Al Horford is due for a great season this year after missing all but 11 games last season with a torn pectoral muscle. The Hawks looked to move up in the Eastern Conference standings last year, and they probably could have if Horford was available for the majority of the season.
But now it’s time for Horford to step up and become the best player on the Atlanta Hawks roster. He’s at the perfect age (just turned 26), and is getting ready to start his sixth year in the NBA. He’s going to be the Hawks go-to option in the half-court with Joe Johnson now in Brooklyn.
In each year prior to his injury, his numbers were steadily increasing. His PER went from 17.0 in 2008 to 19.4 in 2009 to 20.7 in 2010. Now that he’s completely rehabbed, and is back from injury, I expect that number to increase.
Horford was always relatively close to breaking the 20 points-10 rebounds barrier. With so many guard-oriented offenses in the NBA, that’s very hard to accomplish. But I think we’ll see Horford do that this season.
He’ll get another All-Star appearance and be recognized as one of the top two or three centers – maybe even bigs – in the NBA. He’s just that talented on both ends of the floor.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m expecting big things out of the Atlanta Hawks this season. They’re probably the most overlooked team in the NBA. People look at the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks upgrades and forget about Atlanta’s presence.
Most believe Joe Johnson was their best player. That’s far from the truth. But now that Johnson is out of the picture in Atlanta, they’re going to need a guard to step up and initiate the offense.
I believe Jeff Teague will be that guy. Coming into the NBA was a learning process for Teague, and he sat behind veteran guards Mike Bibby and Kirk Hinrich for the majority of his first two years in the league.
Last year was Teague’s first full season – if you can call it that after the lockout – as the Atlanta Hawks’ starting point guard. Every year he improved as a player, and last season he showed us flashes of what the Hawks believe he can do.
Teague increased his point total from 5.2 in 2010 to 12.6 in 2012. He also increased his shooting from 43 to 47 percent during that same time frame.
Without Johnson taking up the ballhandling responsibilities, a lot of the offense’s movement must come from Teague. He must show us that he’s turned the page as a point guard, can initiate his team’s offense, and more than anything else, do it consistently.
With the weapons available in that frontcourt, Teague should have plenty of support in taking this next step. He also has pressure from the guy playing behind him, Devin Harris, who has been a starting point guard and an All-Star.
Teague has more than enough motivation to get the ball rolling. The question here is whether or not he has the ability to do it.
Steph Curry’s situation is very similar to Al Horford’s. He’s yet to truly break out as one of the league’s elite young players mainly because of his health. Curry must keep his ankles from breaking down on him.
Curry only played in 26 out of 66 games last season and he only started in 23 of them. Yet there’s no doubt he can put up crazy numbers: in his sophomore season, Curry nearly entered into the hallowed 50-40-90 club (48 percent from the field, 44 percent from beyond the arc, and 93 percent from the free throw line).
Curry was also the runner up in the Rookie Of The Year race in 2009. If Tyreke Evans hadn’t put up historical numbers – joining Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and Michael Jordan as the only rookies to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game – Curry would’ve won that award.
With Monta Ellis now out of the picture for a complete season, Curry will be the focal point of this offense. He doesn’t have to share a backcourt, or even shots, with another guard of similar quality. Instead, he must create for shooters like Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.
If the Warriors can manage to stay healthy, they’ll be a playoff contender. And when he’s healthy, Curry is one of the most efficient guards in the NBA. They also have Andrew Bogut, an All-Star-caliber center. Between the wing shooters and the big man in the middle, Curry has plenty of weapons to work with to improve his game and take that next step.
But as always, the key for Curry is keeping his ankles healthy. If he can do so, I believe he’ll be an All-Star next season. He can be one of the best point guards in the NBA, and in the same realm as Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. This season will be a testament to that.
Which NBA players will surprise with how much they improve/regress this season?
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