Could Be The Last Hurrah
Only four players on the Hawks’ roster are under contract for next season, and the coach's deal is up too. This will be the last incarnation of the Billy Knight-Rick Sund projects in the Atlanta Hawks era. Danny Ferry has already gotten rid of two players whose contracts were extended by the two previous general managers (GM) – Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson; he’s also brought in a new assistant GM, a new vice president of public relations, and upgraded the media room with new paint and free food ... awesome for the media!
In short, the new sheriff is bringing in his own deputies. With this, the organization is likely to get a new coach and new players; let's make some final memories with this crew.
They've Been Hurt
The Hawks started 29 different starting lineups this season, which may have worked in their favor. After all, rooting for a banged-up team is just flat-out American. Insert Lou Williams and Zaza Pachulia in the lineup, and this team could be the number four seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks have been undersized all season; so losing Pachulia is was a huge blow. Williams was "money in the bank" in the fourth quarter of games; he came off of the bench and solved a lot of the offensive power-outages the Hawks had at times. This season, the Hawks seem to have always been a man/shooter short and have persevered in spite of their circumstance.
They Have Beaten The Doubters
The Hawks are not supposed to be here – in the playoffs. According to several publications, the Hawks should be headed for a lottery pick and should have been an embarrassment all season. Instead the Hawks:
Started the most lineups in the NBA this season – due to injury;
Finished 25-16 at home;
Won 19 road games and were second in the NBA in assists (first in the Eastern Conference), third in fast-break points and sixth in three-point shots made.
Their Style Is Fun
When the Hawks run, they are a devastating team on the fast break. The Pacers, and hopefully a second-round opponent, will pay for turnovers and rebounds that end up in the hand of Hawks' guards in transition. The Hawks beat the Clippers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Lakers, and Celtics by utilizing their speed throughout the course of the season.
They Are The City's Most Successful Team in the Last Six Seasons
The fact is – in the last six years, the Atlanta Hawks have been in post-season play more than any other professional sports franchise in Atlanta. While we can debate which sport has the toughest road to the post season, we cannot argue about which team has been there the most consistently over the last six years. Let's keep a good thing going.
It's going to come down to speed for the Hawks to be successful the remainder of the season and in the playoffs. With the absence of center Zaza Pachulia in the lineup, the lack of size the birds will have on the floor nightly can only me matched by one element ... speed. The Hawks can outrun anybody in the NBA if you don't believe me look at what they have done to the Lakers, Celtics and Heat on the fast break this year.
Jeff Teague and Devin Harris are tough covers in transition and when Teague makes up his mind the pick and roll can be a devastating weapon for the Hawks. Attacking and playing with an up-tempo style is not an option, but a requirement in every game. The bench has seen energy from rookie John Jenkins and Ivan Johnson this year, and defensively, Al Horford and Josh Smith have started many of the Hawks fast break opportunities by blocking shots and grabbing rebounds.
The Hawks have three elements that regularly show up in losses:
A lack of energy
A lack of rebounding
All off the above can be offset by running the daylight out of our opponents. The Hawks can make shots and knock down 3-pointers without blinking an eye and can score in bunches early and late in games. The team can punish larger teams with quickness but can hurt themselves when the offense becomes stagnant. Either way slowing the game down for the Hawks is the only way to ensure the team is not utilizing. best strategy to win.
Entering the week of march 18, the Hawks are third in the NBA in fast break points with more than 17 per game. If we see less than that number, something has gone wrong. The Hawks have the talent to put up nearly 20 points per game in the break.
Run, run, run! Even if the shots don't fall ... run run run ... even if the 3-pointers are off target. Speed has hurt bigger teams and forced big men to be off balance when the Hawks are playing fast. When we run, we win. Let's keep winning.
With the Hawks making the push to the post season, the team has players who will be instrumental in making the run but who will not be on the roster next season. Some should stay some should go, here are my thoughts on who the Hawks who should return that have expiring contracts.
Yes ... for the right price. A unique player who is active on both ends ... but for the right price. The organization learned a lesson by paying Joe Johnson a kings' ransom. That mistake won't be made again.
No. Solid point guard and can finish at the rim. But has dealt with injury the latter part of his career and this season with the Hawks. Could be a starter or back up but may be hampered by injury. Hawks may need to go younger at point guard.
Yes. He's 7-feet tall and brings energy. Plays his role well as a starter or reserve and can be big on the offensive glass. Hawks need to build a team with size, Zaza can be a solid anchor.
