Draft Night Debacle

I have a problem. No, make that an issue. When there is a weakness in life, the goal is to improve upon said weakness, correct? If that is the case, why didn’t coach Budenholzer and the Atlanta Hawks improve their one glaring weakness last Thursday in the NBA Draft?

Atlanta held picks No. 15, 50 and 59. Three opportunities to add a big man. By the end of the night, it was three strikes and you’re out. The Hawks decided to trade the draft rights of Kelly Oubre Jr. whom they selected at No. 15 to the Wizards for pick No. 19 and two future second-rounders. Perfect I thought. Bobby Portis, who fit Atlanta’s most dire need of being a lively body inside, was still on the board. The Hawks add two more picks and get the guy they need, a win-win situation. Nope. Instead Atlanta selected Jerian Grant, a guard and dealt him to New York for Tim Hardaway Jr. The 15th pick in the draft eventually turns into a role player coming from the most dysfunctional team in the league just like that. Poof.

Hardaway averaged 11.5 points with the Knicks last season and saw his shooting averages plummet across the board, shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from three. Hardaway at least gets after it defensively, right? Nope. He ranked 94th out of 100 qualified shooting guards in defensive plus-minus. Strike one on Bud and Assistant General Manager Wes Wilcox.

The Hawks proceeded to draft two Euros that will never step foot on American soil for a NBA game. Marcus Eriksson, a Swedish shooting guard recovering from an ACL and meniscus tear and Dimitrios Agravanis, a Greek big man who likely makes Mike Muscala look like a perennial All-NBAer. Strike two and strike three.

Why draft players you know you have no chance of grooming instead of proven commodities from the states? Cliff Alexander out of Kansas was a top prospect coming out of high school just a year ago. He had his ups and downs at Kansas and had to go pro early due to a chance he wouldn’t be eligible next season. The former McDonald’s All-American went undrafted and is a cautionary tale of one-and-dones, but still would have been interesting to take a flier on late in the second round.

Robert Upshaw, a 7-foot center from Washington, also went undrafted. He led the nation in blocked shots this past season at 4.5 per game and would have been an excellent buy-low option for Atlanta to mold. Much like Alexander, Upshaw has off court issues and was kicked off the Huskies halfway through the season. If he would have kept his nose clean, many thought he could be a first round selection. Once again, why not roll the dice on a player like this with the 59th pick?

If you don’t like head cases, how about Darion Atkins? A 6-foot-8 forward with springs and a defense-first mindset. Atkins anchored Virginia’s packline defense and was named Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player or the Year and helped hold third overall pick Jahlil Okafor to just 10 points and five turnovers.

With Pero Antic announcing he is leaving the Hawks to return overseas, the mistakes made in the draft put even more pressure on the front office to make something happen this offseason. Atlanta is left with Al Horford and Mike Muscala as their only true big men. Is Atlanta banking on convincing a serviceable big man to sign during free agency? They will have enough trouble bringing back both Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. Are they putting their eggs all in one basket with last year’s second rounder, 7-foot-3 Walter “Edy” Tavares?

The clock is ticking after a great regular season. Cleveland exposed Atlanta in the conference finals and pounded them into submission on the glass. If Atlanta is unable to land a few big men or swing a trade, I’m not sure I like their chances as a real contender. Hopefully Bud and Wilcox are confident that they can add the right guys, if not, the ghost of Danny Ferry might haunt them.

2015 NBA Draft Reactions and Grades

1. Karl-Anthony Towns – T’Wolves

  • The ability to get the job done on both ends of the floor along with a strong character makeup was enough to give Towns the nod over Okafor. Towns displayed a nearly unguardable hook shot, fluid mobility and the ability to protect the paint in college. If he is able to develop a consistent jump shot, then Towns may become a top five center in the league. He should be able to contribute defensively right away and still crack the double digit point barrier his first season. The Minnesota front-court is now crowded with the addition of Towns alongside Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng. It would behoove Minnesota to move Pekovic and clear up more cap space. He currently is making a team-high $12.1 million with four years remaining on his contract.

2. D’Angelo Russell – Lakers

  • The Lakers got the best talent available, but a guard, especially a rookie, playing alongside Kobe Bryant is a poisonous relationship. Bryant dominates the ball and commands attention, not letting the point guard run the offense. For Russell’s development and the future of the Lakers, it would benefit them if Kobe retired sooner rather than later. Russell’s ability and knack for the game allowed him to average over 19/5/5 in his only season at Ohio State. Russell could have a similar impact to Russell Westbrook but less explosive. Russell has the potential to duplicate his college numbers in the pros once Kobe Bryant retires and take the helm as the face of the franchise.

