The Hawks have a wealth of new faces in 2012-13
Keep Your Eyes On The Ballers
With so many people using words like "wealth of shooters" and "fast-breaking team", it's obvious that the 2012-13 Atlanta Hawks are not your father's Atlanta Hawks.
With nine new faces on the roster, they're barely last year's Hawks.
The base is the same, with forward Josh Smith, center/forward Al Horford and point guard Jeff Teague, and the bench features a long-time energizer in center Zaza Pachulia and last year's energy booster, forward Ivan Johnson.
Beyond that, it's all new.
Hawks first-year President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Danny Ferry made sure of that, bringing in front-court veterans Johan Petro and Anthony Tolliver, and stocking the backcourt with a versatile group of sharp-shooting speedsters in Lou Williams, Devin Harris, DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver. The final pieces were draft picks John Jenkins, the SEC's best shooter and Mike Scott, one of the ACC's best scorers and rebounders.
New can be a good thing and certainly can be exciting. These Hawks expect to be both.
"I'm very excited about our speed," said Head Coach Larry Drew. "We have guys that can get from one end of the floor to the other, we have guys that can really stretch the defense. These guys bring a very genuine excitement to Atlanta Hawks basketball."
Most of the excitement will be generated from the back court, where Williams and Harris will help Teague push the ball.
"Both guys on the floor bring a tremendous amount of speed, something we've never had here, not at that level," said Drew. "If we get a rebound and get the ball in Devin's hands, Jeff can speed up the floor. We can throw ahead and now Jeff can attack and vice versa. It will allow us a little more flexibility with three guys who can push the basketball coast-to-coast."
Williams is a seven-year NBA veteran, who signed with Atlanta as a free agent on July 12. The Atlanta native is a career 42.1 percent shooter, 33.7 from three. He can also be the reliable free-throw shooter Atlanta has not had. He hits at 79.8 percent and is good for 350 to 400 attempts.
"Lou is Lou. Lou is a scorer and he has the ability to play two positions," said Drew. "He gives you instant offense. With him on the floor he's a guy you always have to be concerned about. What I really like about him is he's not only a good passer but he's a willing passer. You can see guys really enjoy playing with him."
Harris is best known as a point but will see some action at the two. Acquired as part of the Joe Johnson trade with Brooklyn, the 29-year-old guard, acquired in the July 11th trade with Utah that sent Marvin Williams west, has averaged over 5.0 assists per game in his nine seasons with Dallas, New Jersey and Utah. Atlanta appears to be a superb fit for the 6-3 guard, a 2009 Eastern Conference All-Star. He likes the many options the Hawks can throw at teams.
"It's fun," he said. "Offensively we can attack in a lot of different ways. It's always fun to play that way when they don't know what you'll throw at them."
Stevenson is another hard-nosed veteran who plays bigger than his 6-5, 218-pound frame and who has brought his unique brand of energy and passion every night for 12 years. His World Championship ring won with the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks is another attraction Stevenson brings to the table.
"Being on a championship team in Dallas, my role was to knock down open threes and play my butt off on defense," he said. "I think this team has always been talented but never had a guy who could go out there and stop somebody. So, to have that option I think will be great."
One thing the Hawks will throw at teams is three-point shots, and they've got several marksmen on board to do so, featuring off-season acquisitions Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow.
At 6-7, the 31-year-old Korver is a nine-year NBA veteran, who brings a 41.3 percent shooting percentage from three and a nearly automatic 87.7 percent shot from the foul line. He also brings experience, having played in 54 postseason games in his years with Philadelphia, Utah and Chicago — Hawks fans might remember him from the 2011 Bulls, who came through Atlanta on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. He is excited to be on a team with so many options and can't wait to see how they will come together.
"You have to think there's going to be a lot more space. Space is a good thing for everybody," he said. "We have a lot of new faces. Chemistry is something you don't just get right away. You have to kind of play into it and we've already made some big strides."
