Dwight Howard is one of the best players in basketball and a metro Atlanta native. However, the 6’11 All-Star center is one of the biggest obstacles in the foreseeable future for the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks’ ability to bypass the Magic and figure out a way to be successful against the Magic is vital if this Atlanta team wants to make a championship run of its own.
Orlando has very capable and multiple outside three-point shooters and a dominate inside presence, so what are some ways the Hawks can improve their chances against the very formidable Orlando Magic?
1. Joe Johnson – Simply put, Joe Johnson has to be more of a floor leader and play better. In four playoff games against the Magic during the 2009-2010 playoffs, the Magic kept Johnson far below his season and career averages. Orlando has been a metaphorical kryptonite and Johnson has to find ways of making more plays and making his teammates better. Right now, Johnson is playing more like a 6th man against the Orlando Magic than a 16 million dollar a year player who should be able to take over games.
2. Marvin Williams – Williams is 6’9 small forward, but plays too small against good teams and the Orlando Magic is a prime example. Williams is arguably the team’s best shooter, but for the first few years he stayed away from the three-point line. After urging from the coaches, he started to shoot more regularly behind the three-point arc. Additionally, as a small forward, Williams must be able to draw fouls against players such as Vince Carter, who has continued to terrorize the Hawks, even at Carter’s advance age of 33. Williams is an X-factor and a difference maker, but as a long as he plays at a subpar level, it will be difficult to provide a different result against the Magic.
Williams is no Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant, but the Hawks need for him to show up against a team like the Magic and be able to hit threes and attack the basket. If Williams is unable to play up to his draft status (#2 pick of the 2005 NBA Draft), then the Hawks must find a more productive small forward who can play at a more, consistent higher level.
3. Better point guard play from Teague-Second-year player Jeff Teague has the physical tools to be a starting point guard, but can bring the type of leadership that an aging Mike Bibby has provided? Bibby is a year older and will be 33 next May. New Hawks coach Larry Drew wants Teague to take over the team, but its up to Teague to show that he is mentally ready.
Teague’s athletic ability is off the charts and it would definitely be a different dynamic when facing a team like the Orlando Magic who has someone such as point guard Jameer Nelson.
Both Bibby and sixth-man Jamal Crawford can throw up jumpers, but are defensively-challenged and at least 30 years old. Teague brings much needed youth along with rookie Jordan Crawford, but for the Hawks to change their fortunes against the Magic, watch how Teague and Jordan Crawford develop moving forward.
4. Getting more from the bench – Jamal Crawford had been the lone shining light for the Hawks in regard to play off the bench, but for the Hawks to go deeper, the play of the newly acquired Etan Thomas and Josh Powell along with rookie draftee Jordan Crawford will need to have a bigger impact coming off the bench in critical minutes when the starters have to rest.
5. Play physical, foul Dwight Howard -Josh Smith is one of the most versatile and emotional forwards in the NBA. He can be very good and very bad at times. The bad usually comes from his on-court attitude when things go bad for him or his team. The 6’9 forward is a great weak-side shot blocker, but lacks a consistent inside game and rather shoot long jumpers than play physical inside. Al Horford, the 6’10 center is more stable than Josh Smith, but still gets push around too much by the bigger Dwight Howard.
Howard has had monster games versus the Hawks and in essence have allowed Howard to do whatever he wants without any physical consequences. The lack of hard fouls to send a message is a problem for the Hawks, and to force Howard to go to the free-throw line and earn his points. Etan Thomas and Josh Powell may help address this, but the Hawks’ inability to get a defensive-minded 7 footer in the mold of a Tree Rollins or a Jon Koncak has hurt the team against bigger teams. Somebody on the Hawks will have to emerge as an “enforcer(s)” just like Dennis Rodman used to do with the old Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons teams of the early 1990’s.