Tag:Maurice Evans
Posted on: May 20, 2010 3:22 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 7

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  This is, easily, the hardest time I've had trying to decide where to put a draft.  There were three or four drafts I could have considered here for the #7 spot but, after a careful 3 minute deliberation, I feel that I've made the right choice to put here.  What choice was that?  Well here is the number 7 draft on our countdown, the 2001 NBA Draft which features some monumental busts, a lot of high school players (coincidence?), and quite a few really talented foreign players.  Let's see how it all went down.

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/21869382?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

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#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

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#7: 2001 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Washington Wizards - Kwame Brown, C, Glynn Academy High School
2) Los Angeles Clippers - Tyson Chandler, C, Dominguez High School (traded to the Bulls)
3) Atlanta Hawks - Pau Gasol, PF, Spain (traded to the Grizzlies)
4) Chicago Bulls - Eddy Curry, C, Thornwood High School
5) Golden State Warriors - Jason Richardson, SG, Michigan State
6) Vancouver Grizzlies - Shane Battier, SF, Duke
7) New Jersey Nets - Eddie Griffin, PF, Seton Hall (traded to the Rockets)
8) Cleveland Cavaliers - DeSagana Diop, C, Oak Hill Academy High School
9) Detroit Pistons - Rodney White, PF, Charlotte
10) Boston Celtics - Joe Johnson, SG, Arkansas

Not an overly horrible top ten, but not a great group of guys either.  There was a lot of controversy before the draft at the speculation of how many high schoolers would be drafted so early.  For that reason, a lot of people were cheering for Shane Battier, a four year colleigate athlete who was a terrific player for the Duke Blue Devils, to be the number one guy.  Instead, it came down to Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler for the number one pick and, famously, Michael Jordan's Wizards drafted Kwame Brown.  Brown was, obviously, the first high schooler ever to be taken number one and he showed flashes of being a really good player in his third season, but totally regressed and will struggle to stay in the league this offseason.  Chandler was drafted by his hometown Clippers but was immediately traded to Chicago for all star Elton Brand, with Chicago hoping to pair Chandler up with hometown product Eddy Curry and create the team's frontcourt for the future.  Neither Chandler or Curry lasted five years in Chicago.  Chandler has shown to be the better player of the two, but has struggled with injuries and consistency.  Curry has struggled with his weight and work ethic, but is still eating up the Knicks payroll.  Gasol is probably the best player out of the draft and he made a splash for the Grizzlies (who relocated to Memphis shortly after this draft) but has really made a name for himself for the Lakers the past few years.  Richardson was a high flying shooting guard who played in the post a lot for the Warriors, but he eventually learned a three point shot and now that's all he takes.  He's still been a solid player in this league though.  Battier, while never showing he was worthy of the number one pick, has made a nice career for himself as a great on ball defender.  Eddie Griffin was once rumored to be the number one pick, but attitude issues sent him down the list and then battles with alcohol eventually led him to fall in and out of rotations in the league.  Sadly, Griffin made a nice comeback with Minnesota in the 04-05 season, but was waived a few years later after battling with his alcohol again, and was later killed in 2007 when his car was hit by a train.  Diop and White turned out to be huge busts for their respective teams.  Diop showed no basketball talent at all after Cleveland selected him, but because of his size has found a way to stay in the league.  Rodney White was a nice offensive player who did not work in Detroit at all before Denver took a chance on him and was eventually out of the league after three seasons.  Joe Johnson, meanwhile, was shipped to Phoenix during his rookie season where he eventually become a solid player before signing with Atlanta and becoming an all star.  He'll be a sought after free agent this offseason. 

11) Boston Celtics - Kedrick Brown, SF, Okaloosa-Walton Community College
12) Seattle Supersonics - Vladimir Radmanovic, SF, Yugoslavia
13) Houston Rockets - Richard Jefferson, SF, Arizona (traded to the Nets)
14) Golden State Warriors - Troy Murphy, PF, Notre Dame
15) Orlando Magic - Steven Hunter, C, DePaul
16) Charlotte Hornets - Kirk Haston, PF, Indiana
17) Toronto Raptors - Michael Bradley, PF, Villanova
18) Houston Rockets - Jason Collins, C, Stanford (traded to the Nets)
19) Portland Trail Blazers - Zach Randolph, PF, Michigan State
20) Cleveland Cavaliers - Brendan Haywood, C, North Carolina (traded to the Magic who then traded him to the Wizards)

