While the Hawks seem to have hit a solo home run with the signing of first-time NBA All-Star Paul Millsap, a franchise scoring contribution of just 6 of the all-time record grand total 318 points made in New Orleans at the All-Star game this weekend shows how far the organization has yet to come to reach elite status.
Millsap led NCAA Division 1 in rebounding for three consecutive seasons while at Louisiana Tech, the only individual ever to accomplish the stat for so long. His team contributions have not come as a total surprise to Hawks brass, as Millsap showed some signs of being able to compete in this league while still a member of the Utah Jazz. What has been a big revelation is his drastic development in shooting from behind the arc, which has led to overall increased point production.
The Hawks arrive at a bit of a crossroads in the middle of this season, having just endured a five-game skid, which saw them fall from third in the Eastern Conference all the way to fifth, while remaining practically deadlocked with the three teams in slots four, six and seven. Only a total collapse would equate to no playoff appearance this year, but a diluted East skews the reality of what a playoff trip would mean. The Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns jockey for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, yet either would be the third-strongest team in the East.
I’m writing you today from a trip to the Valley of the Sun, where I vividly recall a one-player addition to a team with some good parts equating to the Phoenix Suns being pushed to the brink of an NBA championship, perhaps more than one. That man was Charles Barkley, and had his Phoenix teams not played in the era of Michael Jordan they would have a banner bigger than that of Western Conference champions. We may not have a great Barkley out there on the horizon for the Hawks, but a single stellar player addition paired with the return of a healthy and maturing Al Horford next year could catapult Atlanta to heights unseen in the city.
Keep in mind that there are four ways to dramatically improve in the best basketball league in the world: make strong selections in the draft, attract top free agents to come to your team, player development from within an organization, trade acquisitions. Should Atlanta continue this latest falter, the chances of a top draft selection rise. If Atlanta bounces back from this rough stretch as well as I anticipate, suddenly the well-coached Hawks materialize as one key cog away from greatness.
~Follow Han Vance on Twitter: @hanvance