While most of the NBA wise guys are ogling the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, wondering about the effect of Allen Iverson on the Detroit Pistons, and to a lesser degree if Chauncey Billups' homecoming can even help the Denver Nuggets reach the playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks continue to toil in anonymity.They don't have the sexiness of LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.
They don't have the power of the Houston Rockets or carry the wonderment of what Greg Oden will do when he gets healthy in Portland.
- Pistons fall to Nets in Iverson's debut
- Parker sprains ankle in Spurs' loss
- Hawks rock Raptors, remain perfect
- Sloan earns 1000th win as Jazz coach
- Varejao keys comeback for Cavs
- Bench helps Celtics beat Bucks
- Knicks keep Wizards winless
- Felton, Bobcats surprise Hornets
- Bulls stymie Shaq-less Suns
- Kings cruise past T-wolves
- Nuggets win in Billups' 1st game
- Mayo, Grizzlies edge Warriors
- Artest, Rockets drop sinking Clippers
- Kahn: Hawks are flying high
- Hill: Who's for real so far?
- Rosen: How bad are Bobcats?
- Galinsky: NBA power rankings
- Top shots: Week 2 action
- Celtics celebrate 17th title
What the Hawks do have is a 3-0 record, with the poor man's version of James Joe Johnson ripping up the league the same way he did the Celtics in their riveting seven-game series to open the playoffs last spring. And they have the stunningly multi-dimensional Josh Smith filling up the boxscore in dream-like fashion for every NBA fantasy league.
For some reason, people just don't want to value the Hawks, almost as if history precludes the Hawks from being interesting, or the marvelously talented Johnson and Smith from deserving recognition because oh, it's merely the Hawks.
If that is the case, then people just aren't paying attention because the Hawks have changed, with Johnson and Smith one of the most talented and interesting duos in the NBA.
Just consider this start for the Hawks.
They opened the season at Orlando against the defending Southeast Division champion Magic, a team that snuck into the hearts and minds of enough prognosticators that some considered them potential conference champs. Never mind their woeful lack of depth up front and their revolving door backcourt that has yet to establish itself at all.
Well, Johnson and the Hawks exposed all of that, trouncing the Magic at home by 14. Johnson had his basic 25 points and 7 rebounds, with Smith putting up 17 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and four steals. They pounded the Magic on the boards and led by as many as 19 before cruising to the win.
Next came the Philadelphia 76ers for the home opener. The Sixers had become the cool pick to challenge in the East with the signing of free agent Elton Brand. Never mind that their offense is atrocious at the moment with Brand and Samuel Dalembert tripping over each other in the post; and the latest ridiculously overpaid young talent Andre Iguodala looking more like a kid throwing rocks at a window than shooting a basketball.
The Hawks handled them too. After falling behind early to the Sixers' huge first quarter, Johnson ripped Iguodala apart with 35 points and five assists on the way to a 95-88 victory. Smith contributed his classic 14 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
And rather than belabor the point of the numbers these guys keep putting up, just accept their increasing impact in every game as the Hawks continue to raise their level of play. They strolled into New Orleans against the high and mighty Hornets, and continued their perfect run with an eight-point win.
It's just fitting that most of the discussion surrounding the Hawks in the offseason was why they lost sixth man Josh Childress to Greece, and whether or not resigning Smith to a huge deal was worth the money. Nobody talked about how youngsters Marvin Williams and Al Horford were continuing to improve, while Acie Law was learning his trade at point guard from Mike Bibby now that Bibby actually had a training camp after coming over from Sacramento in the middle of last season.
They actually have some depth now with tough ZaZa Pachulia up front, plus the additions of erratic but explosive veterans Maurice Evans and Flip Murray flying in from the wings. The latter were courtesy of new general manager Rick Sund, and all of it is being pieced together by Mike Woodson, regardless of how many people contend he is one bad slump away from being fired.
There is this obsession about a bad relationship between Woodson and Smith despite the obvious fact that Smith is just emotional and has his outbursts. Does anybody believe he's becoming a star despite Woodson? That's pretty ridiculous. Everyone seems to bask in the ignorance of Woodson's pedigree as an 11-year NBA veteran sandwiched in between playing for the defensive-oriented, fundamental drumming Bobby Knight in college and assisting Larry Brown on the bench. Add to that scaring the pants off the Celtics all the way to the seventh game last May, and you would think it was time to cut the guy a break.
And that's not to mention this almost diabolical plot to believe Johnson can never be a superstar because he doesn't jump up and down like a madman uttering a primal scream after each great play. Johnson is 6-7, 240, with a great handle like James but a better pure shooter to wit: .547 from the field and.889 from the free throw line so far. Indeed, at 27, he is a two-time All-Star.
Essentially, all of this and more is reason to hope the Hawks are again there in the spring, ready to compete in the playoffs only this time with a year of postseason experience. This time they realize they are capable of playing with anybody, and maybe this time, they can move on to the second round when nobody takes them seriously again.
These are the best kind of teams to watch, if for no other reason than they have the talent and, presumably, the will to prove everybody wrong.