Jefferson and Collins were immediately traded by the Rockets to New Jersey for the talented, but troubled Griffin (who we already covered).  Jefferson and Collins became starters for the second of two straight NBA Finals apperances for the Nets while we all know what happened to Griffin.  Brown followed Joe Johnson as the second consecutive first round pick for Boston and while they gave up on Johnson, Brown simply did not work out at all and was out of the league in four years.  Radmanovic was a big man who could shoot from deep long range and was a solid contributor for Seattle and the Clippers before signing a long term deal with the Lakers and regressing big time.  He's still in the league, though.  Murphy has found a way to be a consistent 15 and 10 guy for his entire career.  He's a great three point shooter and rebounder but has still not yet played in the playoffs.  Hason and Bradley were both out of their league in the NBA and Haston was gone in two years while Bradley only lasted five.  Randolph has managed to become a great low post scorer in this league but has not yet had much team success.  Haywood was taken to be the smart college player to Brown's high school inexperience and managed to be a better player than Brown.  Haywood has managed to stay a starting center in this league for, basically, his entire career.

21) Boston Celtics - Joseph Forte, SG, North Carolina
22) Orlando Magic - Jeryl Sasser, SG, SMU
23) Houston Rockets - Brandon Armstrong, SG, Pepperdine (traded to the Nets)
24) Utah Jazz - Raul Lopez, PG, Spain
25) Sacramento Kings - Gerald Wallace, SF, Alabama
26) Philadelphia 76ers - Samuel Dalembert, C, Seton Hall
27) Indiana Pacers - Jamaal Tinsley, PG, Iowa State
28) San Antonio Spurs - Tony Parker, PG, France

If anyone's wondering why there's only 28 picks this season, this was during the stretch where the Minnesota Timberwolves had their first round picks taken away from them due to the Joe Smith contract situation.  Picks 21-24 did not make it in the NBA at all.  Forte continued a horrible draft for the Boston Celtics and was eventually out of the league in two years.  Sasser did not make any impression at all (I had no recollection of him in the league) and he was out of the league in two years as well.  Armstrong was part of the Jefferson for Griffin deal between Houston and New Jersey but he didn't make the splash that Jefferson or even Collins did and he was out of the league by 2004.  Lopez was supposed to be the eventual replacement for John Stockton in Utah but took a year to sign, tore his ACL and was then out of the league by 2005.  The last four picks, however, weren't that bad.  Wallace was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats in their expansion draft after three years on Sacramento's bench and has become the face of the franchise, even making the all star game this season.  Dalembert became a nice shot blocker for Philadelphia and is still a fantastic athlete who has never put it together on the court (even after Philadelphia payed him that huge contract).  Tinsley was immediately Indiana's starting point guard but eventually inconsistencies and legal problems ruined his career in Indiana and he sat on their payroll without playing for almost two years before he was eventually cut.  He's now a back up for the Grizzlies.  Tony Parker, meanwhile, was the last pick of the first round and was one of those famous Spurs unknowns who walked in and made an impact immediately.  Parker was the team's starting point guard by the end of his rookie season, won the first of three NBA Championships in his second season and was even named the 2007 NBA Finals MVP. 

Round Two Notables:
30) Chicago Bulls - Trenton Hassell, SG, Austin Peay
31) Golden State Warriors - Gilbert Arenas, PG, Arizona
35) New Jersey Nets - Brian Scalabrine, PF, USC
38) Detroit Pistons - Mehmet Okur, C, Turkey
40) Seattle Supersonics - Earl Watson, PG, UCLA
42) Seattle Supersonics - Bobby Simmons, SF, DePaul (traded to the Wizards)
53) Utah Jazz - Jarron Collins, C, Stanford

This draft featured a pretty deep pool of talent.  Hassell is a defensive specialist who started for some successful Minnesota and Dallas teams and is currently playing for the Nets.  Gilbert Arenas won the Most Improved Player of the Year in 2003 after finally learning the point guard position but then signed on with the Wizards.  Unfortunately, knee injuries and legal issues have caused him to miss 199 out of a possible 246 games the last three seasons.  Scalabrine has managed to stay in the league and was even on the Celtics roster that won the 2008 championship.  Okur would win a championship in 2004 with Detroit before going on to Utah and becoming an all star center.  Watson has managed to be a nice back up point guard in this league for his entire career and looks to still have some kind of future in the NBA.  Simmons, meanwhile, was a raw talent with no shooting ability and, coincidentally, has become a player who shoots nothing but three pointers.  Jarron Collins is the twin brother of first round pick Jason Collins and has, like his brother, found a way to stay in the league this long and even started in this postseason for the Phoenix Suns

Notable Undrafted Players:
Carlos Arroyo, PG, Florida International - Signed with the Utah Jazz in 2002
Charlie Bell, PG, Michigan State - Signed with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005
Maurice Evans, SF, Texas - Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
Jamario Moon, SF, Meridian Community College - Signed with the Toronto Raptors in 2007
Andres Nocioni, PF, Argentina - Signed with the Chicago Bulls in 2004

