Game #1 Preview: Sekou Smith Talks Hawks

The plan we’ve conjured up in the 8.9 Lab is to provide yall with a preview of every game this season. Generally, we’ll put them up the day of. On occasion, they may go up earlier. And at other times, life will get in the way and they will not appear at all. Thems the breaks, but we’ll do our very best to bring it for all 82.

We’ll probably mix up the format from game to game to keep things interesting, sometimes interviewing people more familiar with the opponent and other times just writing a straight preview ourselves. Maybe we’ll even dig up some wildcard methods here and there to keep you on your toes. For the opener, however, we obviously don’t have a ton of interesting things to say other than “Welcome back, oh sweet, sweet NBA basketball goodness.”

Thus, I reached out to a man who always has a ton of interesting things to say: Sekou Smith

Many of you are already very familiar with Sekou from his work covering the Pacers, among other things, at the Indianapolis Star from 2002 to December 2004. To the dismay of many a Hoosier, he took his reporter hat and engaging prose with him to Atlanta thereafter and has since been holding down the Hawks beat for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, blogging regularly on the paper’s Hawks Blog and relaying all the NBA news fit to tweet through his @sekousmith01 feed.

Honestly, who could be better to provide some perspective on tonight’s season opener for both the Pacers and the Hawks from the ATL? And fortunately, he was gracious enough to share some of his vast Hawks knowledge with you 8p9s readers.

Here’s a Q&A we did yesterday, with me asking the Qs and Sekou bringing the As.

atlanta hawks logo

Between Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford, the Hawks have a ton of offensive firepower in the back court — and three guys who all took a ton of threes last year (each had more than 5 three-point attempts per game last season). Do you see them all continuing to put up a lot of shots or do you see either Bibby or Joe making a concerted effort to make sure guys like Horford and Josh Smith get more shots near the hoop?

I don’t know that Bibby or Joe will sacrifice shots for the other guys, but I think their minutes (should be) curbed to the point that they’ll be forced to give up some shots in the process. If anything, I think Crawford’s assist game will stun some people, mostly because he’s such a willing passer, and he’ll be on the floor with guys that can finish (Smith, Horford, Joe and Marvin Williams).

There are two things I think most NBA players are loathe to surrender (consciously) and that’s shots and minutes. So don’t expect any humanitarian moves from anyone for the sake of the greater good.

Speaking of Josh Smith and threes, he said this summer that he needs to stay away from the allure of the perimeter and instead focus on getting to the rim off the dribble and scoring in the paint. Will he abide by that pledge or will he fall back into settling for too many jumpers?

He’s going to take some jumpers. There’s no doubt about that. But in seven preseason games he didn’t take a single 3-pointer. That’s a stunning stretch for a guy that treats threes like those old Lay’s potato chip ads (“Bet you just can’t eat one”). Well, some of Josh’s teammates have wondered aloud if he’ll be able to keep from taking just one. Time will tell. It’s obvious that his game is far more effective when he’s doing other things. Plus, there are so many other guys capable that he needs to steer clear of the three-point line anyway.

People forget that Marvin Williams is only 23 years old. And last year, he started to look like he was really about to begin making good on some of his enormous potential. How has he looked in camp and will we see his game progress even further this year?

I’ve been getting roasted on my own blog for floating the idea that Marvin was having a breakout season last year before being sacked by that back injury late in the season. He’s looked good in camp and Marvin’s always been better than he gets credit for. He’s always going to get venom around here because he’s not Chris Paul or Deron Williams. I thought that theme would have vanished a bit by now, but it remains strong.

He’s still a youngster, as are Josh Smith and Al Horford. So they’ve all still got room to improve. One of them has to move up to the next level this year if the Hawks want to challenge for anything more than the fourth spot and another 12-15 game playoff run.

No one ever talks about Zaza. But he’s got a cool name and a solid game to match. Discuss.

No one ever talks about Zaza? Where? He’s a fan favorite down here. Maybe not to Austin Croshere proportions, but folks down here love him. Some love to hate him because of his antics on the offensive end and his complaining to the officials. But he earns his money, which can’t be said for a lot of 7-footers in the NBA. (You know who you are).

