When Lou Williams signed a three-year, $15.7 million contract in the summer of 2012, he was hailed as the ideal replacement for Sixth Man Award winner Jamal Crawford, who had defected to Portland a year earlier. The 6'2", 175-pound Williams had shown with the 76ers he could play either guard spot and provide a spark off the bench, and he did just that in Atlanta, pouring in 14.1 points per game—until he tore his ACL last January. With Williams out the Hawks struggled to score, finishing the season 18th in efficiency (104.8 points per 100 possessions).
Atlanta enters this season with some solid offensive options up front in Al Horford and newly signed Paul Millsap (two years, $19 million), both 15- to 20-point scorers. Point guard Jeff Teague excels in transition and is coming off his most consistent season. And Kyle Korver, who shot 45.7% from behind the arc, was re-signed to a four-year, $24 million deal to space the floor for all of them. But none of those players can create a shot like Williams, 27, who has a diverse repertoire of isolation moves and can beat any defender off the dribble. First-year coach (and former Spurs assistant) Mike Budenholzer compares Williams with Manu Ginóbili: Both can get up good shots at crunch time. Until Williams is healthy—and he's eyeing a December comeback—Budenholzer will need to find someone to turn to with the game on the line.
COACH MIKE BUDENHOLZER (1ST SEASON WITH HAWKS)
2012--13 RECORD: 44--38 (2ND IN SOUTHEAST)
WHAT'S NEW Spurs top assistant Budenholzer takes over, with Paul Millsap replacing longtime PF Josh Smith.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG JEFF TEAGUE
14.6 PPG; 7.2 APG; 45.1 FG%; 35.9 3FG%
SG KYLE KORVER
10.9 PPG; 4.0 RPG; 46.1 FG%; 45.7 3FG%
SF DEMARRE CARROLL
6.0 PPG; 2.8 RPG; 46.0 FG%; 28.6 3FG%
PF PAUL MILLSAP
14.6 PPG; 7.1 RPG; 1.0 BPG; 49.0 FG%
C AL HORFORD
17.4 PPG; 10.2 RPG; 1.1 BPG; 54.3 FG%
SG LOU WILLIAMS
14.1 PPG; 3.6 APG; 42.2 FG%; 36.7 3FG%
YEARS SINCE the Hawks won more than one playoff series. Since moving from St. Louis to Atlanta in 1968, they have advanced only 13 of 42 times and have never reached the conference finals.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE HAWKS
Both Paul Millsap and Al Horford think of themselves as four men. Both both want the ball on the block; neither stretches the floor. Millsap has times when he can get out 18 feet and knock down jumpers, but that takes away from the rest of his game. It's not as good a pairing for Horford as Josh Smith was.... You don't need a traditional five anymore, but you do need someone who's comfortable there and doesn't want to shoot jump shots all the time. Horford is tough and physical, but he's only 6'9" or 6'10", and he has a tendency to get in foul trouble. Playing a Spurs-type defense should take pressure off him because he will have more help behind him.... Jeff Teague's a great penetrator and has a variety of shots in the paint. He could have a breakout year under Mike Budenholzer if Teague is open-minded. Think of Teague as Tony Parker: He will get a lot of freedom, have the ball in his hands a lot.... Dennis Schr√∂der [a first-round pick from Germany] has a Rajon Rondo--like body. He puts pressure on people because of his speed with the ball. Offensively, there are similarities. Defensively, he's not close.... Kyle Korver was a big re-signing for them. He is going to take pressure off Horford and Millsap, and he'll make life easier for Teague by keeping the floor spaced so his man can't help.... If Lou Williams can come back healthy he will stabilize the two-guard spot.... DeMarre Carroll is a good complementary guy. He can guard three positions and he will bring energy.
BARRY GOSSAGE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (WILLIAMS)
SIXTH MAN WILLIAMS
ERICK W. RASCO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (TEAGUE)