Arroyo eventually joined 24th pick Raul Lopez as the future point guard for the Jazz after John Stockton left.  He didn't have much success in that spot but has found a way to stay in the league so far.  He's probably best known, however, for scoring 25 points in a game during the 2004 Olympics leading his Puerto Rican team to a blowout victory over the USA team.  Bell is a defensive specialist at the point guard position and, eventually, was paid handsomely in the 2007 offseason.  He's still with Milwaukee.  Evans was a nice scorer for Texas and, after struggling to stick with certain teams, became a rotation player for Sacramento in 2004.  He eventually became a starter for the Magic in 2008 during a successful postseason run for the team and is now a bench specialist for the Atlanta Hawks.  Moon waited the longest for his big break and played a lot in the NBDL before finally signing with Toronto in 2007.  The high flyer eventually made the 2008 NBA All-Rookie Second Team.  Nocioni, meanwhile, signed with Chicago in 2004 after winning a gold medal with the Argentinan National Team and immediately made a splash for the Bulls with his aggressive defense (which some called dirty) and his frantic style of play.  He was, however, overpaid in 2007 and is barely on the court for Sacramento.

2001-2002 NBA Rookie of the Year: Pau Gasol
All Stars from the 2001 NBA Draft: Pau Gasol, Joe Johnson, Zach Randolph, Gerald Wallace, Tony Parker, Gilbert Arenas, Mehmet Okur

2001-2002 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Pau Gasol
Shane Battier
Jason Richardson
Tony Parker
Andrei Kirilenko (who signed with Utah Jazz in 2001 after being drafted by the Jazz in 1999)

2001-2002 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Jamaal Tinsley
Richard Jefferson
Eddie Griffin
Zeljko Rebraca (who was originally drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 1994 before having his rights traded to the Detroit Pistons in 1999 and finally signing in 2001)
Vladimir Radmanovic and Joe Johson tied for the fifth spot

More ties, NBA?!

Posted on: September 29, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:45 am
 

NBA 2009-2010 Southeast Division Preview

The NBA: where amazing happens.  Don’t believe me?  Well then you get watch the propaganda spewed out by David Stern with his commercials during the NBA Playoffs.  Or, if you want more concrete evidence, watch the Orlando Magic’s meteoric rise to the NBA Finals last season.  Given no credit during preseason predictions last season, the Magic went from being an “above average” team to now being the defending Eastern Conference Champion.  But the Magic did not make it without problems.  The credibility of their coach came into question at the first quotable reference from Shaquille O’Neal.  The offensive game of Dwight Howard was critiqued at every level.  Hedo Turkoglu was criticized, loved, and then all but disowned by the Magic fan base and organization.  So even though the Magic are the defending division and conference champion, they enter this year with new players, a new mentality but with the same goal as everyone in this division: win the NBA Championship.

The southeast division isn’t the most star studded division to take the court but they’re a solid bunch all with hopes of duplicating Orlando’s success from last season.  Miami went from winning 15 games, to riding Dwyane Wade back to the postseason last year.  Washington, playing all of last year without Gilbert Arenas, will look to do the same thing this season.  Meanwhile, a team like Atlanta hopes to take the big step forward that Orlando took last season while a team like Charlotte is full of talent, but still trying to find its identity in hopes of making the first postseason appearance in franchise history. 

With new players, returning players and everything in between, this division has a whole new feel to it.  However, as solid as it is, it’s not crowded at the top.  Orlando enters this season as the team to beat in this division but you have four hungry and capable teams rounding out the division.  From two to five, the division is really tight and could really fluctuate.  There should be no doubt, however,  that this is Orlando’s division to lose. 

This is how I predict the Southeast Division will turn out for the 2009-2010 season.

1. Orlando Magic – Last season’s run for Orlando was a sight to behold.  Dwight Howard captured hearts and accolades with his performance all year and is now established as the unquestioned best center in the league.  Things looked bleak as far as a run in the playoffs was concerned when Jameer Nelson was lost for the season.  But the Magic pulled off a terrific trade for Rafer Alston and made the NBA Finals.  Stan Van Gundy was mentioned as one of the best coaches in the NBA, but when he got into a public exchange of words with Shaquille O’Neal, he was accused of being a “master of panic” and immediately Van Gundy was under intense scrutiny.  Every mistake, every play was overly scrutinized in the postseason and every time that Van Gundy’s Magic lost a game, he was immediately blamed for it.  Even Marcin Gortat, the backup center for the team, came out and criticized the coach in a newspaper published in his native country during the postseason.  Somehow, Van Gundy was still able to rally his troops to upset victories in series against the defending champion Boston Celtics and the indestructible Cleveland Cavaliers before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers (another loss he was blamed for).

