As Kenyon Martin sat just behind the free-throw line, the world had no idea what Josh Smith would do next. Smith darts down from center court, leaps in the air, catches the toss from a seated Martin, and swung the ball back around windmill style. Boom. The Pepsi Center exploded, along with the TNT crew calling the All-Star festivities. Kenny Smith immediately proclaimed, “The dunk contest is where you make your name… His name is gonna be starting to become famous around here if he keeps doing dunks like that.”

In the next round, the 19-year old from College Park put on a vintage Dominique Wilkins jersey and dazzled the crowd – again – with a windmill tribute to the Hawks legend.

As he took home the title of 2005 Slam Dunk Champion, Josh Smith also took home another title: fan favorite. While the origin of the nickname “J-Smoove” is less than concrete, the high-flying young forward would soon earn the moniker.

At the time, it’s likely that he had little effect on me, a clueless 8 year-old who had little interest in professional basketball. Now, coming up on 18, I feel I can finally grasp just how big of an impact that one player had on some of the young stages of my life. Continue Reading…

Without question, Al Horford is one of the best 25 players in the NBA. He can score efficiently, defend all over the floor, rebound on both ends, and pass and handle the ball like a guard. He does all of these things at such an exceptional level that he is a mismatch against nearly every team in the NBA.

Despite that versatility, many veteran basketball watchers still want to pigeon-hole the 6-foot-10 Horford as a power forward instead of a center because of his size. “Power forward is his natural position” is what is often said in this argument.

One that thing often gets buried in that argument is the type of center that people would put next to Horford. “Horford would be great with a rim-protecting type of center” is among sentiments that are heard a lot.

And that line of thought is not necessarily wrong. Horford would be GREAT playing next to a center like Marc Gasol or Roy Hibbert. These players possess unique talent and Horford is a good enough talent that is assumed that he would be great next to these guys.

However, a lot of Horford’s success at center comes from the disadvantages he forces on his opponents; Horford is quick, he runs the floor well, he’s strong, and he’s exceptional at spacing the floor. Because of these attributes, a team can put any type of power forward next to him and the team will likely be better off because of it. For example, both Josh Smith and Paul Millsap have excelled as Horford’s pair because of the space he provides. Continue Reading…

The Hawks’ run is over in Las Vegas as the team lost their quarterfinal matchup to Houston, 78-71. The biggest issue for Atlanta was their horrendous shooting, as the team only connected on three of their 28 3-point attempts. Otherwise, the team did a lot of things well; they got the line (18-for-26), controlled the ball (only 14 turnovers, which is excellent for Summer League), and a nice effort on the offensive glass. (11 offensive boards)

Here’s how things broke down for individual players:

  • Dennis Schröder was fantastic and his box score doesn’t quite reflect how well he played. “Slashing Schröder” had several nice takes to the basket and he was tied as the team’s leading scorer with 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting. He was only credited with four assists, but he should have had many, many more; the team’s 25-for-71 overall shooting tanked what was a great passing and offensive performance from the young German.
  • Mike Muscala was again the most consistent Atlanta player on the floor. He is not going to be the catch to run the highlight reel, but that is not what really matters; Muscala has shown a lot of growth this summer from last summer. He is more skilled off of the dribble, is more refined in the post, and has quite a keen knowledge of the NBA’s verticality rules. He doesn’t always get stops, but at the very least, he is avoiding fouls that most young players commit. He and Dennis also showed some nice chemistry on the floor.
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Grantland’s Zach Lowe has declared the Atlanta Hawks among the losers in this year’s off-season, citing the team’s inability to attract a major piece despite plenty of available cap space:

No one will take Atlanta’s money, despite a good core of players, a very good coaching staff, and an innovative style of play Mike Budenholzer has only just begun installing. Some stars won’t even meet with them. I almost wanted to hug Budenholzer when I saw him in Vegas. The most common theory among insiders for Atlanta’s lack of appeal is that players see the Hawks as a dull franchise with a dead crowd and a limited postseason history that almost always involves NBA TV.