3. Jahlil Okafor – Sixers

  • Okafor’s defensive liability kept him from being the number one overall pick. The Sixers don’t look like they have any sense of direction, drafting three consecutive centers in the lottery. Joel Embiid already looks like a lost cause, and with NINE power forwards/centers on the roster, someone has to be moved. Jalen Rose’s comparison of Okafor to Brook Lopez was unfounded. First, the ESPN crew said that he was a “double-double machine” but struggled to protect the rim. So of course, Rose compares him to a weak rebounding big man, who blocks a lot of shots. Makes sense right? The closest comp for Okafor is Al Jefferson. An ultra-skilled big man inside who can score in a plethora of ways and has a nice jumper, but struggles defensively. Jefferson, now a 10-year veteran, was the 15th pick in the 2004 draft. Would you draft a player of his caliber third overall? Jefferson’s career numbers are: 17 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. That is a nice career however you want to slice it, but everything will be predicated on Okafor’s ability to defend.

4. Kristaps Porzingis – Knicks

  • An out-of-touch team president who is too stubborn to see when he is wrong, Phil Jackson marches to the beat of his own drummer and ignores history with the pick of Porzingis. Over the past 15 years, (before this draft) 23 International players have been selected in the lottery, only two have become all-stars. Jackson needed to sell the fan base that they were serious about turning things around, but instead decided to make a joke of the process and draft a guy who will be closer to team Andrea Bargnani than he will be to Dirk Nowitzki. With a draft pick this high, you can’t afford to take a gamble on a guy who may never amount to nothing. Picks like these can cripple an already downtrodden franchise. At same point, you have to realize history repeats itself. This was not the right time to take him.

5. Mario Hezonja – Magic

  • See above. If there is such thing as a “safer” pick, then I would give the nod to Hezonja over Porzingis. Even if he doesn’t work out, he could have the ability to mold into a role player as a three-point specialist. Between Marco Belinelli to Drazen Petrovic is somewhere Hezonja hopefully develop into.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein – Kings

  • Here is another red-flag, reach of a pick. Cauley-Stein has very limited offensive skills. Why would you pick a one dimensional player in the top 10? WCS projects to be the next Tyson Chandler but more athletic and not as good a rebounder. This was a very bad pick. His ceiling may be 10 points and 10 rebounds. He will not be a game changer like DeAndre Jordan. WCS has a lot of work to do on his game offensively to even be considered a threat.

7. Emmanuel Mudiay – Nuggets

  • Off the court there may be some question marks, but on the court Mudiay is a strong bodied point guard that should be NBA ready. The top point guard in the nation had issues heading to SMU and decided to play overseas in China. Ty Lawson is already expecting a trade and if so, the Nuggets will gladly hand over the keys to Mudiay. He may become a tough score first point guard, but still have the ability to notch six assists a night once he reaches his peak. Arguably was a top 4 talent.

8. Stanley Johnson – Pistons

  • Another physically strong player that should see minutes very early on. Not sure if he will ever become an all-star but could be a strong player with Caron Butler type upside.

9. Frank Kaminsky – Hornets

  • We know Michael Jordan has a thing for white guys out of college, but it hasn’t gone great thus far (Adam Morrison, Cody Zeller). He and the front office also have an affection for Big Ten big men, drafting three straight with the aforementioned Zeller, Noah Vonleh (since traded) and now Frank the Tank. Kaminsky is very skilled but people question his athletic ability. An interesting comparison would be Channing Frye but with more ball skills and a low post game. A big man who is adept at shooting the three, a decent rebounder and a competent shot blocker. Kaminsky, in the right role, could average 15 points and 7 rebounds with the ability to stretch the floor. I liken him more to Frye than Anderson due to his ability to block shots.

10. Justise Winslow – Heat

  • Many considered Winslow a top five talent, but he slipped a bit in the draft. He is signed with Roc Nation Sports and has already displayed a knack for making bad decisions off the court after recently blowing off a national radio appearance five minutes before he was supposed to go on. Winslow has the potential to be the next great SF and do a little bit of everything. A more diverse Corey Maggette, but he could also settle into a role player. His development should be carefully watched in South Beach. In five years, Winslow might be one of the best valued picks in the draft.

The Best and Worst of the Rest


16. Terry Rozier – Celtics

  • One of the picks I hated the most was Rozier heading to Boston. Rozier was a shot jacker in college for Louisville with a knack for making bad decisions. He had nearly similar stats to those of Russ Smith who he played with and was drafted 47th in 2014:

Smith: 18.2 pt, 3.3 reb, 4.6 ast, 2.0 steals, 46.8% FG, 38.7% 3pt
Rozier: 17.1 pt, 5.6 reb, 3.0 ast, 2.0 steals, 41.1% FG, 30.6% 3pt

This smells like another Tyrus Thomas/Aaron Gordon comparison. It just doesn’t make sense. Rozier’s best case scenario would be becoming a shot-first point guard off the bench. Bad pick.

21. Justin Anderson – Mavericks

  • Exceptional pick for the Mavericks. If Anderson stayed healthy the entire season, UVA very well could have made a run to the Final Four and Anderson could have easily slid his way into the top 15, much like Sam Dekker was attempting to do after a great NCAA Tournament run. Anderson improved his three-point shots by leaps and bounds and actually led the ACC in 3pt percentage before getting injured. He is the best athlete in the draft and has an incredible makeup off the floor. He is already an above average NBA defender and will be stronger than most of the players he will be guarding. His ball handling still needs to improve after hurting his wrist but if Anderson gets the right amount of playing time and his jumper remains true, he may become the sleeper of the draft. He could fill in the role Shawn Marion left as a do-everything type of guy. At his ceiling, Anderson could average 18/6/3 along with a block per game.

23. Rondae Hollis-Jeferson – (Nets via Blazers)

  • RHJ has no discernible offensive skills what so ever and hangs his hat on defense. 3&D guys are the craze in the NBA, there aren’t many “D” only guys remaining. RHJ will have a tough time filling up stat sheets and will be relied upon as a stopper only. A Bruce Bowen type pest but stronger would be his ideal fit, but RHJ doesn’t have a three-point shot to help him stick around in the league.

28. R.J. Hunter – Celtics

  • Hunter struggled with his shot, but the former Georgia State Panther is a free-shooting 6-foot-7 guard who can become a boom or bust selection. Joining the Celtics will be a nice fit with Isaiah Thomas’ ability to drive and dish to the corners. Hunter’s long-range prowess likens him to Klay Thompson/Jamal Crawford, minus Crawford’s handles. Hunter is long but his defensive ability is still up in the air. He could become a nice role player or could become the next Kevin Martin.

32. Montrezl Harrell – Rockets

  • A year ago, Harrell was assumed to be a potential lottery pick, but now he slides to the second round. Harrell is a high intensity, hard-nosed player that has toed the line of being labeled dirty. His upside is Kenneth Faried, but his downside is Joey Dorsey. I lean more towards Dorsey.

43. Joseph Young – Pacers

  • Young was a dynamo for the Oregon Ducks scoring 20.7 points per game en route to capturing Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. Young should be a scoring guard off the bench. Rodney Stuckey, Isaiah Thomas and Mo Williams all come to mind. Great value for a pick this low.

Draft Grades


Atlanta Hawks: D+
It was a rough night for the Hawks. Atlanta refused to fill the need of drafting a big man and instead shipped away the 15th pick for Tim Hardaway Jr, who comes from the most dysfunctional locker room in the NBA. Hardaway Jr was rated as one of the worst defensive guards in the league and brings off the court questions. What type of player wears their own NBA jersey to a baseball game in hopes of being recognized? The Euro picks in the late second round were a waste. Big men Cliff Alexander and Robert Upshaw went undrafted and hold more upside. Upshaw led the NCAA in blocked shots before getting dismissed by Washington. He has off court issues, but the 7-foot center would provide a big body to protect the paint if he is able to stay out of trouble. The most troubling part of the night was what Assistant GM Wes Wilcox said after the draft about the team’s goals: Acquire additional assets – Add shooting – Improve at shooting guard. This shows a complete disconnection from the front office to what is going on on the court. The Hawks got bludgeoned by the Cavs on the boards but that still wasn’t enough for the Hawks to go big man. It looks like they are putting all their eggs in one basket with last year’s second round pick Walter Tavares. Atlanta has a lot of work to do this off-season. Will they resign Millsap and Carroll? Will they add a competent big man to protect the paint? We will see.

Boston Celtics: B
Brooklyn Nets: B-
Charlotte Hornets: B+
Chicago Bulls: B+

Cleveland Cavaliers: B+
Loved the selection of Tyus Jones, but he was traded to Minnesota and the Cavs added Cedi Osman and Rakeem Christmas to go along with Sir’Dominic Pointer. Old age and a lack of healthy bodies crushed Cleveland in the Finals. Christmas had a breakout year with Syracuse and could provide good minutes off the bench. Pointer is a lively body who can help out defensively. Lets just see if David Blatt has learned to trust the bench and the young guys.

Dallas Mavericks: A
Denver Nuggets: A
Detroit Pistons: B-
Golden State Warriors: C+
Houston Rockets: C+
Indiana Pacers: A-
Los Angeles Clippers: A
Los Angeles Lakers: A

Memphis Grizzlies: F
The worst three-point shooting team in the NBA for nearly five years now passed on maybe the best shooter in the draft in R.J. Hunter to select another big man, Jarell Martin, to backup Zach Randolph. Again, why do teams not fill needs? The “Grit-N-Grind” hasn’t worked do the an absolute lack of outside shooting. Hunter is long and can improve his defense. His three-point shot would open things up inside. Instead the Grizz decided to stay stubborn in their ways and refuse to finally address a need. The trade for Andrew Harrison helps out, but he will struggle to find playing time and won’t have the impact Hunter may have. Decisions like these are what separates the pretenders from the contenders. You have a weakness? Fix it!

