Rivalry Check is an ongoing series in which we preview 10 of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Ben KopelmanNew Faces: Once last year’s trade deadline came and went, the Hawks knew that Josh Smith, their best player (with no slight to Al Horford) was likely headed out of town. Acting to replace him and ensure that his team did not become a rebuilding project, GM Danny Ferry made one of the better off-season signings across the league when he stole Paul Milsap — arguably a better player than Smith considering all the nights Smith kills you with shot selection and effort — for a fraction of the price. After settling on Milsap to fill Smith’s void, the Hawks also added Knick-fan-hopeful Elton Brand and drafted Dennis Schröder with the 17th pick in the draft. Jared Cunningham, DeMarre Carroll, Pero Antic and Gustavo Ayon round out the players who will be rocking ATL jerseys for the first time this upcoming season.
Departures: Josh Smith was the main loss for this team, but they also shed some important role players who have helped them remain a playoff team over the last couple years in Zaza Pachulia and DeShawn Stevenson. Partly due to the re-signing of budding point guard Josh Teague, the team let Devin Harris walk as well.
Season Outlook: This Hawks team feels like an perpetual 4-6 seed, who nobody is really afraid of in the first round. Following this trend, this year’s squad seems like a realistic 6 seed who will get unceremoniously bounced in the first round by a stronger, more talented top 3-team. Milsap was a great addition, but they simply don’t have the play-makers on either side of the ball to make much noise after the regular season ends and the real season begins. That said, the roster has solid talent in Horford, Milsap and Teague and the Hawks are sure to win regular season games. Just do not count on much from Atlanta come June.
Biggest Challenge for the Knicks: Losing Smith but adding Milsap, the Hawks still have decent size which could cause problems for the Knicks. Even with Horford, the more natural 5 and Milsap the more natural 4, both of these guys can be slotted into playing either position which could allow them to trade off pushing Carmelo around when he is playing the 4. Also, Teague is blossoming into a real player, and the Knicks aren’t exactly known for slowing down fast, aggressive point guards, so keep on eye on him during these match-ups. But, the Knicks are a more talented team with a better coach (thanks for him, by the way) and should be able to get the better of Atlanta’s finest over the course of the regular season.
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