Morrow, 27, is a new face to the Hawks, but not to Atlanta, as he played college ball at Georgia Tech. The 27-year-old sharpshooter, another piece acquired from Brooklyn for Johnson, has compiled an impressive resume as a shooter in four years in the League. He led the NBA in three-point shooting as a rookie with the Golden State Warriors in 2008-09 (46.7 shooting) and brings a 42.6 career shooting average behind the arc to Philips.
"It’s like a fresh start," said Morrow, who played two years with the Warriors and two more with the Nets. "My game is definitely shoot-and-score but also showing that I can do more than just shoot the ball. I’ve got a great chance of going to the playoffs. So I’m ready to bring what I bring to the team and contribute in every way I possibly can."
With all these shots going up, somebody needs to rebound. The Hawks will look to new big men Johan Petro, acquired from Brooklyn, and free agent Anthony Tolliver to chip in.
Petro, is a 26-year-old native of Paris, France, who is a former first-round pick of the Seattle SuperSonics in 2005 (25th overall). While he's traveled some — Atlanta is his fourth stop after Seattle/Oklahoma City, Denver and New Jersey — he has been effective on the glass and defensively in the paint everywhere he's gone tallying 3.9 rebounds in a little over 15 minutes per game.
"I like his size. I like that he's a big boy, he moves up and down the floor very well," said Drew. "He's a nice pick-and-pop guy. Defensively I'm going to be counting on him to play against some of these bigger centers, play against the Dwight [Howard]s and the [Roy] Hibberts, [Andrew] Bynum, those type guys. We're going to need his big body."
Fitting the role of "role-player" to a 'T' is 6-7 forward Anthony Tolliver. Signed as a free agent, the 27-year-old, who has four years of NBA experience, made the team with his hustle and his ability to do the little things.
Tolliver, who Drew compared to Josh Smith, feels his making the team and his role on it is as much about what he doesn't do.
"I try to go out there and play mistake-free basketball," said Tolliver, who has played with Cleveland, San Antonio, Miami and the last two seasons with Minnesota, as well as in such faraway places as Germany and Turkey. "I don't want to go out there and over-think things. I just try to go out there and help my team win, whether that means to take charges or dive on loose balls, or always be in the right position on defense, defensive rotations. I just go out there and play basketball. I think that's what they need for me to do."
Tolliver will also serve as a role model to rookies Jenkins and Scott.
Jenkins, the team's first-round pick (No. 23 overall) out of Vanderbilt, showed he could fill it up during the preseason, shooting 50.0 percent from the field and from three. The 6-4 guard, who Drew plans to use at both guard spots, said he's learned a lot from the veterans around him.
"I just watch whatever [Korver] does in practice, and Morrow, DeShawn. I learn from all the guys, Devin, Lou," he said. "I learn from their mistakes and learn from their good things. As a rookie and the youngest guy on the team, it's interesting to see how hard those guys work and what they put into the game."
Scott, Atlanta's second-round pick, has played in Philips before with the University of Virginia last year (he went for 18 and 7 against Georgia Tech) and is looking to continue that success. Drew has high hopes for the 6-8, 240-pound forward, who can hit the boards as well as hit the J.
"He has a tremendous stroke for a guy his size," said Drew of Scott, a 56.3 percent shooter, 80.8 percent free-throw shooter in college. "He goes about his business in a very methodical way and he gets the job done. He's a guy that you cannot leave open, particularly on pick-and-rolls. He can really space the floor and make shots. So I'm really excited about having him."
Excitement is a common theme for the Hawks, who have already thrilled their fans in the early going with a huge road win over the Thunder in Oklahoma City as well as a come-from-behind victory at home over the Pacers. They're admittedly a work in progress, but can't wait to see where the season takes them.
"I think it's a challenge, but I embrace challenges," said Drew. "I told them to look around at each other. This is our team. This is where we start our journey."
Jon Cooper is a freelanced writer based in Atlanta.