Miami Heat: A
Milwaukee Bucks: B-
Minnesota Timberwolves: A+
New York Knicks: D+
Oklahoma City Thunder: B+
Orlando Magic: C+

Philadelphia 76ers: D
Like a train wreck you can’t stand to look away from, the “Trust the Process” propaganda was too much to stomach. Four more big men, make it six total in the past three years. There is no rhyme nor reason to what the Sixers are doing. Every other team is going small, so the Sixers are trying to be the first team to run an all center line up out there? I understand drafting the “Best Available” but it has gotten out of hand with NINE bigs on the roster now. Joel Embiid is about to catch the label as a bust if he misses another season. He does not seem focused or serious at all about getting better both on the court and health wise. There is no cohesion with its parts on this Philly team. Okafor will be able to score but will leak points defensively and hope Noel can clean up behind him. The selection of J.P. Tokoto was terrible. A D-League player at best, Tokoto was a non-factor during his career at UNC and has limited to no upside.

Phoenix Suns: B+
Portland Trailblazers: B+
Sacramento Kings: D-
San Antonio Spurs: B
Toronto Raptors: A
Utah Jazz: A-
Washington Wizards: B

The Pitfalls of Drafting International in the Lottery and a Review of Last Year’s Draft Predictions

I got some right, but I also got some wrong. Last year I decided for the first time to record my opinion on each NBA Draft lottery pick and follow them throughout the season–and eventually each player’s career– to see whether I know what I’m talking about or if I’m just another blinded fan who thinks they know it all. I’ve always been known to go against the grain and follow my own train of thinking. That sometimes has made me come off as a skeptic or even a “hater”. I like to think for myself, create my own opinions and match them up against those of the big names on TV who are getting paid to give their critiques.

The 2015 NBA Draft is tomorrow and yet again I am looking forward to seeing where each player gets picked and whether they will be a contributor or not. After doing some research of my own, I’ve discovered that there are some trends in the league: It is extremely risky to take an International player in the lottery. Since 2000, there have been 23 International players selected in the top 14 (lottery) picks. How many of those players have produced lottery worthy careers? Well, lets start with the two best players.

Only Yao Ming (1st overall, 2002) and Pau Gasol (3rd overall, 2001) have been selected to an All-Star game. Yao was a Chinese sensation and was selected to the All-Star game every season during his 8-year career. Yao was one of the most skilled big men to over play the game, but foot problems derailed the 7-foot-6 center’s longevity. He retired at the age of 30 and compiled career averages of 21 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

Gasol is still chugging along in the NBA and just enjoyed a season with the Chicago Bulls in which he averaged 19.4 points and a career-high 12.3 rebounds. The 34-year-old Spaniard has made five All-Star games over his 13-year career and averaged over 18 points and 9 rebounds a game.

Outside of these two outliers, the other 21 players have struggled. Only six players have averaged double-digits in their careers (Nene, Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari, Ricky Rubio, Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas). Two players have yet to play in America (Fran Vasquez – Orlando, 11th pick, 2005 & Dario Saric – Philadelphia, 12th pick, 2014) and four played less than five years in the league (Vasquez, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Yaroslav Korolev, Mouhamed Sene). If you have no idea who those aforementioned players are, trust me, you are in the majority.

It’s dangerous to take a gamble on a guy who you’ve seen play for one week and only has grainy Zapruder film footage of his game. Drafting Internationals outside of the lottery has blossomed much more success. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Nicolas Batum and Marcin Gortat are just a few players that have had exceptional careers and were drafted either in the late first round or second round.

Some of the greatest busts in the past 15 years have been DeSagana Diop (Cleveland, 8th pick, ’01), Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Denver, 5th pick, ’02), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick, ’03), Yaroslav Korolev (Clippers, 11th, ’05) and Mouhamed Sene (Seattle, 10th pick, ’06). Darko would be the most famous of this bunch. He was sandwiched between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and ended up becoming a human victory cigar, taking the court only in garbage time in Pistons wins. Obviously Fran Vasquez was also a bust in the fact that he never even attempted to come overseas to America after being selected by the Magic.

But the one player I remember the most and will never forget what Fran Fraschilla kept saying about on draft night, was Yi Jianlian. Fraschilla kept repeating the phrase, “He’s hip-hop, he’s new school.” What in the world does that even mean? He was trying to pawn Yi off as a do everything forward that was not another soft Euro… what did we end up getting? A 5-year career with averages of 7.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 40% shooting.

This year’s draft will likely feature Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja. Porzingis is supposed to be a 7-foot Latvian that can shoot the three and also block shots. Hezonja is assumed to be a strong all around player with high upside. As you’ve seen in the past, sometimes you draft a guy expecting to get the next Dirk Nowitzki and end up with a Yaroslav Korolev. Buyer Beware.