Contrarian that I am, I disagree with Lowe and almost everybody else about Atlanta’s off-season. Before I explain, I feel compelled to point out that the Hawks might have a completely different set of problems if Budenholzer had done what I suggested prior to Game 6 of the Indiana series and increased Shelvin Mack’s minutes at the expense of Lou Williams. Before the series, I noted that Williams (minus-15) and Elton Brand (minus-26) had the worst aggregate plus-minus against the Pacers during the regular season. In my playoff postmortem, I noted that Brand again had the worst aggregate plus-minus for the series (minus-32) while Williams was only 4th-worst at minus-21. Continue Reading…

After the Hawks cut bait by packaging Lucas Nogueira with Lou Williams in a trade to Toronto, and with John Jenkins showing signs of chronic health issues, the organization has to be hoping to get something out of Dennis Schröder and Adreian Payne. NBA.com insider David Aldridge went so far as to say, at the top of the broadcast of Atlanta’s Summer League Tournament meeting with Portland, that “the expectation is that Dennis Schröder is going to be the point guard of the future.”

If that’s the expectation, Schröder is going to have to learn how to hold onto the ball. He’s shown an improved offensive touch, posting a 30-point game against Dallas and averaging 42% shooting from 3-point range during Summer League. But Schröder started off Thursday’s game against the Trail Blazers with two horrible turnovers. Instead of making fundamental plays, Schroder tried to get cute with no-look passes and threw the ball away on his first two passing attempts. Through five games, Schröder is averaging 4.6 turnovers and only 3.2 assists. Continue Reading…

The Hawks played their best defensive game of the summer on Wednesday as they defeated the defending-LVSL champion Golden State Warriors 68-65 in the first round of the tournament. Here’s what I noticed:

  • Dennis Schröder had another solid scoring output. He made two of his four attempts from beyond the arc, a shooting mark that is quite impressive from an inconsistent shooter like Dennis. His stroke in the first half looked so smooth and compact, but, alas, he finished the game going 5-for-15 from the field. Only four turnovers in the game, an improvement from the 12 total giveaways in his previous two Vegas outings.
  • Shoutout to my man Mike Jawz. Mike Muscala dropped a cool 14 points with a few tasty spin moves in the lane. His improved ball-handling ability – something that you don’t often see in a lanky big – has been something that caught my eye from the first Summer League game. His defense remains fundamentally sound, but he still has trouble altering shots. Not sure what the problem is there, as his hands seem to always be in the right spot (or at least close enough) during the shot contest. The bottom line with Muscala is will do whatever he can to improve his game to fit the needs of the team. Next step? Three-point shooting, which he already does decently well.
  • John Jenkins rested the second game of a back-to-back… again. I realize he was cleared to play recently and a back injury takes time to heal, but I’ve been very disappointed with his play in the Summer League. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pulling for him to succeed. It’s just going to be harder to get opportunities like this during the regular season.
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In contrast to signing him with the team’s cap space, the Hawks have completed a sign-and-trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Thabo Sefolosha, the team announced today.

“Thabo is an unselfish, competitive and playoff-tested player, and does many things well on both sides of the ball,” general manager Danny Ferry said in the team’s press release. “He also fills a need, giving us more size and depth at the wing position. He’s been a part of winning programs and will fit our culture well.”

The Hawks also acquired the draft rights to Giorgos Printezis, trading away the rights to 2003 draft pick Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Oklahoma City will also receive a trade exception out of the deal.

Sefolosha is known for his defense, but he is also a capable shooter; he shot 39% on 3-pointers over the last three seasons, hitting a high mark of 43% in the 2011-12 season when the Thunder made the NBA Finals.

