2011-12 NBA Preview: Atlanta Hawks

By Tony Piraro

The 2011 Atlanta Hawks are looking to do big things the Eastern Conference this season. Joe Johnson is at full strength after one of his worst professional seasons last year.

Atlanta has one of the best and youngest starting line-ups in basketball, but have failed to make any noise in the playoffs the last few years. In 2010, the Hawks finished in 3rd-place for the Southeast Division and lost to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

After a disappointing 44-38 campaign in 2010, coming off their 53-win 2009 season, Atlanta was looking for leaders. Johnson is unquestionably the leader by example, but the Hawks hope they have their floor general in the form of Jeff Teague. The former Wake Forest star will now take over as the starting point guard after the departure of Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford. Teague does a little bit of everything, and will be a good candidate to surprise some people this season.

Al Horford and Josh Smith are the constants for the Atlanta franchise. J-Smooth went off last season, averaging 17 points per game, alongside eight rebounds, 3 assists and nearly 2 blocks a contest. At just 26-years old, Smith is not close to done improving. His game is so explosive, but the Hawks may begin to worry with all the young players on their team, how can they afford to sign Smith moving forward? That may be a different problem for a different day, as the Hawks window could be smaller than most had imagined. Horford is a force in the paint, as he nearly averaged a double-double with 15 ppg, 9 rpg and 3 apg last season. He will look to do more of the same in 2011 with Smith once again alongside….for the time being.

Health will be huge for a few Hawks this season, namely the much maligned Tracy McGrady, as he makes his Atlanta debut in 2011. Last year’s starting point guard Kirk Hinrich is injured and will not be able to play for some time. Therefore, McGrady will have to pick up the slack in a bigger role than he has been used to the last few seasons.

Will this finally be the year Marvin Williams explodes onto the scene? Most likely not, but it is always nice to be optimistic. Williams will be vying for time on the floor amidst all the young studs the Hawks posses, and of course T-Mac. He may actually have a solid season with less pressure, coming off the bench as a possible sixth man.

The Hawks will open their 66-game season on Dec. 27 against the downtrodden New Jersey Nets. Look for this young group to really flourish during the condensed scheduled season, as their bodies won’t need nearly the same amount of time to recover like the older, veteran teams. I can see Atlanta winning 35-40 games and taking the Southeast Division outright if the Magic falter. However, if Orlando lives up to expectations, expect the Hawks to stay comfortably in second place. They will make a bid for the Eastern Conference Finals, but in the end, they must prove their worth in the playoffs, just as they have done in the regular season. I visualize another semifinal exit for the Atlanta Hawks in 2011-12.

Follow Tony Piraro on Twitter @TonyPiraro

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