Atlanta Hawks Commentary: The Mighty Squawk Box, Vol. 3

Kevin C. Cox

The Fat Boys are back - Fat with things to say about our fair Hawks. Buckle your Thanksgiving dinner filled belts...

The Hawks Blog Brotherhood has been cooking up new vittles for you and here's the Thanksgiving-ish dinner. Identify the dry vs. the fried turkeys in the comments.

[Note: Put any questions you want us to answer in the comments and we'll tackle ‘em in future Squawk Boxes.]

1. What player's (or coach's) expiring contract is negatively impacting his performance so far?

Evildallas: The obvious answer is Josh, but I don't think the expiring contract is the reason. Most of the team has expiring contracts and I don't think Josh is thinking about his contract when he makes decisions on the floor. I think he's struggling with the concept of being the "man". Part of the reason I think is that he never had a good example of being the man to follow. The entirety of Josh's career (year 1 was clearly a snafu), Joe Johnson was ordained as the man for the Hawks. By example I think Josh believes that the man on a roster has to take the big shot and beyond that take more shots. Josh needs to lead more by focusing on his strengths like making a the key pass, making the defense play at crunch time, or getting a shot where it's a high percentage rather than launching a jumper. To me Josh is struggling with the concept of being the unquestioned on-court leader, but I'm not worried because I assumed it would take some time for him to figure it out.

I originally thought Larry Drew would fall in this category, but it seems now that it was just a case of getting to know the roster. As the season has progressed he's moved away from using Tolliver to rewarding Ivan Johnson with more PT and rewarding Jeff Teague with more court time. I don't have a negatively affected player yet.

Kris Willis: I don't know that we are deep enough into the season to say for sure, but Josh Smith clearly isn't helping his contract situation with his play thus far. He has been ok but not nearly as good as many, including myself, were expecting.

Jason Walker: Sure looks like Josh is pressing -- or has lost his place in the offense. As we expected coming in, Josh's drift out to the line would look awkward next to real shooters who know how to space along the perimeter. When Josh is in the post, he is effective. He would be even more effective if he darted to the hoop on PNR like Horford does. Alas.

Hawk Str8Talk: Larry Drew was my easy pick until he figured out what those of us who were watching the game and not a hope of the preset game plan - that Anthony Tolliver doesn't deserve to be on the court (maybe even the team), so I guess I have to pile on Josh Smith. He looks like a guy in search of a team to lead instead of just focusing on his strengths and meshing with the strengths of the rest of the team. Who would have thought that the longest tenured Hawk would have the most problems with the changes to the team?

Note: I reserve the right to insert Drew as soon as he forgets that his whipping boys (Jeff, Ivan, and Zaza) are actually all playing good to amazing basketball, respectively. When minutes don't reflect that - yes, Drew is the choice.

Throw: Josh Smith just seems to be trying too hard and pushing himself into stuff that he shouldn't be doing on offense. We know and he knows that he shouldn't be putting up those shots on the perimeter and that does not help him wanting more money for a contract.

Robby Kalland: Josh Smith. Smoove is clearly pressing on the offensive end and while I don't think it can all be blamed on the contract situation, I think he's definitely trying to do too much instead of playing his game (which is versatile enough as is).

2. What player's (or coach's) expiring contract is positively impacting his performance so far?

ED: I've got 2 runners up as Jeff Teague seems to want to prove he's worth a sizeable investment and Ivan Johnson seems inspired to prove he belongs in the league. but my answer is Zaza Pachulia. Zaza has been proving that last year wasn't a fluke. He's capable of playing more than he's been given the opportunity to show in the past. With his contract ending at the end of this season, I think Zaza has been inspired to show Atlanta and everyone else in the league that he is a competent rotational player for a winning team. It may not be contract, but opportunity. Hard to say at this point.

KW: I am tempted to go with Jeff Teague here but will instead mention someone that no one seems to talk about. Zaza Pachulia has picked up where he left off last season. He is not a starter but his contributions are large and will be sorely missed if he is not in a Hawks uniform beyond this season.

JW: Jeff Teague surely looks like he is playing with his next contract in mind. He is more assertive (not completely, but more) with the ball and his efficiency is showing. He needs to go get the ball from Lou Williams when they are in the game together, but Teague is carrying a chip on his game about not getting his money this past offseason.

HS8T: With a nod to Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson, Jeff Teague step right up. I don't care how ugly your shot looks as long as it falls and so far it's falling. Not only that, the ability to find players in position to score is a welcome addition to Teague's game. What I've noticed most is not his numbers, but the fact that he's actually commanding the ball and running an offense. Drew's confidence to let him run the team is being rewarded handsomely (and 2 years too late). Now, he's defensive lapses away from being the player we always hoped for from the point guard position.

T: Zaza is playing amazing, and Larry Drew has suddenly been doing a great job with his rotations and play calling. I could go with either of them because both (especially Zaza) has shown great reason for an extension. But I will go with Teague because we continue to see him grow as he continues to play confidently with this team. Speed is something you cannot teach and as he continues to improve his shooting percentage and assists numbers, I cannot see why a team wont give a young player at the age of 24 an extension.

RK: Zaza Pachulia. Zaza will get paid somewhere, and let's all hope its by Ferry and the Hawks. He has been killing it, and, I don't think it has much of anything to do with his contract, he's done the most to boost his value on the market, most notably his dominance of the Clippers on Saturday. Hawks fans are much maligned for indifference and being generally unenthusiastic, but if the Hawks let Zaza walk, there would be noticeable public outcry.

3. Does the Hawks start (8-4, 4th best in the East; 8th best in the NBA) meet or change your expectation of the season? Does it change your postseason expectation?

ED: Right in line. Especially when you consider the context of the losses. #1 was on a delayed opening night against a team that we couldn't hope to scout in advance. #2 was to the Heat. #3 was a horribly scheduled early game against the Clippers following a late Friday game and then travelling across the country. #4 was against Golden State on the road without Al Horford due to illness and that one was still within reach. The wins aren't by overwhelming margins, but I didn't expect steamroller wins at this point in the season. The team has a long way to go, but is headed in the right direction.

KW: The Hawks are right about where I expected they would be with a few unexpected wins thrown in. Atlanta faced a tough schedule to start with an almost brand new roster. They seem to have things together now just in time for a stretch of home games. I still haven't seen anything that suggests this team can't finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference.

JW: They have done what I thought they'd do -- though the dispatching of the Clippers was impressive. This team is still on track for their 47ish wins and a frisky playoff run that will ultimately be undone by a team with more top end talent.

HS8T: I still expect this team to be a 6th seed-ish team. With the end game in mind, that certainly would be a disaster, but I can't shake the thought that we're only an injury or two away from a mid-season swoon (see Sixers circa 2011-2012). Here's to hoping I'm wrong about that. That said, there's nothing that will change my mind about the postseason prospects - we could be the #1 seed and this team isn't winning a 2nd round playoff series. Period.

T: This doesn't really change my thought on the team, the only thing this may change is my thought that we may win a playoff series.

RK: It's about where I expected them to be (I thought 7-5/8-4) when looking at the schedule and, while their play hasn't changed my playoff predictions, the rest of the East's play has. The Pacers are miserable and the Celtics are inconsistent (2 teams I had ahead of the Hawks), and I still believe one of the NY teams will crumble (Knicks due to injury/old age, Brooklyn due to chemistry) so I now think Atlanta can very well find themselves in the 3/4 seed, rather than the 5/6 I initially thought.

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