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Competition discussion: Atlanta

The season is still two months away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next month or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Atlanta.

Last year's record: 37-45
Playoffs: Lost to Boston 4-3

In: Maurice Evans, Randolph Morris, Flip Murray, Thomas Gardner
Out: Josh Childress

Projected starting lineup: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford

Key themes:

  • How will they replace Josh Childress?
  • Can a full season of Mike Bibby improve the half-court offense?
  • What happens to Mike Woodson if the team starts slowly?
  • Will Josh Smith park his butt on the block instead of shooting tons of threes?
  • Does Al Horford take the next step?
  • Who else on the bench will emerge as a key man?

I'll have more in an hour.  Discuss and predict for now.

[UPDATE, 11:17 a.m.]: Got sidetracked last night, so I never ended up finishing this post.  Here goes.

Boston series aside, let's all take a deep breath and remember that Atlanta won just 37 games last year.  Don't give me the "that's not fair, they didn't have Mike Bibby for 82 games" excuse: they were 23-28 before the trade, 15-17 after it.  They did push the Celtics to seven games, but all four of Boston's wins were blowouts, while all three of Atlanta's wins were close games.  If we go by point differential, which is the best way to weed out the random variation and truly account for a team's strength, Atlanta didn't even impress in the playoffs.

Now, take that team and subtract Josh Childress.  Hollinger loving aside, Childress is a very key loss for that Hawks team.  Besides Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, Childress was probably Atlanta's best player.  He was second in PER, posted insane shooting percentages (59 eFG%, 64.7 TS%) and, to top it off, was a very solid defender.  More importantly, Childress was an outstanding cutter, perhaps the only guy in Atlanta's main rotation that was even competent moving without the ball.  Maurice Evans cannot possibly replace all of that.

The last point is key.  Despite all their athletes, Atlanta played at just the 17th-fastest pace in the league last year.  They were dynamic in transition, but didn't run enough, partially because they were only mediocre defensively and partially because they were a bad defensive rebounding team (sixth-worst in basketball).  That meant there were a lot more half-court sets than it seemed, and Childress was great at finding space in those situations.  Now, expect to see a lot of Joe Johnson going one-on-one, Mike Bibby shooting ill-advised quick jumpers and Josh Smith floating to the perimeter.

Atlanta's young guys should all get better, particularly Al Horford, who should have been playing more minutes last year.  But combine Childress' loss with the return of Mike Woodson, and this team is almost certainly going to be worse.

Prediction: 35-47, 4th in Southeast, 10th in Eastern Conference