The Hawks dropped to 0-3 in Summer League play with a 91-76 loss to the Trail Blazers, mostly thanks to the hot shooting of Portland’s CJ McCollum and Will Barton. Of course, we’re not interested in what happened on the Portland side. Here’s what I saw from the Hawks’ best prospects:

  • Dennis Schröder again looked confident in trying to score, even if he did not have quite the success of Sunday’s 30 point game. He did not attempt a 3-pointer, but his takes to the basket were decisive and well-finished. I liked most of his passing, but he did end up with six turnovers thanks to some old-fashioned, Summer League sloppiness. However, he did have this nice alley-oop pass to Mike Muscala in the second half.
  • John Jenkins did not play in the second half in what was likely after-effects of his back-injury from the past year. Jenkins only played eight minutes in the first half, scoring no points and accumulating three fouls. Jenkins’ future status with the team is becoming less and less concrete as time passes. It may seems harsh since he is coming off of a back injury, but I see no reason why the team should pick up his option for next season.
  • Mike Muscala was probably the team’s best player in this game, putting up 13 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. Despite the team having trouble on defense as a unit, I liked what Muscala was doing for most the game; he still has some learning to do, but he length helps a lot when he just tries to get vertical in defending shots. Muscala was also 1-for-2 on 3-point attempts and he has commented that he is making a concerted effort to improve that aspect of his game. Being a big that can shoot 3s is an easy way to get playing time in Mike Budenholzer’s offense.
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Grantland’s Zach Lowe released his winners and losers from NBA free agency. Among the losers were the Atlanta Hawks, but not because of the deals of Thabo Sefelosha and Kent Bazemore. Instead, Lowe penned this on how the Hawks’ front office is having trouble even meeting with free agents:  

No one will take Atlanta’s money, despite a good core of players, a very good coaching staff, and an innovative style of play Mike Budenholzer has only just begun installing. Some stars won’t even meet with them. I almost wanted to hug Budenholzer when I saw him in Vegas. The most common theory among insiders for Atlanta’s lack of appeal is that players see the Hawks as a dull franchise with a dead crowd and a limited postseason history that almost always involves NBA TV.

That will turn around at some point, but just about everyone Atlanta has approached so far rebuffed the Hawks’ invitation to get in on the ground floor.

I have always been an ardent defender of the Hawks’ turnout for the other reason that Lowe mentions: the Atlanta version of the Hawks franchise has never really won anything of significance; no titles, no appearances in the Finals, hell, not even an appearance in the Conference Finals for the Atlanta faithful to hang their hats on.

The Hawks have four “championship” banners hanging up in Philips Arena. All four celebrate a division championship, which I don’t think is an accomplishment you should scoff at, as it is a nice accolade. It usually means that your team is in the top four in the conference and that they have some sort of chance of making it to the Conference Finals. Continue Reading…

The following paragraph is word-for-word from David Vertsberger’s first Summer League post.

The NBA’s Summer League isn’t the best place to make concrete judgments about players, but it can still be an effective platform in finding new quirks in returning athletes’ games, or specific skills of newcomers that can help in the long run.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Overreacting is prohibited. Let us continue.

The Hawks took on the D-League Select Team on Sunday as they attempted to secure their first victory of the summer. After their rough outing in Saturday’s game against the Washington Wizards, it was nice to see some team improvements. Here are some general notes about the game:

  • SUDDEN DEATH. WE HAD SUDDEN DEATH BASKETBALL. It was a crazy scramble to get just one shot to win. We got robbed when a goaltending call wasn’t made on a Schröder layup attempt. But, alas, it’s just Summer League…
    Missed Goaltend
  • Coach Bud must LOVE the ball movement he’s seeing from his young players. The #HamMovement is remarkable. Players are swinging and kicking, kicking and swinging, making the extra pass; this is actually my favorite part to watch in all of the Summer League. While sometimes they make errant passes, it’s expected out of these young players. Very enjoyable basketball being played by the Hawks.
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