ball handler and pick-and-roll player.