Zaza is a renaissance man of sorts. He’s a restaurateur, a fashion icon (mostly in his own mind, ha) and one of the all-around best cats you’ll ever meet. His game isn’t sexy and he’s not going to tote the load for you as a starter, but he’s a valuable player here. There’s no shame in that.

Few Pacer fans — or any NBA fans, honestly — know much about Solomon Jones. Were you ever impressed by anything other than his athleticism and do you think he will emerge as a decent rotation guy for the Pacers this year?

Solo was always intriguing here. Remember, he was the Hawks’ second-round pick the year they whiffed with Shelden Williams as the fifth pick in the draft. It took me all of two weeks of rookie camp to realize that Solo had more physical potential than Shelden. He was just so raw. He worked at it, though, which is a credit to the kid. He worked on his offensive game and did what he could to improve his physical deficiencies. That’s what I want to see out of a developmental player in his first couple of years.

The thing I’ve always liked best about Solo, though, is that he’ll dish out a hard foul. He slapped the DNA off of Andre Iguodala a couple years ago and got tangled up with Dwyane Wade in the playoffs last year without hesitation. That impresses me, when a dude like that isn’t afraid to knock a superstar on his tail. I was sad to see Solo leave. At the same time, I realized he was going to a situation (and particularly an offense) that suited his talents a little better.

Jeff Teague is a guy I thought would have been a great fit for the Pacers back court. How’s he looking so far and what do you expect from his as a pro?

Teague has been fantastic, sans his 0-for-everything shooting performance from the floor in the preseason finale Friday in Orlando. I lived in Pike Township when I was in Indy, so I knew he came from good prep basketball stock. I watched very little of him at Wake Forest, so I had to do some research on him this summer with people I know back in Indy and around the league. Everyone raved about his game and his personality, and they were right. He seems like a great kid.

The key to his season will be consistent minutes. If he starts in the 12-18 range and moves into the 20-25 range as the season goes on, I can see him being a major factor for this team. The only missing piece to his game right now is a consistent outside stroke. That’ll come with work before and after practice, which he’s been putting in alongside Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford on a daily basis. That’s good company for a young guy.

You left the Indianapolis Star very soon after the brawl. How has it been to watch all the turmoil of the past few years and how do you view the overall state of the franchise now? More specifically, how do you think the team will do this season?

I did leave right after the brawl. The Christmas day rematch game between the Pacers and Pistons was my last day. I’ve been floored by all the fallout since then. Mark Montieth and I have had many long conversations about it since then. I’m not sure I’ve witnessed a more complete gutting of a once-proud franchise in such a short period of time. And I certainly have no idea if you can point to just one culprit. (I know Ron Artest is the easy target.)

Still to this day, I’ve thought that the turning point was the summer they had to decide what to do with Brad Miller and Jermaine O’Neal. Plenty of people have disagreed with me on that, including Mark (who remains a great friend to this day). I just felt like free agency forced them to dismantle a team on the cusp of something big. Once the core of that team was scattered it was pretty much a matter of time. More than anything, it reminded me what a hell of a job Donnie Walsh did building that thing the way he did. To last that long in this era of professional sports is an accomplishment in itself. Donnie held it together for so long, so to see some people taking shots at him once he left was more than a bit disingenuous to me. The brawl and the aftermath just sped up the process.

As for this season, I won’t count them out before actually seeing them with my own eyes. But I don’t have them in the pool of playoff hopefuls I’m expecting big things from.

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Tags: Al Horford Atlanta Hawks Austin Croshere Brad Miller Detroit Pistons Donnie Walsh Game #1 Game Previews Jamal Crawford Jeff Teague Jermaine O'Neal Joe Johnson Josh Smith Malice In The Palace Mark Montieth Marvin Williams Mike Bibby Pike Township Ron Artest Sekou Smith Shelden Williams Solomon Jones Zaza Pachulia

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