The Magic enter this season without Hedo Turkoglu, who has been the big floor manager for them for both seasons of the Van Gundy regime.  Once he left for the money in Toronto, the Magic jettisoned the often criticized Rafer Alston, backup big man Tony Battie and promising rookie Courtney Lee to bring in Florida native Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson.  This gives the Magic a new dimension that Turkoglu really couldn’t bring and that’s athleticism.  Now, not only will the team be able to shoot the long distance shot, they can also run the floor better and really push it out in transition.  A healthy Jameer Nelson and the NBA return of Jason Williams, signed to be a backup here in Orlando, will also help matters in terms of pushing the tempo.  The Magic are blessed with solid depth at every position across the board and should use that to their advantage all season long.  With the new addition of Matt Barnes, they can start he or Mickael Pietrus at the three and Vince Carter at the two.  Barnes and Pietrus both give the Magic incredible defensive effort and three point shooting, so either can be used for different matchups.  With big men like Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat on the bench, the Magic are one of the few teams that has premium big men at their disposal.  This may help Rashard Lewis avoid having to play bigger men for extended minutes during the game. 

All in all, the Magic enter this season with a swagger that was missing going into last season’s Eastern Conference Champion team.  Time will tell if the addition of Vince Carter is an upgrade over Hedo Turkoglu or if the chemistry will be missing with Turkoglu gone.  But there’s no denying that the talent is there, the experience is there and the mentality is there.  Now they just need to take that last step to get the job done.


2. 
Atlanta Hawks – Pigs may not be able to fly.  Dogs may not able to speak English and Tony Romo may not be able to win a playoff game.  But another miracle is taking place right before our eyes, consistency is residing in the Atlanta Hawks franchise.  Not that they hadn’t been consistent before; if you include consecutive last place finishes consistency.  But with Mike Woodson entering his fifth year at the head coaching spot and with the Hawks fresh off not only their second straight postseason appearance but their first playoff series victory in ten years, the Hawks display promise, direction and, dare I say it, consistency.  The acquisition of Joe Johnson has a lot to do with that, as he’s given the Hawks a solid first option for the last four seasons and has stepped up continuously when the team has needed it.  The acquisition of Mike Bibby also has done a lot, as it’s given the Hawks leadership and experience when they had none of it outside of Johnson prior to Bibby arriving.  But, when you show promise expectations arrive, and now it’s time for the Hawks to start showing that they can take a new step in the right direction.  Al Horford really proved to be key for the Hawks last year, and there’s no doubt that his injury played a big factor in why the Hawks were so outmatched against Cleveland in the Semifinals.  He needs to stay healthy and continue to improve his game as the Hawks are a much better team when he’s being assertive and looking for possessions.  The Hawks also missed Marvin William in the postseason, as the guard and forward was beginning to play a huge role in the team’s development.  But his injury also derailed the team’s momentum. 

Josh Smith enters the season with no contract problems, no questions about his game, this is going to be his team sometime in the near future.  He’s still prone to taking too many jump shots, but Smith has really evolved his game the last few seasons and stepped up his performance in the postseason.  That was crucial to the Hawks winning that playoff series against Miami.    Coming off the bench, the Hawks have two solid big men in Zaza Pachulia and free agent signee Joe Smith.  Gone is Flip Murray from last season’s squad, but they upgraded the sixth man-combo guard role with the acquisition of Jamal Crawford.  Crawford, if he openly accepts this diminished role, should flourish being the first option off the bench with no other assignment other than to score.  He and Maurice Evans are a solid offensive duo on any squad and really give the Hawks options past the starting five. 

It’s hard to tell if any further progression will be made in Atlanta this season, but the seeds are in place for this team to grow and evolve.  Staying healthy and staying hungry are huge keys for the team and how they start the season will speak wonders about what should be on the horizon in Atlanta.


3. 
Washington Wizards – Last season was disastrous in our nation’s capital.  Washington had injuries to everyone on the roster outside of Antawn Jamison, got their coach fired and watched an abysmal season get worse until it mercifully ended with 63 losses.  But there’s a new feeling of refreshment in Washington and it has everything to do with players on the team getting healthy, and not the turnover from last season’s squad.  Gilbert Arenas has played all of 15 games the last two seasons and his scoring and ability to give the team options in the clutch was sorely missed last season.  He had another knee surgery after signing his big free agent contract last offseason, but the Wizards seem determined to give him, Caron Butler and Jamison one more run at a championship.  The biggest setback to this is that the Wizards never showed any kind of elite potential when all three were on the court together in the first place, and Butler, himself, has missed an average of 19 games a year since arriving to Washington.  But the Wizards are still optimistic and the arrival of Flip Saunders should help fuel that optimism.

