COACH: Mike Woodson | 2007-08: 37-45
Atlanta Hawks

Can Smith and the Hawks keep rising?
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images
The Atlanta Hawks took the NBA Champion Boston Celtics to seven games in April.

I repeat: The Atlanta Hawks took the NBA Champion Boston Celtics to seven games.

It's pretty amazing to look back at the 2008 Playoffs and realize that the Hawks did better against the Celtics in the First Round than the Lakers did in the Finals. Of course, Atlanta lost Game 7 by 44 points and the four games in Boston by no less than 19, but to say they exceeded expectations in 2007-08 would be an understatement.

After all, this was the team that, going into last season, had the longest (by far) running streak of seasons without a playoff appearance. On the NBA futility scale, they had dropped below the Clippers.

Now, after their first trip to the postseason in nine years, the expectations are different in Atlanta. The Hawks have improved their record, going from dismal to somewhat respectable, in each of the last three seasons.

But to take the next step, the Hawks will need to improve from within, because the only significant change they made this summer was replacing Greece-bound, sixth-man Josh Childress with Maurice Evans. If they're lucky, that's a wash.

Al Horford and Acie Law will improve in their second year, of course. Mike Bibby, who was acquired in February and was playing with a sore thumb, will be in Atlanta from the start and should be healthy. And Josh Smith, new contract in hand, is still just 22 years old.

But even if those players take steps forward, the Hawks will still need to grow as a team to be more than a First Round exit come April. They likely have to improve just to avoid heading back to the lottery come May.

"We had a taste last year," Joe Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "And now it's about building on that and going forward. You never want to take a step back."

On both ends of the floor, Atlanta was just an average team last year, ranking 16th offensively and 18th defensively when it comes to points (scored or allowed) per possession. And though they were a playoff team, they still finished eight games under .500, wildly inconsistent for much of the season.

"We're one of the top 16 teams in the league," Smith told the AJC (though fans of certain Western Conference teams would argue vehemently), "and we have to show that every single night and not just every three or four nights. That's our great challenge as a group and really for some of us as individuals, to play at a high level every night."

Consistency in the NBA starts with defense. And with their length and athleticism, the Hawks should strive to be like the Sixers, one of the best defensive teams in the league thanks to a penchant for forcing turnovers. They also must find a way rebound better. They were the fifth worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA last season, due in part to having the power positions manned by two guys (Horford and Smith) 6-10 or shorter.

Getting more takeaways, stops and boards is the clear path to improvement, because it will allow the Hawks to get out in transition more often. And that's where they're at their best.

Other teams in the Eastern Conference have made improvements, but a higher seed is there for the taking if the Hawks can build upon their success of last season, no matter how small a taste it was.
-- John Schuhmann

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It wasn't his fault, but it is his burden: Marvin Williams was drafted ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

Three years later, they're Olympic gold-medal winners, the best players on title contenders, and the two best point guards in the NBA. He's a role player on a team that is happy to have finished eight games under .500 last season.

At least the Hawks have a point guard now.

Williams has made steady improvement in his three years in the league, and he's only 22. But he's still far from being a complete player, a go-to guy, or someone worthy of a No. 2 pick in a good draft.

If he can make the leap though, Williams can take the Hawks with him. They can go from that team that made the playoffs with 11 less wins than the lottery-bound Warriors to a team that earns a trip to the postseason.

But maybe Marvin Williams isn't that guy. Maybe teams and pundits were all hallucinating when they pegged him as a future star even though he didn't start a single game in college. Maybe Marvin Williams is just a decent player and nothing more.

Is he willing to accept that?
-- John Schuhmann

700 On Feb. 4, 2008, at 22 years and 61 days old, Josh Smith became the youngest player in NBA history to record 700 career blocked shots.
Although Atlanta made the playoffs this year, it will need some help in making this happen again.
They looked good in the playoffs pushing Boston to seven games but they were focused, something they seem to have trouble doing through stretches of the season. It could very well be that this has to do with being so young. Mike Woodson is hoping that the maturity factor kicks in soon.
Josh Smith and Marvin Williams have a ton of talent, but both will have to grow up and prove that they can do it night in and night out.
Mike Bibby is one of the better point guards in the East because of his ability to see the court and get the ball into the right hands at the right time. His ability to score when necessary is a decided plus. Arguably only Billups, and possibly Calderon, are the only other point guards in the East who might be better than Bibby.
Another plus is the development of Al Horford, and his growth in the playoffs adds a very athletic team but one that has to learn how to play hard every night.
-- NBA Scout
Marvin Williams has steadily improved in each of his first three seasons in the NBA, and he still has enough upside to land in the "potential breakout" category. Last year he started to develop more of an offensive game (14.8 ppg) to go along with his good size/athleticism combo, and he has the ability to improve on his 5.7 rpg.

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Record: 36-46, 12th in Eastern Conf.
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Scoring Leader: J. Johnson, 23.7 PPG
Rebounding Leader: A. Horford, 8.2 RPG
Assist Leader: M. Bibby, 8.0 APG

Simulated Season Details
PG Mike Bibby 13.9 3.3 6.0
SG Joe Johnson 21.7 4.5 5.8
SF Marvin Williams 14.8 5.7 1.7
PF Josh Smith 17.2 8.2 3.4
C Al Horford 10.1 9.7 1.5

G Speedy Claxton -- -- --
G-F Maurice Evans 8.9 2.9 1.1
G Acie Law 4.2 1.0 2.0
G Ronald Murray 9.4 2.0 3.4
C Zaza Pachulia 5.2 4.0 0.6
G-F Maurice Evans Free agent
G Thomas Gardner Free agent
F Othello Hunter Free agent
C Randolph Morris Free agent
G Ronald Murray Free agent
G-F Josh Childress Free agent
G Salim Stoudamire Free agent
G Mario West Free agent
PPG Joe Johnson 21.7
RPG Al Horford 9.7
APG Mike Bibby 6.0
SPG Josh Smith 1.52
BPG Josh Smith 2.80
Points Scored 98.2 (15th)
Points Allowed 100.0 (15th)
Field-Goal Percentage .454 (15th)
Opponents' FG% .463 (21st)
Rebounding Diff. +1.31 (9th)
TV: FSN South, Turner South
Radio: WQXI 790 AM
Web: Official site
Local Coverage: Atlanta Journal Constitution