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The additions of Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal have the Wizards eyeing the playoffs, but it's a tougher Eastern Conference than you remember. This week, Path to the Playoffs takes a look at the Atlanta Hawks.
Today's bit examines last year's playoff teams destined for a lower seed...if they don't miss the playoffs entirely. We're moving in descending order of teams based on their finish last season, which brings us to the Atlanta Hawks. Danny Ferry has given this team's long term financial future a serious shot in the arm, dumping star Joe Johnson for a handful of peanuts and Anthony Morrow. He also swung 2005 draft boobie prize Marvin Williams to the Jazz for point guard Devin Harris. That's a lot to swallow.
Ferry wasn't done yet, signing 76ers suber-sub and playmaker Lou Williams and buying bench sniper and shooting guard Kyle Korver from the Bulls for cash and a $5 million TPE. Beyond this season, only Williams (Lou), Al Horford and John Jenkins are locked up, with Ferry to make a decision on Jeff Teague. Quite the reversal, but can a team that just flushed its star player down the toilet expect to make it back to the playoffs after a 5th place finish in the East?
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Stranger things have happened. If Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia's health keeps Johan Petro third string, the center rotation is locked down. If Devin Harris and Jeff Teague successfully share minutes, same thing,
with Jordan Farmar picking up scraps. (Editor's Note: Farmar is playing overseas. We regret the error). About as likely as both Horford and Pachulia remaining healthy the whole season. Shooting guard has become a logjam, with Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson and first round draft pick John Jenkins all manning the spot.
One solution might be to put Stephenson in the 3-and-D role at the wasteland that is Atlanta's small forward position while having Josh Smith pick up the extra minutes there, sliding Horford to power forward and letting Pachulia man the center. The reality is I won't be surprised if we see plenty of small lineups from Larry Drew. Any team with this many questions is unlikely to make the playoffs...but there is a lot of experience on the roster.
If the Wizards and Hawks are scrapping at the bottom of the conference, I give the edge to the Wizards. Both teams have plenty of playoff experience in the starting five, with the edge to Atlanta. However, the Wizards have youth coming on strong at every position on the court, sometimes more than one youngster. That depth is going to be too much for a freshly retooled Atlanta team to handle barring a roster-altering trade on either side.
That said, in any scenario where DC is bucking for a roster spot, Coach Randy Wittman is going to need to play this squad like a violin; keeping the veterans in at the right times while encouraging meaningful growth and bringing the potential (and future) of the team along for the ride with an aim to giving them the keys. Such a disparate bunch demands a strong hand, and Randy Wittman can do that, he also has plenty of hands to help, thanks to one of the biggest coaching staffs in the NBA.
And while the Wizards superior depth is a major advantage, the x-factor is the point guard position. Has John Wall turned the corner? Is Devin Harris flashing All-Star form once more? Is Jeff Teague finally asserting himself in the absence of Joe Johnson? Both squads have All-Star talent in the frontcourt, but the talent at point guard can carry these teams into the postseason. Smart money's on John Wall moving the needle in DC.