While playing in Dallas last season Antoine Walker never felt like himself: a three-time All-Star used to being in the thick of the attack. He even abandoned his trademark shoulder shake, the Walker Wiggle. "I did it once or twice, then I went away from it," he says of the celebratory move he made famous during his seven seasons in Boston. "But it'll be back this year."
Now with a Hawks team in need of his high-volume scoring--but one that will struggle to win half as many games as the Mavericks--Walker has a spring in his step again. After averaging a career-low 14.0 points, the 6'9" forward asked for a trade and was shipped to Atlanta with Tony Delk for Jason Terry and Alan Henderson. "In Dallas we had a lot of guys who could score," says Walker. "Here I'm going to get a chance to be that first or second option again, like I was with the Celtics."
Walker's passing and perimeter scoring should mesh nicely with the blunt-force style of fellow forward Al Harrington. If Walker heeds new coach Mike Woodson's plea to launch fewer threes--last year he made just 26.9% from downtown--and work his way inside to increase his trips to the foul line, he could become the first Hawk to win a scoring title since Dominique Wilkins, in 1985-86.
In the final year of a contract that pays him $14.6 million, Walker would like an extension, but G.M. Billy Knight will wait and see; he could also deal Walker at midseason to a team making a playoff run. The 28-year-old Walker swears that he won't let his contract become a distraction. His focus will be on shoring up the Hawks' defense and rebounding so that Atlanta can end its five-year playoff drought. "I think we'll surprise people," he says. If he can lead the Hawks to 35 wins, that would be worth a wiggle or two. --M.B.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Hawks
"The bad news is, this team could allow the most points in the league. The good news is, second-year G.M. Billy Knight has a philosophy that should pay off in three years. Knight worked under Donnie Walsh with the Pacers, and Walsh is known for his patience; you can see Knight has that, too, in his refusal to overpay free-agent center Erick Dampier, who wound up in Dallas. And like Walsh, Knight values size. That's why he'll build around 6'8" rookie shooting guard Josh Childress out of Stanford and 6'9" small forward Al Harrington.... Jason Collier and Predrag Drobnjak are face-up players who shoot jumpers and pass out of the high post. The Hawks' only post-up guy is Harrington, though you'll see Antoine Walker try to cut in there for layups.... The reason the Pacers gave in to Harrington's trade demand was that he cared only about offense. After he'd miss a jump shot, you'd see him snapping his wrist--working on his shooting form--while he was getting back on D. Harrington is physically dominant and can score just about every way, but first-year coach Mike Woodson will have his work cut out trying to get him to play defense.... Harrington and Walker should combine for 40 points per game. Look for Walker to take on the role of team leader.... Eighteen-year-old Josh Smith is a superb athlete who will have plenty of time to develop as Harrington's backup without a lot of pressure.... Boris Diaw willprobably start at the two guard because of his court sense, but he's not a good shooter. Eventually Childress will take over; he's an average shooter now but a good passer and a savvy team player."
Of the 15 players who began last year on the Hawks' roster, only two (Chris Crawford and Boris Diaw) remain--the highest turnover on any team.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 28-54 (12th in the East)
Points scored: 92.8 (15th in NBA)
Points allowed: 97.5 (23rd)
Coach: Mike Woodson
(first season with the Hawks)
AL HARRINGTON [New Acquisition]
ANTOINE WALKER [New Acquisition]
KENNY ANDERSON [New Acquisition]
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (statistics for final college season) *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES