I can understand how NBA folks, those who are used to enjoying the thrill of the "what have you done to your roster lately" approach to analyzing rosters, slots teams into place in their prediction as it comes to the new season.
But how people can look at this Hawks team, this roster, this collection of players, and predict almost melt-down scenarios escapes even my wildest eeyorish tendencies.
Firstly, big thanks to the Big Blogger, Michael Cunningham of the AJC, for popping us first on his Sunday preview piece.
MC's comments on the P-Hoops preview piece:
MC says: Both guys mention injury, and that’s the elephant in the room for the Hawks. Odds are they won’t get through this season in peak health (and isn’t that another reason last season felt like a letdown to some?) and there’s also the matter of L.D.’s approach to practicing them long and hard.
Looking at the other predictions Michael's highlights, there aren't many who even come close to Kris or myself in terms of confidence in the team's ability to scale the Top 4 Eastern wall again.
From ESPN's Chris Sheridan:
Still boggles the mind that this was the third-best team in the East last season, going by regular-season record. Then the playoffs happened, and we saw what they were really made of. They are still playoff material, no doubt, but they'll be road kill again if they face Boston, Miami or Orlando in the first round.
The issue I take with Sheridan, and those who share this refrain, is that the Hawks play Orlando (4) times in the regular season and while the team does not look good in any variation when playing them, they match up very well against just about everybody else.
(Sidenote: Fourth in the division? Come on. I want to note that the Wizards were not on their way to 50 wins last year as some predicted, even before the Arenas disaster that brought them John Wall. That's a lot of sight unseen faith (he even calls out love for Yi Jianlian as reason for excitement--that's some serious faith there) in the face of a known commodity like the Hawks.)
There is no reason to believe that the Birds are going to fall flat, which is what an eight seed would almost certainly be this season, with the same crew on board that won 53 games the previous season. This is not an old team like Boston, in fact, only Mike Bibby is way past his prime as a player in the core rotation.
Joe Johnson, for all the hand wringing I, and a number of other "enlightened" folks drew out regarding the prudence of a max deal this offseason, is still playing in his prime (even if on the backside of that prime) and may actually benefit from the offensive changes Larry Drew has put into place.
Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams, are still rising in their productivity and usage on the team, and will most certainly benefit (and therefore the team as well) by both the offensive changes and defensive changes Drew will adjust in relief of the never-changing Mike Woodson.
Marvin will certainly not feel the pressure to fit into the iso-offense prevalent under Woody, and can now use the natural flex motion of Drew's offense to get shots. Smith and Horford will no longer be asked to guard the perimeter like they inevitably ended up doing in Woodson's "switch-a-roo" defensive scheme, and the team will have to be better defensively with their best two interior defenders actually--wait for it---defending the interior and not some scat-back point guard zipping by them into the lane.
Last season, also remember, with the offense stymied in the iso-heavy quagmire late in games, the team lost maybe 6-8 games late despite big leads--a problem they might very well resolve in dumping the Iso-chamber.
If you read these things as I see them, you would almost be willing to wager that the team, despite the mega-downers in the national media, would improve, not regress for the 2010-2011 season.
However, as we mentioned in our preview, and MC brings it out again, we can't count on such marvelous health as we had last season, so we have to account for that in setting any expectation for the Hawks fortunes this season.
So, even after two weeks since we launched our take on the upcoming season, and a slew of games that don't count, I stand by our prediction of a solid, if even unsexy season of 50 wins and another trip to the playoffs.
This might fly in the face of the "what have you done to your roster lately" crowd, but for this season, there is no reason to see such fall-off to a growing group of the same guys who brought you a highly successful and efficient 53-win campaign last season.
So, ATL, prepare for goodness this season---things are not as dark as some hath predicted!
UPDATE: What if Sports also calls out the calamity that is Chris Sheidan's pick of the Wizards to top the Hawks, though indirectly, in their predictive piece posted today. I'm still not buying a 7 win drop-off from last year, but it's fun to read anyway.