2014 Prediction Results (so far) [2014 Draft Predictions]

1. Andrew Wiggins – I was very critical of the selection and thought he was the most overrated player in the draft. Wiggins rookie numbers looked good offensively, but if you dig deeper I’m still not sure he can be the absolute go-to guy on a playoff caliber team. Injuries riddled the Wolves and Wiggins was thrust into the No. 1 scoring option role. His stats: 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds were solid, but he shot 43% from the field and 31% from deep. He wasn’t the most effective but still is very young. I compared him to Andre Iguodala with more offensive upside. Iggy’s third season’s line went: 18.2, 5.7, 5.7 and 44% from the field. I Wiggins isn’t too far off from putting together a season like this if he continues to work on his shot and get some help around him.

2. Jabari Parker – Parker was deemed as my safest pick of the draft. He shot 49% and averaged over 12 points and 5 rebounds per game before going down with an injury. His health and weight control now murky up his career path a little, but if he is 100% and is in shape, I still feel like he will be the best scorer out of this class when all is said and done.

3. Joel Embiid – When this pick came in, I said the Sixers would bemoan the selection. It is also the type of pick that keeps a franchise is the doldrums of the basement of the league for years. Embiid missed his entire rookie season with injuries just like the center that was selected the year before him, Nerlens Noel. Now people have come out saying Embiid is in danger of missing the 2015-16 season as well and is having his dedication called into question about whether he wants to be a great player or not. They really nailed it on the head when they compared him to Greg Oden coming out of college. Red Flag.

4. Aaron Gordon – The similarities to my comparison of Tyrus Thomas are frightening.  Last year a posted both player’s college stats and they were identical. Now compare their rookie numbers and it is jaw dropping.
                             Gordon: 5.2 ppg, 3.6 reb, 0.5 blks, 44%
                             Thomas: 5.2 ppg, 3.7 reb, 1.1 blks, 47%

5. Dante Exum – I like the pick of Exum, but after looking at the International stats I gave you earlier, it might be an uphill climb for the Aussie. He shot just 35% and struggled in many different facets. His 22 minutes per game were a lot for a 19-year-old but it is great experience for him. His sophomore season will be interesting to see whether he has learned anything and taken any steps forward.

6. Marcus Smart – Smart did a little bit of everything in Boston in his first season. His shot came and went as expected, but his defense was always reliable. 1.5 steals per game in just 27 minutes as a rookie is extremely impressive. He averaged over 7/3/3 and should see even more playing time next year. I predicted him to score 17-20 ppg before his career is over and I still think he can reach that level of offensive efficiency in due time.

7. Julius Randle – A broken leg might have been a blessing in disguise. He should come back a year wiser and have more talent around him. I still think he has the potential to be a Zach Randolph clone and should be a top scoring option once Kobe Bryant retires.

8. Nik Stauskas – Didn’t like the pick then. Still don’t like the pick now. Sacramento and it’s revolving door of head coaches along with evil scientist Owner Vivek Ranadive gives Stauskas a less than favorable situation to flourish in. He could become a poor man’s Kyle Korver, but it will be tough for him to avoid being the next Jimmer Ferdette.

9. Noah Vonleh – Vonleh didn’t see a lot of time as a rookie. He is still the tender age of 19 and has time to grow. Vonleh spent a lot of time in the D-League and on the DL.

10. Elfrid Payton – I ridiculed this pick a year ago, but he put up solid numbers across the board without a reliable jumper. He is following the path of becoming the next Rajon Rondo and produced better numbers than Rondo did in his rookie season. One could argue he actually outplayed Rondo this season:
                               Payton: 8.9/4.3/6.5
                               Rondo: 8.9/5.5/7.9

11. Doug McDermott – McDermott struggled with injuries and his shot. I likened him to Adam Morrison and I have to stick with it. Luckily for him, Chicago ridded themselves of Tom Thibodeau and will have a more bench and offense friendly coach in Fred Hoiberg.

12. Dario Saric – Saric has decided he will not play for the Sixers this season. Fran Vasquez 2.0?

13. Zach LaVine – Played a lot more than he probably could have imagined in his rookie season. LaVine averaged over 10 points per game and showed off his great athleticism and three-point shot and was a pleasant surprise, but where does he fit in with Ricky Rubio healthy?

14. TJ Warren – Was up and down from the D-League and performed well with the Suns. 6.1 points per game on 53% shooting gives him a good stepping stone to build upon.

Remembering The ’14-15 Atlanta Hawks

60 Wins. Four All-Stars, including an All-Star Head Coach. A perfect 17-0 month of January and also a franchise record 19-straight wins. The franchise’s first conference finals appearance. The late-season injuries. The nightclub. The what-ifs. These are all things that Hawks fans will never forget. The franchise’s best season ever since moving to Atlanta was highlighted by many great accomplishments, but was marred by injuries and mishaps down the stretch.

To fully wrap one’s head around what the Hawks did this season, you must look at where they began. Atlanta was a plucky bunch in Coach Budenholzer’s first season a year ago, compiling a record of 38-44 without Al Horford for the majority of the season after he injured his pectoral muscle. Even with the sub-.500 record, the Hawks earned the eighth-seed in the watered down Eastern Conference. They weren’t expected to do much against the experienced top-seeded Indiana Pacers, but after a 101-93 win in Game 1, Atlanta fans began to believe.

