NBA Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks: Top 5 Players to Watch

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Atlanta Hawks Moving On Without Josh Smith

Daniel Shirey - USA TODAY Sports

When discussing the 2013-14 Atlanta Hawks, the conversation must begin with a player that is no longer a member of the team. Josh Smith, or “J-Smoove” as many around Atlanta have referred to him over the past nine seasons, made a much anticipated decision during the offseason to leave the only team he had ever suited up for and head to a different setting. Back on July 10, he inked a four-year contract worth $54 million to become a member of the Detroit Pistons. A majority of Hawks’ fans simply said “good riddance”.

There is no denying Smith’s place in Hawks’ history. The 17th overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft ranks among the top eight all-time in points, rebounds, blocks and steals for the franchise. In addition, he was an integral factor in the team ending an eight year postseason drought in 2008 and became an essential element to six consecutive playoff berths. However, Smith will mostly be remembered for failing to reach his full potential.

Combined efforts from two different head coaches just could not completely convey the importance of shot selection, role recognition and free throw shooting to the immensely talented high-flyer. As a result, Smith increasingly fell out of favor with the front office, fans and coaches while often receiving the brunt of the blame for the Hawks’ almost habitual underachievement in postseason play

With Smith now a part of the past, the Hawks will move forward with a few familiar faces and a host of new names looking to gain a following in Atlanta. Does a seventh straight visit to the Eastern Conference Playoffs lie in the future? For that to happen, the five following players must come up big for new head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Nate Miller is an Atlanta Braves writer for Follow him on Twitter @Miller_RotoRant, add him to your network on Google or like him on Facebook.

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5. Elton Brand

Daniel Shirey - USA TODAY Sports

Elton Brand has averaged 17.4 points per game over his 14 seasons in the NBA. He is fifth among active players in blocked shots and seventh in rebounds. At 34 years old, the two time All-Star is little more than a shadow of his former self but proved to be a solid role player for the Dallas Mavericks last season while averaging 21.2 minutes in 72 games. Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry signed the two-time All-Star to a one-year contract back on July 15 in hopes that Brand has another strong run providing frontcourt depth.

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4. Kyle Korver

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A large part of the Hawks success during his first season in Atlanta, Kyle Korver decided to stick around for four more years when he agreed to a $24 million deal on July 11. The 10-year veteran averaged 10.9 points per game and finished the season shooting 45.7 percent from three-point range which placed him second in the NBA. The team will need the sharpshooter to feature his lethal stroke from downtown once again in 2013-14.

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3. Paul Millsap

Robert Mayer - USA TODAY Sports

Paul Millsap is not Josh Smith. With that said, the 28-year-old forward has been a very steady producer for the Utah Jazz over the last seven seasons. Since 2010-11, he has put up 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting north of 50 percent from the field. He may not have the overall talent level of “J-Smoove” but fans should grow to enjoy his consistent contributions.

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2. Jeff Teague

Howard Smith - USA TODAY Sports

After the departure of Joe Johnson in the summer of 2012, Jeff Teague immediately moved up the pecking order and responded with a breakout. He finished last season with averages of 14.6 points, 7.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Now with Smith gone from the rotation, the opportunity is there for the fifth year point guard to step into stardom. Teague will be playing second fiddle only to the new center of attention.

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1. Al Horford

Howard Smith - USA TODAY Sports

The time has finally come for Al Horford to be the unquestioned leader and centerpiece of the Atlanta Hawks. The two-time All Star is coming off of a season that saw him post career highs with 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 37.2 minutes per game. Only time will tell how Horford will respond to being the focal point of the team, but the potential for greatness is there.