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Fantasy Preview: Atlanta Hawks

(The NBA lockout isn't going away soon, and it'll be a while before teams get a chance to upgrade their rosters. Still, it gives us plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the players we'll want to target before (or if) the lockout ends. Some of these players may be on different teams by the time the season starts, but hey, that's the risk that comes with any prediction article. Today, we look at the Atlanta Hawks.)

The Atlanta Hawks are the Cincinnati Reds of the NBA. Every season it seems, a few daring analysts claim that the year has finally arrived when the Hawks will become a legitimate playoff contender, and not a team that spectacularly flames out in the second round. But all they ever do is the latter, and though they're step ahead of Cincinnati in that they regularly do make the playoffs, they pose no immediate threat to the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. The bottom line is that although they have a smorgasbord of talented players in their prime, Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith are all a tier below the Wade's, Kobe's and Howard's of the world. The Hawks are good enough to compete and maybe win a playoff round, but they simply don't excel at anything and are doomed to wander in NBA limbo for the conceivable future: good enough to get by, but not bad enough to get a relevant draft pick.

Worth Owning:

  • Joe Johnson -- He may not be an elite fantasy player, but Johnson is still someone you want on your team. His scoring average dropped for the fourth straight season, and at 18.2 per game was his lowest since 2005. Much of the drop-off was due to an elbow injury that forced him to get surgery, but it can't be ignored that he managed to come back a month earlier than expected, a Pujols-esque medical miracle. He gives you everything you could want from a two-guard: lots of scoring, an above-average assist total, good percentages and the ability to stay reasonably healthy. The numbers may indicate he's on the decline, but he's as reliable as it gets and should continue to put up impressive assist totals as the team's de facto ball-handler. Assuming he's still in the $20 range, he remains an excellent value add.
  • Josh Smith -- If diversity's your thing, there may not be a better player to own. Smith can do a little bit of everything, even if he is a bit inconsistent offensively. Anyone interested in building their team around steals and blocks should strongly consider him, particularly in standard snake leagues. However, his somewhat mediocre offensive game makes him a bit overrated in auction leagues. Costing around $35, Smith simply doesn't score enough to justify the hefty cost; only twice did he score more than 30 points in a game last year. He's an excellent player, but you simply aren't getting the bang for your buck when all you're getting is better intangibles. Keep in mind that the money spent on Smith takes away from what you could've spent on another player, who could've easily accounted for his blocks and steals. He's a fantastic multiple-category contributor, but he'll score less than anyone in the $30 range, which is absolutely something to keep in mind.
  • Al Horford -- To better illustrate why Smith is a bit overrated, consider Al Horford, who cost $15 less in ESPN leagues last year but managed to have a higher field-goal percentage, a higher free-throw percentage, more rebounds per game, more assists per game and only 1.2 less points, 0.5 less blocks and 0.5 less steals than Josh Smith. Horford is a solid as they come. As an undersized center, the block totals are still a little disappointing, but it's hard to argue with a bigman who grabs 9.3 rebounds per game and shoots almost 80% from the foul line. He'll cost a tad more this time around, but it should be worth it if the 25-year-old continues to improve.
  • Jamal Crawford (PENDING FREE-AGENT) -- The general rule of fantasy is that players who come off the bench are not to be trusted. Crawford is one of the few exceptions. His game isn't exactly three-dimensional, but he's a fantastic shooter and makes more than enough three's for owners to overlook his sixth-man status. However, Crawford is an unrestricted free-agent, and though he'll likely still be worth owning regardless of where he lands, the team he goes to will dictate his value. He was a 20-point scorer on cellar-dwellers like the Knicks, Bulls and Warriors, but he was also getting around 37 minutes a game with those teams, compared to the 30.2 per game he stomached with Atlanta last season. If he returns to Atlanta, it's hard to see his 14.2 PPG average moving in the right direction, especially with Hinrich and Teague around. But that's all the more reason why he's likely to leave.

Worth Watching:

  • Jeff Teague -- He did next to nothing in the regular season but blossomed in the playoffs, collecting 14.8 points and 4.2 assists during Atlanta's six-game series versus Chicago. Although he averaged just 5.2 points per game last season, and although he only played against Chicago because Kirk Hinrich suffered a season-ending injury, the 23-year-old Teague has loads of upside, and clearly has the backing of coach Larry Drew, who trusted him enough to give him at least 40 minutes in five of the six games. Expect Teague to get most of the minutes at point guard, but don't expect him to be great right away.
  • Kirk Hinrich -- Hinrich is a player to own when he plays more than 30 minutes per game, and there's no question he's better than Teague at this moment. His field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, three-point shooting and steal totals are all above-average. But it's hard to see him getting regular playing time with Teague around. Keep an eye on him if he retains his status as the team's starting point guard, but his production will be curbed so long as he's in a timeshare.
  • Keith Benson -- The Hawks' second-round pick in the 2011 draft, Benson gives the team size it otherwise lacks with Horford at center. He could be worth owning down the line, but he's ignorable so long as he's coming off the bench behind Horford and Smith.

The Forgettables: Marvin Williams, Magnum Rolle, Zaza Pachulia, Damien Wilkins, Jason Collins, Josh Powell.