The Hawks held a 3-2 series lead with a chance to pull the upset and close out the Pacers in Game 6 at Philips Arena, but the Pacers fended off Atlanta twice and advanced to the next round. Something happened in that playoff series. The Hawks found themselves going chest-to-chest with one of the toughest teams in the league without backing down. It was the beginning of a culture change.

The Worms Turns

As the 2014-15 season approached, a healthy Al Horford would be returning to the fold. Additions of Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha may have seemed insignificant, but as the season unfolded, for better and for worse, these two acquisitions loomed large in the subsequent success and failures of the Hawks. The season kicked off with rapper T.I. performing concerts pregame, at halftime and postgame, but the Hawks ended up losing 109-102 to the Toronto Raptors. A win over the Pacers and narrow losses to the Spurs and Hornets got Atlanta off to a rocky 1-3 start, which definitely would not surprise anybody in the NBA considering the team won just 38 games a year ago.

Then something happened. Atlanta won six of their next nine games and began to find their footing on the season. On Friday November 8, the Hawks beat the Pelicans 100-91. From that day until February 2, Atlanta ripped off a hellacious 33-2 record including 19-straight wins. By that time, the Hawks transformed from a 7-6 team to a 40-8 team. Times were good and the slogan “True To Atlanta” became a rallying cry for those to that supported the team. Philips Arena became the hottest ticket in town and sellouts became the norm. The team was clicking on all cylinders and Bud Ball was born with the unselfish play of the Hawks earning them the nickname of “Spurs East”.

Atlanta continued its strong play but came back down to earth after the All-Star break and recorded a humanly 17-11 record. On February 10, rookie and 15th pick in the 2014 draft Adreian Payne was traded to Minnesota for a future first round pick. The big man did not see much playing time and rumor has it had a falling out with the coaching staff. Already slim on big men, Atlanta felt it was the right move to make.

War of Attrition

Injuries began to pile up late in the season. Thabo Sefolosha was entrusted to be their top wing defender and split duties with DeMarre Carroll, but a strained right calf held him out for months. Both Mike Scott and Dennis Schroder sprained their toes and had to sit out a few games. Paul Millsap hurt his shoulder in the final week of the season and later it was Al Horford injuring his finger. And of course in the playoffs, the season ending injury to Kyle Korver and bone bruise and turf toe Carroll sustained. Injuries however are a part of the game. You can’t look to injuries as the main reason why things went south in the playoffs. The biggest blow was the early morning arrests of Pero Antic and Sefolosha outside a nightclub in New York. Pero missed a few games, but Sefolosha was done for the season after the altercation with the cops resulted in his fibula being broken.

The loss of Sefolosha piled with all the other injuries to the Hawks left the team thin in the playoffs. Atlanta’s lack of size hurt them as the Cavaliers out-rebounded them in every game. The Hawks entered the playoffs with a literal and figurative limp that they were never able to solve. Uninspiring performances against the Nets and Wizards were just enough to get by, but once they faced a Cleveland team—who also was battling injuries—Atlanta did not have enough bullets left in the chamber.

Off-Season Needs

Atlanta has a strong team-oriented core in the weak Eastern Conference, but decisions will need to be made on how to improve the team. Both DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap are unrestricted free agents. With the way Carroll was playing before injury, it seemed like the Junkyard Dog was in-line for a major pay raise. Luckily for him, he suffered just a bone bruise and not ACL damage, insuring he will get a hefty raise.

Millsap was up and down during the postseason but was Atlanta’s most reliable player during the regular season. It may be tough to re-sign both but it will be on the team’s ledger as a top priority.

The most glaring need is a big man who can rebound and defend. 7-foot-3 Walter Tavares plays overseas, but was selected by the Hawks last year. He is incredibly raw but if he could turn into what the Utah Jazz have with Rudy Gobert, coach Bud would be ecstatic. Atlanta is able to swap draft picks with the Nets after the 2012 Joe Johnson trade. They now select 15th instead of 29th. It will be imperative for them to hit on the pick after deciding Payne wasn’t the right man a year ago.

Wrapping Up A Historic Weekend

The weekend has come and gone, but it was one not soon to be forgotten—for better or for worse. The mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao headlined the weekend and grossed enough money to make you sick to your stomach if you watched the fight. The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby was another spectacle to behold. The NFL Draft made for good TV and the Atlanta Falcons seemingly put together one of the strongest drafts in the league. Game 7 of the Clippers-Spurs series was everything fans could have hoped for. The Braves hosted the Cincinnati Reds and on Sunday the Hawks welcomed the Wizards for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

From a local standpoint, there were some good moments and some bad moments for Atlanta teams. Let’s start with the positives. The Braves came away with a split in their four-game series with the Reds. Atlanta’s No. 3 ranked prospect Mike Foltynewicz made his first career start and helped the Braves win 4-3 with both his arm and bat. The 23-year-old who was acquired from the Houston Astros in the Evan Gattis deal, pitched five innings and allowed two earned runs. Foltynewicz settled down after a shaky 28-pitch first inning which saw two Reds cross the plate to gain an early lead. In the fourth inning, Foltynewicz stepped to the dish and delivered a two-run double to help spark the offense.

