Atlanta Hawks need to deal to stay relevant

The Atlanta Hawks are 10 up and 10 down, at .500 in mid-December for the first time in a long time, after taking out the big, bad Orlando Magic last night by a score of 98-87. The roster is peppered with talented and promising young players like Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Josh Childress and rookies Al Horford and Acie Law. In general, there is much rejoicing in Atlanta, as the lowly Hawks, currently tied with the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers for the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, look ready to make the leap into the playoffs. Really, for the first time since sharpshooter Steve Smith roamed the land in Atlanta during the mid-1990s the Hawks are finally relevant on the NBA landscape.

But while the team has certainly improved over the past season, their solid record and impressive wins over the Magic, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks don’t quite tell the whole story. One reason for the solid start, if you watch a few of the Atlanta games, is that Coach Mike Woodson, who received his coaching tutelage under the legendary Larry Brown, is following Brown’s defense-first philosophy and doing a good job keeping games close. In fact, the Hawks don’t really get blown out anymore, having lost only 1 game all year by more than 15 points.

But, they also don’t blow teams out themselves – they’ve won only 1 game (against Milwaukee) by more than 15. A closer look at the number clearly reveals that the Hawks are pretty atrocious on offense. They don’t score a lot of points at a paltry 93.2 per game. They don’t take a lot of shots at 43.9 per. They don’t shoot the ball particularly well, making only 43.9 percent of their shots. They’re near the bottom of the league in assists at 19.5 per game, as well as rebounding at 41.1 per contest. In fact, if you look at their differentials – where the Hawks’ average stats are compared in each category against their opponents’ – Atlanta comes out at the positive end only at the free-throw line, and in steals and blocks. And, those last two categories are severely inflated by the stellar play of swingman Josh Smith, who by himself is contributing 2.1 steals and 3.6 blocks per game this season to the team totals.

The bottom line analysis when peeking behind their respectable .500 record is that Atlanta is only winning by slowing the pace down and dragging teams through the mud. They simply don’t have the talent and the offensive fire-power to sustain their relatively strong start. The strategy is a good one by Coach Woodson, given the lack of scorers on his team, but it’s certainly not a recipe for sustained success. Sooner or later, the bad karma and talent deficiency that has plagued the Hawks for so many years will drag them back down among the Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers. Unless of course, GM Billy Knight and the disastrous front-office makes some bold moves.

It’s time to trade a few of the young pieces in order to guarantee long-term success. Because Billy Knight passed on Chris Paul and Deron Williams in order to draft the overrated Marvin Williams, the Atlanta Hawks are still in search of a serviceable NBA-caliber point guard. That would be the first place to start. Good news is that particularly huge faux pas is rectifiable, as a perfectly fitting point guard may be available a few hundred miles up US-95 in Philadelphia. Andre Miller, who has career averages of 14.1 points and 7.5 assists, has been languishing on a rebuilding 76ers team. He is exactly the type of veteran, pass-first point the Hawks need in order to set the table for finishers like Josh Smith and Joe Johnson. Miller may be had for a combination of young talent like Sheldon Williams, Salim Stoudemire and a first round draft pick. The Hawks should try to make the deal.

Speaking of the aforementioned Williams, Knight needs to take a page out of the book of the Wizards’ Eddie Jordan and Ernie Grunfeld and ship him out of town, just like the Wizard’s brain-trust did with the also overrated Kwame Brown. Williams is off to a solid start this season, averaging 15.4 points on 48 percent shooting from the floor. With his value likely at its peak, it’s time to ship Williams and Lozen Wright’s expiring contract out of town for a player who can step out and shoot the 3-ball. Toronto may be willing to send Anthony Parker, who is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc this season, and little used Juan Dixon (who is on the last year of his deal) to the Hawks.

Once they make these moves the Hawks will be better balanced offensively, and able to score with some of the more prolific offensive squads in the Eastern Conference. With Miller at point, Joe Johnson at shooting guard, Anthony Parker at small forward, Josh Smith at power forward and Al Horford at Center the Hawks will have scoring both inside and out from their starting lineup. Then Juan Dixon, Josh Childress and Zaza Pachulia can anchor the bench, while Andre Miller could groom Acie Law during the 2 years remaining on his current contract.

These trades we suggest aren’t incredibly bold and are all pretty realistic, but they would significantly improve the Hawks’ changes of maintaining their current .500 record and making a run at the playoffs this year. Otherwise, the 10 and 10 record they posses now may only go downhill from here.

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