Although his reputation has taken a beating, Flip Saunders really has shown an ability to exceed during the regular season, something the Wizards must first do before approaching any talks of winning a championship.  He has a sound feel for the game on the offensive side of the ball and should be able to find a way to maximize the talent on the roster.  Having options like Randy Foye and Mike Miller on the bench should only help matters in Washington, as their thin bench last year became almost laughable.  Nick Young will either settle into the starting two guard role or will go back to the bench this year, something that will also help with the depth of this squad.  Brendan Haywood also is returning from injury this year for Washington, and he and newly acquired Fabricio Oberto give the Wizards solid big man depth as well. 

The pieces are in place in Washington for another postseason run by the Wizards.  Healthier players, new players and a new coach have helped ease the memory of last season’s disaster.  The optimism is legit, as the prospects of a playoff appearance are good for the Wizards.  But talks of a championship, or a run at the Finals, seem a bit premature.  Especially with all the growing they’ll have to do this year.
 


4. 
Miami Heat – It’s amazing, but it seems so long ago that Shaquille O’Neal was manning down the center position in Miami and the Heat were winning championships.  Amazingly, it’s only been three seasons.  But the Heat hit bottom hard when the injury bug bit start guard Dwyane Wade and they seemed to be a franchise heading nowhere in a hurry.  Wade stayed healthy last season, though, and followed up his spectacular play in the Summer Olympics with an MVP-Caliber season and leading the Heat to a postseason appearance.  The biggest problem in Miami, though, was that Wade seemed to be doing it all by himself.  Michael Beasley took a long time to develop and then crumbled this offseason.  Mario Chalmers was solid all season as a starting point guard, even as a second round rookie, but still heard rumors about being replaced all offseason.  Even a flirting session with free agent Allen Iverson didn’t seem to do much to give Wade hope that help was on the horizon, so it’s hard to imagine the Heat believing they can be any better than they were last season. 

One reason for optimism is that Wade is in the prime of his career and all the young players (and head coaches) on the team are a year older.  Last season’s run at the playoffs did a lot for the franchise but they did nothing to truly expand on it.  Jermaine O’Neal is still going to be the team’s starting center and will have his first full year with Miami while doing it.  But his inconsistent play and continued battle with injuries don’t do much to ensure he’ll be there for the entire ride.  And instead of improving the backup big men on the team, the Heat opted to resign both Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire.  Daequan Cook and Chris Quinn give the team three point shooters off the bench and Udonis Haslem continues to man down the power forward position for this squad, but there wasn’t much excitement last year even during the team’s postseason push.  All of the attention and praise went to Dwyane Wade and his MVP Chase.

If the Heat are to take any steps forward, the maturation process with Chalmers and Michael Beasley will really have to take fruition.  Or else they’ll be stuck in the middle of the pack just as they were last year.  Having to do everything by himself could cause Wade to burn out and that could only spell doom for Miami.


5. 
Charlotte Bobcats – The Charlotte Bobcats are a hard team to figure out.  They have one of the greatest coaches in NBA history on the bench.  They have the best player to play the game as an executive and talent scout, and they have a solid bunch of role players, veterans and young players on the squad to really make up a solid team.  However, there just seems to be no reason for excitement in Charlotte.  The environment there didn’t change much this offseason when the Bobcats traded Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler.  Chandler has a long history of injuries and inconsistent play, although he’s just as good as Okafor at the center position.  If he can stay healthy, it will really do wonders for this squad and it’s ability to run the floor.  But chances are he won’t be able to do that.  In order to make a run at the postseason, the Bobcats acquired veteran role players Raja Bells, Boris Diaw, Vladimir Radmonovic, and DeSagana Diop.  But it didn’t pay off as the team narrowly missed the postseason and is now stuck with bloated contracts from all four players. 

They recently brought back Raymond Felton, who watched his job go to rookie guard D.J. Augustin.  Augustin did a lot off the bench for the Bobcats before fading down the stretch last season.  With some proper conditioning, he can really give the Bobcats hope to be that point guard of the future.  Gerald Wallace looks to have a bounce back season after struggling with injuries all of last season.  With Okafor gone, Wallace is now the only original Bobcat on the squad and is the unquestioned leader of the team.  If he can stay healthy it’d do wonders for the team on the court and in the locker room.  The addition of Ronald Murray will do a lot of the Bobcats as he can be the team’s sixth man and help alleviate some of the pressure off of Augustin coming off of the bench.  Nazr Mohammed teams up with Diop to combine a solid big man trio in Charlotte giving them pretty good depth at basically every position.

It’s hard to explain the problems in Charlotte.  Looking at the roster, there may not be any.  But the organization still has a long way to go in terms of creating a positive environment that players will want to compete in, and believe they can win in.  That’s on the horizon but not quite there in Charlotte. 