The Falcons had a well-liked draft and picked up some good value in the later rounds. Grady Jarrett is the son of former Falcon great Jessie Tuggle and will look to bring the same hardworking mindset his father had that made him a five-time Pro Bowler after going undrafted. The first round selection of Vic Beasley filled a glaring need for a pass rusher and gives Falcons fans an exciting player to look forward to seeing on Sundays.

One Atlanta team however, did lay an egg this weekend; your Atlanta Hawks. An energized team came out and held a 37-26 lead after the first period and looked as if they were ready to run the Wizards out of the building. Atlanta entered the half up 63-53, but the wheels would fall off. Bradley Beal took over the game and poured in a game-high 28 points to lead the Wizards to a 104-98 win. After struggling to close out Brooklyn in a timely fashion, Atlanta fans might be ready to hit the panic button after blowing Game 1.

On the national stage, the Kentucky Derby went chalk with the favorite, American Pharoah, pulling away down the stretch to hold off Firing Line. The pomp and circumstance was a sight to behold as the graceful power of the horses was on full display. American Pharoah will now attempt to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Game 7 of the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs was the most exciting event of the weekend hands down. A hobbled Chris Paul with just one hamstring willed the Clippers to victory and stunned the defending champs with a 111-109 victory. Paul finished with 27 points including the game-winner with one second remaining over Tim Duncan; a shot even the Russian Judges would give a 10-out-of-10 in difficulty. The incredible performance was meant to serve as the ultimate appetizer to the biggest boxing match in history, but the main course didn’t please everyone’s pallet.

Mayweather beat Pacquiao by decision in a match that most were let down by. Being an avid boxing fan year round, this was exactly what I thought would happen. The casual fan who thought there would be some sort of knockout got their hopes up for nothing. These two fighters aren’t guys who try to knock you out anymore. Mayweather is the greatest defensive fighter of all-time and always looks to hug and slither his way out of trouble. People can’t say the fight was a disappointment because this is what was expected going in. Pacquiao hadn’t scored a knockout since 2012 and Mayweather, 2011. The villain might have won the fight, but overall as sports fans, we won this weekend.

Saturday’s Sports Lineup One For the Ages

If you’re a sports fan, this Saturday is the type of day you live for. Clear your schedule, grab a cold drink, order a pizza and enjoy a plethora of sporting events to choose from.

The action begins at high noon with the NFL Draft kicking off. The draft has outdrawn NBA Game 7s in years past and will likely put up another big number in the Nielsen ratings this weekend. The Atlanta Falcons are holding a draft day party at the College Football Hall of Fame and will have attendees’ eyes glued to the big screen to see who Dan Quinn and company decide to bring aboard alongside No. 8 pick Vic Beasley. Rumors have swirled that the Falcons would be active during the draft and trade talks have floated around Bruce Irvin of the Seattle Seahawks as being a potential fit to rejoin coach Quinn in Atlanta.

Is football not for you? Well, maybe some hockey will whet your appetite. The New York Rangers host Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and will look to avenge a stunning Game 1 loss to the hands of the Washington Capitals. Hockey is understandably not big in the South, but one cannot argue the intensity and excitement the playoffs bring. The Rangers finished the regular season as the top team in the league and recorded their best season in franchise history. The visiting Capitals stole Game 1 with a game-winning Joel Ward goal with just two seconds remaining. New York failed to clear the puck out of the zone and Ward slipped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist to silence the home crowd.

At 4:00 P.M., live coverage of the 141st Kentucky Derby kicks off. “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” is a spectacle to behold at beautiful Churchill Downs. Fancy wardrobes, floppy hats, mint juleps and heavy gambling are all in abundance at the track. Celebrities and athletes both make it a point to attend the historical event. Last year, some drama occurred involving Denver Bronco receiver Wes Welker, who was shown making it rain $100 bills while at the track. Months later, it turned out Welker was under the influence of the drug Molly, and was subsequently suspended for four games after testing positive for amphetamines.

Last year’s on the track action featured California Chrome, who won the Derby and the Preakness Stakes before falling in the Belmont Stakes. California Chrome fell short of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Around 7:10 P.M., the Kentucky Derby will be wrapping up. At that time you will be able to switch over to the Braves-Reds game, or if you want, you could even make it to the game in person as it will be played in the friendly confines of Turner Field. Eric Stults will do battle with the ageless Jason Marquis. The Braves have held their own this season and have proven to be a competitive team.