Yes. There are men and then there are special men. Kyle Korver was born to shoot three-pointers. Sign him up.
No. I love DeShawn as he uses most of his energy on defense. He is very reliable shooting three-pointers. But father time and achy knees will only hurt him minutes-wise moving forward.
No. A big man but not enough impact on the floor. Has length but is not active enough to get minutes.
No. A defensive piece for this season but is north of 30 and does not have enough offense to bring him back.
No. Not a lights out shooter but his size and versatility allow him to get minutes. He can knock down the three but is not consistent enough to make a second run with the Hawks.
Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud deserves to be NFC player of the week after five tackles, a pass defended and an interception against the Broncos on Monday Night Football, followed by three tackles, two interceptions, three passes defended and a fumble recovery in a 27-3 beating of the Chargers in San Diego. And why has he turned into one of the most disruptive defenders in the league? Coaching.
The coaching of the Falcons was brilliant enough again to get the team to 3-0 this season. Whenever the readily available argument of "who is an elite quarterback" came up before the season, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers made a list, probably yours and mine. In two consecutive weeks the Falcons defense has made both men look like scabs and replacement fill-ins.
The defense is confusing the best triggermen in the game at the line of scrimmage and disguising their coverages, the secondary keeps coming up with turnovers and big hits to any opponent who has the ball. Who are these guys? The same people they were last year, and the year before, and some of them the year before that with better coaching.
The talent is the same but the play-calling, execution and aggressiveness are all much better. The defense has become the X-factor for the Falcons this season and they are showing up with a chip on their shoulders and the results are different. The Falcons are physical, disciplined and consistent in getting turnovers in three weeks of action so far.
The good coaching is getting great results.
The Falcons Coordinators Are Better Than Fine
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is moving defenders around and getting his offense ahead of his opponents. I can't way to see how this evolves later in the season. Matt Ryan is first in the league in quarterback rating (117.6) after two weeks of play and has looked decisive on where to throw the ball.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has coached two outstanding games. Holding Peyton Manning to one touchdown and picking him off three times is a fantastic achievement and a display of how Nolan can confuse even a great quarterback on a big stage. The Falcons lead the NFL in interceptitons (5) and have set a tone at home and on the road. The defense is playing better with the same players minus Brent Grimes ... that is good coaching.
It's Not Over for the Braves
The Braves begin the week five games behind the Nationals for the lead in the NL East. After sweeping the Nats last week the Braves showed they can win even without great hitting. With 14 games remaining it is not out of the questions that the Braves could make a run at the end. Still time for the bats to come alive. Brian McCann is still banged up and will be the rest of the season, but if the bats can just come alive late, it could be an exciting finish.
The Hawks Get Ready to Fly
With the Hawks reporting in a few weeks, fans can get ready for a chance to see the 2012-2013 installment of our Atlanta Hawks. More shooters, a perimeter attack with Anthony Morrow, John Jenkins, Kyle Korver, veterans Al Horford, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague will make for a likeable team on the floor that will look to establish a new style of play and and identity taking team into a new direction in the Danny Ferry era.
The Atlanta Falcons won their first road game of the season for the first time since 2006 with a 40-24 win over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. A shoot out in the first half turned into a Falcons blowout in the second. Here are my impressions:
Mike Smith knows what he is doing- he is patient and he is poised. Against showing his team will always be in a game.
Michael Turner is now the 7th option- Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglass, Julio Jones, Jacquizz Rodgers, then Turner.
Mike Nolan is capable of adjustments- missed tackles and holes in the defense in the first half ...turnovers, three and outs and allowing only seven points in the second half.
The Falcons still need a pass rush- it still was not consistent enough to stop elite quarterbacks.
Matt Bryant is automatic- the guy can kick indoors or outside.
Matt Ryan looks more confident- intermediate throws were on the money.
The Offensive Line played well- and I still have major concerns.
1-0 is better than 0-1- a win at Arrowhead is never easy, hard work, execution and having healthy bodies paid off.
A fight that doesn't hurt the team is a good one- Falcons DB Chris Owens was pulled by the facemask by Shaun Draughn while out of bounds on a special teams play. Owens was shoved and he shoved back. I like a team that has fight, heart and the sleight of hand to get the other team flagged too, so that the penalties offset.
Julio Jones picked a good dance- great to see the "Dirty Bird" return to an end zone.
The Falcons would like to be better in week two defensively, will it be good enough to be better than the birds who were dirty in 1998's Super Bowl run?