Posted on: March 27, 2009 1:05 am
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Atlanta Hawks

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team that is now making its second consecutive postseason appearance: the Atlanta Hawks.

Strengths
When you think of the Atlanta Hawks, you don't really think of a flashy team or a team filled with huge superstars.  They don't dazzle you with spectacular athletic displays (though Josh Smith gives his fair share), they don't bombard you with an array of 3 pointers (although Flip Murray and Mike Bibby will take a good amount of them), but somehow they are one of four Eastern Conference teams to clinch a playoff spot.  Considering the other three are the Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic, it makes you wonder what exactly Atlanta is doing right.  And that is what they're doing right.  The face of their franchise is Joe Johnson, a role player in Phoenix who was heavily criticized for taking a max deal to come to Atlanta, and now has led this team into the playoffs for the second straight season after a horrendous eight year drought that saw the franchise hit rock bottom on numerous occasions.  But the fact that this team has been built through the draft and through little acquisitions here and there gives them a continuity that a lot of teams lack.  Chemistry is no problem with this Atlanta squad, and that was evident when they pushed last season's champions, the Boston Celtics, to a seven game series despite being heavily undermanned against a fantastic Boston squad.

With Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Mike Bibby in the offense, the Hawks have three fantastic passers who are also fantastic with the ball in their hands with the intent of scoring.  Mike Bibby has been given the Hawks some stability at point guard position, providing a great presence for a spot that was left vacant in Atlanta since Mookie Blaylock's departure.  On offense, they have an impressive amount of options.  None of the names overwhelm you, but Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby, Al Horford, Flip Murray, Josh Smith and even Marvin Williams or Maurice Evans are capable of taking over and having a big game on a given night.  Their cohesiveness is a huge reason why they've been able to grow and continue progressing into one of the better teams in an improved Eastern Conference. 

As we saw in last season's playoffs, the Hawks are a dangerous team at home in the postseason.  Their crowd hasn't really continued that into the regular season this year, but you have to imagine they'll come out in numbers and in emotion when the postseason comes around, and the Hawks will again play their best basketball at home.

Weaknesses
Because the Hawks have so many options and so many selfless players, they really struggle to develop a groove as a unit.  Joe Johnson has been hot as of late, Mike Bibby is off and on on a game by game basis, and right now, because of Marvin Williams injury, one of their only two difference makers off of the bench (Maurice Evans) is having to start, which takes away from a second unit that is behind as it is.  Even though they have a good amount of players that can help keep the offense fluent, they have zero depth at point guard.  Acie Law was supposed to take a step forward this season, but looks strikingly similar to last season's player who barely got into the game.  Bibby struggled in last year's playoffs, and he's not going to stop shooting anytime soon.  When he's on, he's a fabulous asset at the point guard position (especially in an offense that relies on everyone to feed off of Johnson rather than Bibby) but more often than not he's struggled with his shot.

Zaza Pachulia is a solid big man off the bench, but he is it as far as frontcourt options off the bench are concerned.  Depth is a major issue for Atlanta and foul trouble for anybody is reason for concern, and in a game by game basis that could come back to bite you.  They don't have a true power forward, although Josh Smith does his best at the position.  Neither he nor Marvin Williams are really able to be classified at either forward position, but as the two starters they give up a lot to bigger teams.  Josh Smith is usually busy guarding the opposing teams best wing player, which leaves Marvin Williams to guard a big man and that is cause for concern in the paint. 

Speaking of Marvin Williams, he was really starting to come into his own as a player before falling to the back injury, and the fact that the Hawks struggle with depth doesn't help matters.  They're obviously not rushing him back, but that also may be because his injury isn't healing as quickly as they assumed it would.  Without him, they will really struggle to win a playoff series.

Why They Will Win It
The Hawks bring solid starters at every position and really can attack you from all angles.  Their offense is fun to watch when it's on and they are more than capable on defense.  They don't dazzle you in any one area, but they're solid in every category across the board.  Mike Woodson has them team playing hard on both sides of the floor and they have a lot to build off of in regards to last season's postseason appearance.  Overall, if Joe Johnson hits a hot stretch in the playoffs, he's really tough to guard and he can carry the Hawks for stretches based off of his will and determination alone.

Why They Won't Win It
Outside of Johnson, and he's had his moments too, every player on this team really struggles with consistency.  Some of them will look fantastic at times and others they'll look very inept.  Depth is a huge problem for the Hawks, especially in the frontcourt, and they can't seem to get everyone on the same page.  They also struggle away from Atlanta, and to win a championship you have to put up some sort of fight away from home. 

