When sports experts talk about a team that can make a run in the playoffs, what are some key things mentioned? Experience, mental toughness, and a solid bench, along with a few other things. For example last year's Heat team had the experience, they had the mental toughness they did not have the year prior, and their bench finally started playing during the playoffs (they were not as helpful during the regular season). What comparisons could there be between an elite team like the Heat and a middle of the pack Hawks? They have the experience and the toughness.
A projected starting five for the Hawks is: PG - Jeff Teague, SG - Devin Harris, SF - Josh Smith, PF - Al Horford, and C - Zaza Pachulia. This a playoff tested lineup. All of them, except for Harris, have played together for at least three seasons (Pachulia, Smith, and Horford for five seasons). To add on top of that, Harris has been to the Finals before with the Mavericks. There is no question that their starting five is an experienced and young (26.5 average age) lineup.
Mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness. If the mind is not strong enough to handle big plays and is jittery, the body will not be able to come through. In Larry Drew's first year as head coach, the Hawks had over ten games that they lost by at least 20 points (against the Hornets at home they lost by 41). They finished fifth place that season and were eliminated in the semi-finals. It has been seasons like this that have led to the Hawks being called "a bunch of nice guys" and "not mentally tough" by Charles Barkley. However, last year the Hawks did not give up as easily as they did in years prior. Even when they were down by double digits, they fought back and either won or came close. Against the Timberwolves last year, the Hawks were down by as many as 18 toward the four minute mark in the third quarter but managed to come back and win the game. Now, coming close does not get you wins, but they put in the effort and showed toughness that had not been there in previous seasons (see Wolves game mentioned). There is no reason that this season they will go back to their old ways.
However, there is one thing the Hawks do not have in the checklist to make a playoff run. A reliable bench. Their bench this year consists of a bunch of expiring contracts picked up from Brooklyn in the Joe Johnson trade. They did, however, pick up Lou Williams. He will be a key piece for the Hawks this year. He will be there number one guy off the bench and will receive starter-like minutes. Other then him, the Hawks have a few more three point shooters and a couple of bench warmers. Larry Drew has shown he will not give players time on the court to prove themselves unless absolutely necessary (Jeff Teague's first two seasons until Kirk Hinrich was injured). Perhaps this year that will change. Since the Hawks bench is so thin, he may be forced to give everyone a shot. Maybe a gem will be found like Ivan Johnson last year.
The Hawks are more than capable of making a playoff run. They should not be overlooked just because their six time all-star left. They are an experienced and battle-tested team that has the potential to make a lot of noise and cause an upset or two if they are thrown aside. The future is looking bright for NBA basketball in the Dirty South. It may be closer than most expect.