Things start to get serious in primetime with the Los Angeles Clippers welcoming the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs for Game 7 of an epic first round playoff series at 8 P.M. There has been no momentum with both teams picking up wins on each other’s home court after suffering grueling losses to one another. Unsung heroes and three-point shooting have been the story. Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and most recently Marco Belinelli have all played the games of their lives as they have propelled the Spurs’ bench. Belinelli drained seven threes and finished with 23 points while Diaw scored 17 in Game 6, but somehow, the Clippers managed to stave off elimination and force a deciding Game 7 with a 102-96 win on Thursday. Four of the six games have been decided by 10 points or less and has given fans a Western Conference Finals worthy performance.

You can find great sports action on any given weekend, but the straw that stirs the drink and makes Saturday one of the greatest days in recent sports history is the legendary boxing bout featuring undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. The fight will likely start around 10 or 11 P.M. depending on how the undercard goes. The two most recognized figures in the sport finally meet after a decade of Mayweather dodging Pac Man. The fight will be the highest grossing pay-per-view of all-time, surpassing the mark set by Canelo Alvarez and Mayweather in 2013.

The fight is going for $90-$100 and will earn Mayweather up to $180 million just for taking the fight. Tickets to the fight did not go on sale until the week before and only 1,000 tickets were available to the public and sold out within 60 seconds. Tickets have gone for $40,000 upwards to $300,000. This fight is the most decorated match in over 30 years and will continue to put boxing on the map while the UFC has been on a steady decline. The UFC suffered a big blow with Light Heavyweight Champion and most popular fighter Jon Jones being stripped of his belt and facing a prison sentence.

Whatever event you choose to watch, you can’t go wrong. The marathon of sports will span nearly 12 hours and will give die-hard sports fans everything and more they could ever ask for in a day.

Why The Hawks Will Soar Into The Finals

April. October. November. All painful months for Atlanta fans. The playoffs are here yet again but this time there is a different aura surrounding the Atlanta Hawks. There is a different vibe; a different feel that has surrounded this team all season. The Hawks have home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference; a rarity for a team that has been stuck in mediocrity. It’s time for Atlanta to make a statement. It’s time for them to take the next step. It’s normal to be panicky about the Hawks, but I’m here to tell you to take a deep breath and relax. I am going off on a limb and saying the most disregarded number one seed in NBA playoff history will do the “unthinkable” and win the Eastern Conference Finals.

The trendy and sexy pick all season long has been the Cavaliers. Sure, they have the star power but sometimes in the playoffs it’s the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Cleveland handed Atlanta a beat down in game nine of the season, 127-94. That loss along with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lowly Lakers ignited something within Atlanta. The Hawks started their rampage through the Eastern Conference and left in its warpath three convincing wins over the Cavs, so why can’t this Hawks team do the same thing in the playoffs?

Playoffs and the city of Atlanta have not gone well together, but just saying “We live in Atlanta” is not a good enough excuse to why the Hawks won’t make it to the NBA Finals. Injuries have been a concern and are a potential speedbump on the Hawks’ bandwagon to the championship game, but time and time again, these Hawks have proven they are for real. Coach Budenholzer’s team system is deadly. An unselfish team that can lock you down in the postseason is a team no one would want to face.

Atlanta is the most complete team in the East. Void of “stars”, the Hawks let you choose your poison. Don’t want Millsap, Horford or Teague? Fine. Here is Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll driving you crazy with their shooting. Don’t like those options? How about Dennis Schroder, who is quietly turning the Jeff Teague/Schroder backcourt into a poor man’s Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe situation.

Cleveland will not win the NBA Finals. They will have to scrap their way to even get there. The Hawks have had their number. DeMarre Carroll befuddled LeBron James in their last matchup, harassing him into nine turnovers. Cleveland is not the elite defensive team Atlanta is and they don’t have the coaching to match up with Mike Budenholzer. LeBron and Kyrie Irving might get there’s but two men will not beat a Budenholzer coached team. Two long suffering cities might clash for a chance to lift their respective “curses”.

Chicago might be the only other team that could challenge the Hawks. Atlanta beat the Bulls twice before losing in the final game of the season while calling the dogs off. Chicago is a tough-nosed defensive team but has struggled with injuries all season long. Derrick Rose looked good in game one against the Bucks, but it remains to be seen if he can grind out a long series against an equally tough defensive team. Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder could give Rose headaches trying to chase them around the perimeter.

Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol will be the cornerstones for Chicago. They will need to perform up to their season numbers to take down either the Hawks or Cavs. Atlanta will likely get an exhausted team in the Eastern Conference Finals. Chicago and Cleveland seem destined for a physical long series. It will be imperative for the Hawks to wipe the floor with the Nets in four and to take care of either Washington or Toronto in short manner also.

Whatever happens, be proud of the Hawks. It has been a great season but there is much to come on the horizon. As long as they make the ECF, they will have had a successful season. Atlanta is playing with house money, and I think they are going to cash it in into a NBA Finals appearance.

RESULT: Hawks were swept in 4 games by the Cavs