Conclusion
The Hawks are in prime position to get home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and that could help the Hawks get out of the first round for the first time since 1999.  They can score, they're not bad on defense and they really are a beast in Atlanta.  They've beaten many good teams at home and if they can lock up the 4th seed, they should be able to get out of the first round.  That would be another step forward for this developing team and franchise, but it's too much to expect a championship from them this year.  They're in the right direction but aren't going to take home the gold this year.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

Posted on: December 1, 2008 4:02 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:26 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through November 30, 2008

1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - They've been number one all season long, and even though a part of me really wants to move them behind Boston, I simply can't.  They've been winning, they've been winning consistently and they've been winning with a new player stepping up every night (ironically, the same can be said about Boston).  They, though, have been great since the start of the season and I can't move them behind Boston.  Not yet.

2. Boston Celtics (2) - Kevin Garnett is having probably his quitest season.  Paul Pierce has been wildly inconsistent and Ray Allen's been a steady version of last year's diminished Ray Allen, yet this team continues to win.  Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, the two unheralded starters, are giving this team quality starts and they compliment what the big three do so well.  Perkins' game has really improved this season.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - I hear people asking "who have they beat", well they've only lost 3 times this season-all on the road.  A mark of a good team is winning games that you're supposed to win and that's what the Cavaliers are doing.  Charles Barkley is right in saying that LeBron James needs to shut it and start diverting all of his attention to the game and to his team, but a part of me believes that LeBron is more infatuated with the money and stardom than he is actual results on the court, which is why he'll always be a notch behind Kobe Bryant.

4. Denver Nuggets (4) - Even though they had a dissapointing loss at home to New Orleans on Thursday, this team continues to chug along with Chauncey Billups in the lineup.  This past week J.R. Smith really heated up and if he regains the form he had for much of last season then this team can only get better.  Chris Andersen coming back helps, but he can't be a savior for this frontcourt.

5. Orlando Magic (6) - Rashard Lewis is starting to play really good ball (even if you would like to see better rebounding numbers out of someone his size) and Dwight Howard is improving on his free throw shooting.  Losing Mickael Pietrus for three weeks will hurt but this team continues to do what they did last year, quietly win ball games.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (9) - I got some criticism putting them as high as I have the past couple of weeks but they proved me right this week.  Brandon Roy is one of the hottest players in the league and they're getting great production out of players like Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla.  They're deep and they're talented.

7. Houston Rockets (5) - They get Shane Battier back and now Tracy McGrady is having problems with his knee (he's looked dinged up all season, what with his shoulder and whatnot).  They are still winning, though, and they're doing it without any of their players playing consistently great ball.  Luther Head has stepped up the past couple of games, but Adelman's system allows this team to make up for whoever is struggling on that given night.  That's the sign of a good team.

8. Utah Jazz (8) - They had a bad loss to New Jersey but Deron Williams is slowly regaining some of the form he showed last season.  It's slow, but steady, progress.  Meanwhile, Paul Millsap has been outstanding in Carlos Boozer's absence and you have to believe he's going to see an amazing increase in minutes even when Boozer comes back.

9. Atlanta Hawks (10) - They're getting better play out of Mike Bibby (which is good because teams are starting to double Joe Johnson consistently) and they're surprisingly getting great contribution from Maurice Evans lately.  This team just continues to stay around.

10. Phoenix Suns (7) - I've had this team high all season but the intensity and execution they showed the first couple of games has worn off and the honeymoon period has already ended in Phoenix.  Amare Stoudemire is now complaining about coach Terry Porter's system and the team is searching for an identity all over again.  A tailspin may be in this team's future.

11. Detroit Pistons (11) - Allen Iverson is already missing practice and Rasheed Wallace continues to jack up three pointers.  Michael Curry was supposed to bring needed change in attitudes in Detroit but the players and player styles and attitudes continue to hold this talented team back.  They should be in better shape than they currently in.

12. New Orleans Hornets (12) - A good win at Denver and a quiet four game winning streak have gotten the Hornets back on track, but they still need some consistent ball out of anyone not named Chris Paul.

13. San Antonio Spurs (19) - Despite the loss to Houston, this team is above .500, they're getting good production out of their young players, and both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are back.  Those pesky Spurs just never go away.

14. New Jersey Nets (17) - People said I had them too high last week, I probably have them too high this week, but they're playing tremendous basketball.  Devin Harris has played tremendous basketball so far this season and he and Vince Carter have consistently been there every night.  They're supporting cast is hit and miss but they're getting a different person to contribute each and every night.

15. New York Knicks (14) - They need to get this Stephon Marbury situation over and done with, because it's clouding what's been a good season so far for the Knicks.  David Lee has played great and Tim Thomas has been lights out since coming over from Clipper land.  His best season came with D'Antoni in Phoenix, though, and his increase in production doesn't surprise me, and it won't surprise me when his production dips.

16. Dallas Mavericks (18) - There's not a hotter player in the NBA, currently, than Jason Terry and he's keeping this team afloat lately.  They still can't get consistent production out of the small forward position and aside from Terry they can't really get an answer at shooting guard either, but Jose Juan Barrera looks like a solid backup at the point guard position.

17. Toronto Raptors (21) - They turned a horrible last week into a solid week this week until they ran into the Lake show.  Chris Bosh has been outstanding this season and currently there's not a better big man in the league.  They're getting great play out of Andrea Bargnani lately which is very encouraging, though the injury to Jermaine O'Neal isn't.

18. Miami Heat (13) - The Heat have been wildly inconsistent this season and it has to be frustrating for any Heat fan to watch this team win one, and then lose the very next game but at the same time they have to be happy with Dwyane Wade's production.  This team is still relatively young and still has room to improve and should probably be around the playoff picture all season long.

19. Chicago Bulls (20) - All things considered, I believe Vinny Del Negro has done a solid job with this team.  They're slowly starting to get healthier (and will be better when Kirk Hinrich returns) but they still are an inconsistent bunch.  Drew Gooden has played well lately and Luol Deng is slowly returning to form as well. 

20. Philadelphia 76ers (15) - Andre Iguodala has played like a guy with a fat new contract, in other words he's definitely underperformed but I think with the offense having to adjust to the half court offense that Elton Brand flourishes in takes away from the strengths of both Iguodala and Andre Miller.  Maurice Cheeks needs to succeed this season if he wants to keep his job and it looks increasingly difficult for him to do.

21. Milwaukee Bucks (16) - They're struggling without Andrew Bogut but Richard Jefferson is quietly having a solid season.  Charlie Villanueva has put up good number this season but still hasn't brought it consistently like he should in a contract year.  He needs to develop a solid game and put that tremendous talent to use but he plays like a small forward and is too slow to play that position.  He should look at a player like David West and try to emulate a version of his game and then he can fully reach his potential.

22. Indiana Pacers (22) - The Pacers are puzzling because they just can't seem to get over that hump and win basketball games.  Danny Granger has been great, proving last year was no fluke, and Marquis Daniels has continued to play encouraging ball but they can't seem to get going as a unit.  Early in the season it was T.J. Ford playing while everyone else was struggling and now Ford has lot a step lately.  They need to get it together and I believe they will in the coming month.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (25) - It feels weird putting them this high but I believe they're the best out of all of the lower tier teams.  Sebastian Telfair has been a steady force at point guard with Randy Foye and Mike Miller has had a couple of good games lately.  They won't make the playoffs, but winning nearly 30 games this season would be a huge step in the right direction for this squad.

24. Charlotte Bobcats (27) - Jason Richardson has returned and rumors are circling whether or not he will be shopped around.  Gerald Wallace has also been rumored to be out the door lately as well and this team looks to be in questionable shape.  D.J. Augustin has continued to play great and looks to be the best draft pick the team has made, which is ironic because he was not drafted at a position that needed filling and therefore his selection was criticized.

25. Golden State Warriors (24) - This team has been stuck in reverse all season long and they have to be hoping that when Monta Ellis returns they will make some progress this season because this team is young and in need of a step in the right dirction.  Andris Biedrins has cooled off lately and Jamal Crawford, though a need at guard, can't run the offense like they need someone to. 

26. Sacramento Kings (23) - This team is reeling and is doing so in a hurry.  Even with Mikki Moore's return, this team still needs Kevin Martin as he's not only their best player, he's the team's leader.  John Salmons will be a great running mate when Martin returns and if Beno Udrih plays as well as he has without Martin in the lineup then this team can take off.  Until then they will continue to struggle.

27. Memphis Grizzlies (26) - The team is slowly reaching irrelevance again and they're really struggling to find ways to win basketball games.  I don't think coach Marc Iavaroni has any chance to retain his job which is sad as he was once a promising candidate around the league.

28. Los Angeles Clippers (28) - Zach Randolph was a good acquisition and Al Thornton has played as well as he did last season but this team is missing something.  I don't know what it is, but I think this team would be making a horrible mistake in ridding themselves of Chris Kaman.  Even though he and Randolph don't mesh well, Kaman is a better player than Randolph and is a much better player than Marcus Camby.  They should find a way to keep him on this roster even though they could get a lot for him.  Eric Gordon has played great this week.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - As predicted last week, Eddie Jordan was fired but nothing has changed with this team.  They have Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and not much past those two players.  Because of the guaranteed contracts, this team is in such a deep hole that they're going to be stuck in this position for the next few seasons and may lose their best player (Butler) soon.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The 14 game losing streak is over and Kevin Durant and Jeff Green have played great ball this week.  The offense looks a lot more fluid with Scott Brooks running the show.  Why is Earl Waton still starting and how many chances is this team going to give themselves to draft a productive center in the lottery?

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com